Setting high standards for everybody else to live up to is all very well, but failing to live up to them yourself is not the mark of a credible future Taoiseach.
With an eye on the next 26 county general election, Michael Martin has recently ramped up his attacks on Sinn Fein. While his most recent
rant speech includes attacks on Republicans, Unionists and both the Dublin and London governments, it’s clear who the real target is. Martin has said in the past that Fianna Fail will not share power with either Sinn Fein or Fine Gael after the next election. Assuming he sees himself leading Fianna Fail into government at some stage in the future, this means the party will have to double their current support if Martin is to avoid becoming the first Fianna Fail leader never to be Taoiseach. The current shabby state of Fianna Fail might well be seen as his biggest obstacle on the road to power. However, given this most recent tirade, his biggest problem might be his own level of credibility in the eyes of the electorate.
Fine speeches are all very well, but they fall flat if you appear to lack sincerity, or don’t have the courage of your convictions.
Many will agree with his fair criticism of the Irish and British governments, and their failure to properly engage in Northern Politics. Like it or not, the relationship between the parties at Stormont is not mature enough to avoid collisions. With zero trust sparking antagonistic and stubborn behaviour, the current stalemate should come as no surprise to anyone. Both governments need to step up their engagement with parties in the North if we are to see any break in the current deadlock.
But McGuinness and Robinson would be forgiven if they smirked at comments from Michael Martin on the threat to the North’s economic stability. Martin was in cabinet in the South when his party decimated the Irish economy, bringing on the biggest financial disaster in the history of the state. In fact Fianna Fail had to stomach some of the worst accusations ever to be levelled at a party in Dail Eireann – economic treason. During those celtic tiger years Martin stayed quiet when his government were cozying up to financiers and developers and making catastrophic decisions at cabinet level. He also stayed quiet in the aftermath when his government tried to strangle the most vulnerable in society by cutting the minimum wage and removing the medical card from senior citizens. Martin has even admitted himself that he wasn’t always comfortable with some decisions during the tiger years but fails to explain why he kept his mouth stitched and did nothing. How credible then are Martin’s statements on problems in the North when he was one of the architects of the worst crises in the history of the Irish state?
His comments on the failure of the Northern parties to tackle sectarianism are disappointingly opportunistic. He spreads the blame between Sinn Fein and the DUP; trying to give an impression of balance but in reality it is all about the Shinners again. He fails to point out that despite the difficulties, Republicans and Unionists are hard at work trying to encourage reconciliation between the two communities. He also fails to point out how the vast majority of sectarianism is currently emanating from within the broader loyalist community. He deliberately misrepresents Gerry Adams comments; ‘Break the Bastards’ when he knows fine well that the comment (unfortunate wording aside) was targeted at all those who would seek to deprive others of their rights to equality such as minority groups, LGBT community and immigrants etc. Again this is shockingly disingenuous and proves once more (as if proof were needed) that Martin is willing to distort the facts in order to demonize Sinn Fein. Unfortunately however, unlike his media buddies in the South who have been pulled up for the very same type of deliberate distortions, there is nobody in the Dail other than Sinn Fein to call him out on it.
Whilst it is refreshing to see that Martin has given up on accusing Sinn Fein of murder, (he obviously heeded some good advice from his team regarding trying to win votes by manipulating the tragedies of victims) he does allude to alleged abuse in the republican community. In fairness I think it is understandable that where there is suspicion of such crimes; pressure needs to be exerted if culprits are to be found. But again here his credibility can be called into question. Martin guffaws at Adams’ calls for people to come forward with information (conveniently ignoring that Gerry Adams himself has handed names over to the PSNI). Martin claims that nobody has come forward, but how does he know this? Have the Guards and the PSNI told him so? He offers no evidence to back up his assertion. He also calls into question Sinn Fein’s sincerity on the issue claiming –
Sinn Fein has been able to expel people for wanting to deselect a TD but cannot find anyone to take action against in relation to the systematic covering up of child abuse within the Provisional movement
The message here of course is that Sinn Fein are not bothered about the issue of alleged abuse in republican ranks. The fact that Martin even draws the comparison between local party selection processes (where everyone is out in the open) and the covering up of alleged abuse (where everyone is most certainly NOT out in the open) is startling and frankly quite worrying coming from someone who would one day hope to be Taoiseach. Moreover, Martin conveniently neglects to remind us that even when Fianna Fail – with himself in government – had the opportunity to make an institution pay for their role in Child abuse, Fianna Fail let them off the hook. Martin has failed to convince his own mentors and party grandees to fess up to home truths at the banking enquiry but yet he somehow expects Sinn Fein to miraculously produce unknown, unnamed alleged abusers out of thin air. Maybe Martin finds it difficult to see a Shinner such as Pearse Doherty on a panel holding Fianna Fail to account for the chaos they caused during the financial disaster and maybe all this bluster is designed to detract from the enquiry. But this does not excuse his attempts to demonize the entire Sinn Fein party with unsubstantiated accusations.
None of this of course lets republicans of the hook, as a Shinner myself I am only too aware of the urgency within the party and the wider community to do all we can to bring the perpetrators of abuse to book. Despite Martin’s claims, it is a serious issue across the party and it is treated seriously by all so I am glad to see that Martin agrees with the Deputy First Minister who was the first to call for an independent enquiry to address issues of abuse North and South. It took a while for Fianna Fail to catch up, but they got there in the end.
Martin also agrees with Sinn Fein when he criticises the British government for not ‘investing’ hard enough in the North and for not realising the ‘special’ case that the north is. At the same time he castigates Sinn Fein for being part of an assembly that is introducing cuts forced on them by the Tory government in London. This is confusing because Martin is fully aware that the assembly has no power to deliver adequate revenue (Unlike Dublin) therefore it has little room for manoeuvre in budgetary decision-making. The assembly parties don’t have the luxury that the Fianna Fail government had. It does not have the same space to make considered spending choices. Fianna Fail did have this luxury and still managed to wreck the economy and collapse their government.
Reading Martin’s speech one would be forgiven for thinking that he is distraught, or even enraged at the political, social and economic state the North now finds itself in. Martin has taken a swipe at the DUP, Sinn Fein and both the British and Irish governments despite his own history of abject failure. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say. With the terrible crises occurring in the North, what is Martin going to do about it? You guessed it, absolutely nothing.
For years we have heard Fianna Fail leaders including Martin himself declare their intention to stand candidates in the North. If there was ever a time to do it, and if Martin truly believes his own guff, there is no better time than right now. Fianna Fail still has a huge machine nationwide. A ten minute phone call and he could have candidates ready to go in every constituency across the North. So what’s the delay? If he so perturbed by everybody else’s failures, where are the soldiers of destiny in the North’s hour of need?
Here we can get the truth, we can easily get to the bottom of what is really going on. Martin knows that Fianna Fail in power in the North could never accept Tory cuts, could never face down unionist politicians in debates claiming the IRA were bad but the old IRA were good, could never hope to run the North on the ever decreasing hand-outs from tax payers across the water in the UK and could never hope to balance party policy in two different jurisdictions on the Island. Martin’s stance when it comes to Sinn Fein marks him out not as a defender of truth and justice, but an opportunistic and desperate man who simply fails to understand that his awkward hypocrisy is just as transparent as his crocodile tears on conditions in the north.
If Michael Martin is serious about leading Fianna Fail into government he needs to do a lot more than criticise from the side-lines without committing to tackle problems himself. He needs to do more than ape Sinn Fein policies and ideas, such as universal Healthcare and his sensational U-turns on issues such as water charges. But more than anything else he needs to be credible, Irish people have cottoned on to the Fianna Fail habit of twisting the truth, massaging the facts and distorting the information. If Martin wants to set high standards in irish politics North and South, he needs to do more than merely apply them to others, he needs to adopt them himself.
Robin is from Dublin but now lives in South Wicklow. He has just completed a four year international BA in politics with University College Dublin and University of California Santa Cruz. He recently became a member of South Wicklow Sinn Fein however his view are his own and not necessarily representative of the party.