Polls in the Republic of Ireland yesterday won’t have given Micheal Martin much comfort. The Red C poll shows Fine Gael with a commanding lead of thirty percent followed by Fianna Fail on seventeen and Labour holding up the rear with sixteen percent. The rag tag bunch of the smart to the senseless that constitutes the Independents sit at nineteen percent, which says as much about the Irish voter as provincial nature of Southern politics. Cute hoor-ism still appears to run deep in the political DNA of the nation and it will take more than a handful of tribunals to expunge it. The Cute Hoor has not left building- merely left the room.
Yet back to the grand old of party of Fianna Fail, which has yet to find its feet in Opposition. Since its fall from grace the party has struggled to find relevance. The Coalition Government has stolen its clothes. Enda Kenny is like a human political deflector. The Finance Minister is implementing the harsh policies set out by the last Government and the Coalition has had more lucky breaks than Jimmy White. Like the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, Micheal Martin is one of the nice guys in politics. Sheer tenacity won out for Kenny in the end as he was lampooned for much of his career. While a Fianna Fail return to Government is hardly imminent, Martin does not have the luxury of time as Fianna Fail Leader. One thing he has going for him is his ability to at least create space to be heard by a still angry Irish electorate without receiving a torrent of abuse. Nonetheless, Fianna Fail has by and large self-muzzled since the last election so the Leader, Micheal Martin embarked on a listening campaign around the country. The Government has been given an easy ride in the Dail as Martin experiments with progressive opposition, not exactly fertile ground for Fianna Fail.
Fianna Fail works best when it’s in attack dog mode. The party is still part paralyzed from the shock of the last election and the fear of the fallout from the long awaited report of the Mahon Tribunal. The Mahon Tribunal has been running longer than your average TV soap. Micheal Martin has raised the bar high in relation to the Mahon Findings – he says there will be no place in Fianna Fail for anyone found guilty of low practices or illegal doings. Many believe his is aiming his fire at former Taoiseach and the most successful Fianna Fail leader since De Valera- Bertie Ahern. Martin has turned the findings of the Mahon Tribunal into a watershed moment for Fianna Fail. Having raised the stakes he risks a lot- including a split party. Political amnesia is a common trait in politics and not just the Irish variety. From Boston to Beijing politicians often appear to have convenient lapses of memory.
As he prepares to lynch the weakest link, Micheal Martin may be preparing for a burst of political amnesia. He sat on the Fianna Fail front bench under Bertie Ahern from 1995 to 2008. His Damascene moment came in the dying months of the Fianna Fail government under Brian Cowen in 2010/11. Yet love the sinner if not the sin and Martin moulds into a conversion that would blind St Paul. Martin’s weekend performance at the Ard Fheis was confident. His speech was clear and it carried that all-important political apology. There’s nothing quite like a humbled politician.
Martin’s resolve and stomach needs to be strong if he is to live up to his words. His erstwhile Deputy Leader Eamonn O Cuiv did not help him but at least he showed no fear in showing Dev Og the door even if it was on the eve of his party conference. Fianna Fail desperately needs renewal and whether people like to admit it or not- the country needs a strong Fianna Fail in Opposition. The Fianna Fail leader is also the Party Spokesperson on Northern Ireland –unsurprisingly his Ard Fheis speech was clearly focused on the twenty-six and not the six. Proof if proof is needed that in the Republic when it comes to priorities, the North, even for the Republican Party is more distant cousin than separated sibling. The Irish electorate is still angry. Michael Martin knows this but throwing a few Fianna Fail carcasses to the wolves may not tame the beasts and it may even implode in his own backyard. Yet at seventeen percent in the polls he may as well roll the dice.