AFTER two-and-a-half years in office, Taoiseach Micheál Martin this week hands over the reins of the top role in government to his coalition partner Leo Varadkar.
Having assumed the job just weeks after the country began experiencing the first throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, he oversaw a tumultuous 30 months which saw several major crises challenging the government, on both a national and international scale.
Covid indeed brought challenges for the Fianna Fáil party, as well as the country, with the Golfgate scandal dominating headlines that first summer.
And all that happened just weeks after Barry Cowen was sacked as Minister for Agriculture in the controversy over his drink driving ban.
During Covid’s unpredictable ebbs and troughs, the Cork city man was the familiar face at the Government Buildings podium, doling out the good and bad news in equal measure. But by the time the pandemic began to wane, the overall impression was that the country had been in steady, if somewhat unremarkable, hands. There were major disappointments along the way, too – also at the hands of this nasty virus. The Taoiseach tested positive for Covid just hours before he was due to meet President Biden in what was likely to be his one and only visit to the White House for St Patrick’s Day as head of government.
The war in Ukraine, which reared its ugly head earlier this year, also saw major challenges for the coalition government – coming, as it did, in the middle of one our worst housing crises.
Deputy Martin was never shy in proudly vocalising Ireland’s disgust with Russia’s behaviour and last July conducted the first State visit to Ukraine, to show Ireland’s support for the war-torn country and pledge our continued support.
As Leo Varadkar now assumes the position of head of government, the next 30 months will provide an easy comparison between both party leaders.
There is no doubt they already display very different methods of governance, driven by different personalities.
And there is also no doubt but, to date, this has been one of the more stable coalition governments we have seen in recent times, despite all the serious issues that have come out of left field since the last election.
Throw into the pot the potential agitation posed by the Green Party being part of that grouping, and you have the recipe for what could have been a very potent mix.
And yet, despite all the odds, the wheels of power are turning relatively smoothly, with just a few small bumps along the way.
The two parties’ dislike of the main opposition – Sinn Féin – has probably helped to bind their resolve to provide a united front. And while that opposition has certainly gained a lot of traction – especially with a younger audience – due to the shambles in housing, healthcare and student accommodation, the references to Sinn Féin at one high profile murder case in the courts has done it no favours, either.
This week’s commentary on a video circulating about the incoming Taoiseach provided yet another example of the apparent mutual respect between the two main party leaders. Deputy Martin said the video was a clear breach of Deputy Varadkar’s privacy. One can only imagine British or American observers looking on in amazement at this level of congeniality between the leaders of two parties, which just a short time ago would have taken every opportunity of one-upmanship to score political points.
Only time will tell if this government lasts the pace, and if it does, whether this ‘best buddy’ image will have damaged either main party’s identity. But for now, at least, the future looks relatively calm, if not terribly dynamic. But maybe calm is just what we need. At least for now.