OPINION: Is Micheál's reign as FF leader coming to an end?

May 14th, 2018 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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FALSTAFF’S immortal words that ‘we have heard the chimes at midnight’ might (with a pinch) be applicable to Micheál Martin, thanks to the possibility that the Corkman’s reign as leader of the Fianna Fáil party is coming to an end.   

Falstaff was one of the most comic characters in English literature. He eventually was forced to confront reality, having survived as a loveable rogue all his life.  But he failed to build bonds of loyalty despite the shared experiences and memories of heady days with princes and paupers.

Micheál Martin, on the other hand, is by no means a Falstaffian figure. Yet, he too is about to ‘hear the chimes at midnight’ as he faces a serious challenge to his political authority. Amazingly, the event is not being marked with knives in the back, barbed comments, or nasty votes of no-confidence. In a very sophisticated way, the weapon of choice with which his opponents intend to ‘do him in’ is a photograph – and its political symbolism has shaken the political hierarchies. 

Thirty-one Soldiers of Destiny, including deputy leader Dara Calleary and the expected challengers to the crown, Michael McGrath and Éamon Ó Cuív  (oh, and let’s not forget the very-much-one-to-watch, Bandon’s Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, Teachta Dála for Cork South West) got together for the party photograph.  

 The purpose of the collective mugshot was simple: to get across to the plain people of Ireland the fact that the upcoming abortion referendum had to be defeated, despite the stance of party leader, Mickey Martin, who supports repeal of the Eighth Amendment and access to abortions up to 12 weeks. (Three politicos, Willie O’Dea, Kevin O’Keefe and Senator Diarmuid Wilson, did not feature in the picture, but sent their apologies and support). 


To the point

Importantly, there were no pusillanimous excuses or gutless explanations from those FF parliamentarians who featured in the snap. They openly urged voters to oppose the proposition to remove article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. 

And, although Martin had promised there would be no repercussions for TDs who went against his views on abortion, the large number of TDs who disagreed with him is a sign that he might well be out of touch with most of his party. 

Significant too were the comments of a potential leadership contender, Galway West TD, Éamon Ó Cuív, who said that those deputies and senators who nailed their anti-abortion principles to the mast did so in conformity with the wishes and beliefs of most party members. Again, an indirect criticism of Martin’s failure to assess correctly FF attitudes to abortion. 

Ó Cuív particularly emphasised the fact that the vast majority of members at the Ard Fheis, including the parliamentary party, believed the correct vote was ‘No’.

In contrast, the pro-abortion camp also had a pic taken, but could muster only ten FF politicos. The non-appearance of Our Mickey was much noted; and the possibility was raised that the Corkman was no longer able to handle the internal politics of the party in a skillful manner.


Revolt inevitable

The controversy over snapshots now has become a yardstick for measuring Martin’s leadership qualities. Inevitably, it also focuses on the effectiveness of his strategy to keep intact Fianna Fáil’s role as a grubby mudguard for Fine Gael (the party’s traditional arch enemy).

Within such a context, the comment last March from pro-life Fianna Fáil TD, Bobby Alyward was relevant: ‘Mr Martin,’ he complained, ‘should have known there would be a revolt from the very beginning.’ 

And then, to make matters worse, according to the latest Sunday Independent Millward Brown opinion poll, Martin’s bete noire, Mary Lou McDonald, whom Martin snidely dismissed as a ‘prisoner of Sinn Féin’s past’ and ‘a good soldier in terms of defending the indefensible’ is now more popular than he is.

Satisfaction with Ms McDonald’s leadership of Sinn Féin increased seven points since the last opinion poll and now stands at 46%.  Martin’s popularity, on the other hand, dropped to 44% in the same period (Fianna Fáil at 27% remains just five points ahead of SF, which has increased to 22%).

And that, with regard to Martin’s aspiration to be Taoiseach, has to be the ‘most unkindest cut of all.’ 


Flying high

The sense of outrage experienced by Cork people at Norwegian Airline’s lack of candour in relation to our airport was immense. Politicos, business interests and ordinary people lobbied vigorously for two years on behalf of the airline securing a licence to fly from Cork to Boston and New York.  

So thorough was the campaign that President Barack Obama prevailed on American trade unions to lift their embargo on the no-frills company flying into the US, but incredibly, having done all the donkey work, Cork effectively got nothing for its efforts. Earlier this month Norwegian informed the Real Capital that the Cork to Providence route was to be scrapped after six months in operation.   

 Leesiders smelled a rat when it emerged that while Cork Airport was being cast into the rubbish bin, the promotion of Dublin Airport with the involvement of Norwegian, was literally reaching new heights. 

Prominent Fine Gael politicos MEP, Deirdre Clune and Senator Jerry Buttimer, who spearheaded political support on behalf of the Norwegian airline, sought explanations as to why this was happening. 

According to a report in ‘De Paper,’ Buttimer now wants senior execs from the Dublin Airport Authority and Norwegian Airline to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport where, like obedient boys and girls, they’ll explain the decision to cut routes from Cork.

Fat chance of that, say the critics In the Cork Arms who, among many others, point to the large question-mark that now hangs over Buttimer and Clune as to how efficacious they are as politicos. Many Leesiders are of the opinion that the honourable thing for them to do is to resign their seats.   


Booby prize? 

Of course, the entire population of planet Earth should endorse the request of those American lawmakers who nominated Donald Trump for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. ‘We can think of no one more deserving of the Committee’s recognition in 2019 than President Trump for his tireless work to bring peace to our world,’ they said.

After all, should Trump be rewarded with a gong, he would be right up there with former controversial winners such as Henry Kissinger who bombed Vietnam back to the stone age and Fritz Haber who developed chlorine gas as a chemical weapon used during World War One.

The EU won the prize in 2012 for its advancement of peace and reconciliation. Bob Dylan got it for his ‘Tambourine Man’ ditty. 

 Mahatma Ghandi was never awarded it and ‘Nobody’ was the official winner 19 times. 

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