IF he’s not careful, Micheál Martin will achieve Premier League status as the man most likely to put his foot in it.
When he named his cabinet, the intensity of anger that shook Fianna Fáil voters and even Fianna Fáil politicians verged on epileptic. Prominent members like Jim O’Callaghan and Dara Calleary didn’t just grumble quietly, they told the world that they felt short-changed by being left out. When the newly-appointed Barry Cowen got heaved out of his cabinet job over that drink-driving offence four years ago, it allowed Micheál to hand his place to Dara Calleary. But Dara very likely was underjoyed at being Micheáls second choice for the job, and the disaffected camp within Fianna Fáil continues to mumble and grumble.
But let’s turn away for a moment from the Dáil and consider the Seanad. Specifically, let’s have a look at those senators appointed by Micheál – or rather, those not appointed.
Ian Marshall, former president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, was appointed to the Seanad by Leo Varadkar. Maybe in an attempt to show he wasn’t going to take his cue from Leo, Micheál didn’t nominate Ian Marshall – or any unionist from the north. Like Barry Cowen and others, Ian Marshall hasn’t lost any time in complaining puhblicly. “This is a huge missed opportunity and sends a very clear message to the unionist community that they have no role play down south. The three-party leaders all talked about change and renewal and yet they turn their backs on unionists and any talk of a shared island is just a farce.”
Ouch. Guess who was the target of both those barrels? Yep, the broth of a boy, Micheál.
Micheál had been at pains to deny – especially to unionists – that the Shared Island Unit within his department is a stalking horse for a border poll. It was in fact established to improve relations between the government and people in the south with the government and people of the north.
When he came north to meet Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, Micheál was relieved to get away from the flak over his cabinet appointments. Naturally he couldn’t hug either of the two women, given Covid, but he left them both on what appeared to be the best of terms. Beaming goodbyes all round.
And then what happens? Hardly back in Dublin and Micheál announces he’s going to “beef up” the Shared Island Unit because after Brexit who knew what would happen? How might Scotland react if it’s dragged out of the EU against the wishes of the Scottish people? “What happens if England gets turned off Northern Ireland? We've got to be thinking all this through.”
I’m with you there, Micheál – that’s good advice: think things through. The pity is, you’ve gone and put it in words – in very public words . Even if what you said was true – and I’m sure British governments have wakened many’s a day and muttered “That bloody place!” – you must think twice about your public utterances or you could touch a unionist nerve.
“After a positive NSMC (North South Ministerial Council), the Taoiseach's comments are disappointing. The principle of consent determines NI's place in the UK.”
Which is diplomatic code for “You two-faced Free State snake-oil salesman, Martin!”
So now Micheál has cheesed off the people in the west of Ireland, from Donegal to Kerry. He has infuriated some senior TDs within his own party Fianna Fáil, he has cheesed off a leading unionist Having shortly before dropped honeyed words into the ear of Arlene Foster, Micheál Martin has hurried back to Dublin and turned the honey to vinegar.
It’s good that Micheál has finally got behind the All-Ireland wheel. But does he have to drive like a seriously tipsy man who’s been blind-folded and forced to drive at speed down a bumpy Cork boreen?