Martin's strong action puts him in pole position for leadership
Published 16/09/2010 | 05:00
A couple of hours after Micheal Martin sent a blunt warning to his leader yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen apologised to the country on RTE's 'Six One News'.
There were no plans for Mr Cowen to address the nation before his Foreign Affairs Minister told another television interviewer that "lessons will have to be learned".
The very public and deeply humiliating confession on primetime television followed Mr Cowen's private apology to his colleagues in cabinet.
Taken at face value and out of context, Mr Martin's words don't add up to much, but Mr Cowen certainly got the message.
Mr Martin described the whole debacle of the interview and its aftermath as "bad", and went on to say "lessons need to be learned".
Stripped of diplomatic niceties, his message to the Taoiseach was brutally simple: "Shape up or ship out."
Mr Martin is one of the leading contenders for the leadership of Fianna Fail and he went on to further chastise Mr Cowen.
The Government would take stock and learn lessons from the incident, said Mr Martin who added that the matter was now over.
Yet the matter is clearly not over and Mr Martin was giving a sophisticated voice to the raw anger and frustration of an increasing number of Fianna Fail backbenchers.
As Foreign Affairs Minister he was better informed than his colleagues about the "Was Cowen Drunk?" headlines that ran around the world after the interview on Tuesday.
Mr Martin has never hidden his long-term ambitions to lead Fianna Fail and the raging controversy has highlighted the stark contrast between him and Mr Cowen.
Mr Martin is as close to being the exact polar opposite of Brian Cowen as anyone inside or outside Fianna Fail.
Breakfasting on muesli and yogurt while his party colleagues tuck into bacon, sausage and egg, the Foreign Affairs Minister is a nappy-changing New Man.
A Rubicon was crossed last night when Mr Cowen felt he had no choice but to publicly apologise for his performance in an interview.
Everything Mr Cowen does from now on will be scrutinised and angry criticism will morph into ridicule.
And when political leaders become punchlines in stand-up comedians' jokes, their authority goes and they lose the respect of the public and their peers.
This Gargle-Gate scandal has further undermined the most unpopular government and Taoiseach in the history of opinion polling.
But there will not be another leader of Fianna Fail before a general election, according to the most senior figures in the party.
As one senior government minister put it: "Brian Cowen replaced Bertie Ahern without an election. It just could not be done again."
Fianna Fail's leaders-in-waiting will have to fight an election before they can campaign for the prize.
But how many of them will be left standing after the votes are counted?