Saturday 3 December 2016

Prince of the Rebel City with an eye on Fianna Fail throne

Published 18/01/2011 | 05:00

FOR YEARS he has been regarded within the Fianna Fail organisation in Cork as 'the new Jack Lynch'.

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Some in Fine Gael acidly took to referring to him as 'the Dauphin', the heir of the throne.

But no one, no matter what their party affiliation, ever underestimated the appeal and charisma of Micheal Martin.

In 26 years in politics, the 50-year old has forged a reputation remarkably similar to that of the late Jack Lynch who remains so beloved to this day in his native Cork.

Like Mr Lynch, Mr Martin is a devoted GAA fan -- he grew up supporting Cork and his local Nemo Rangers club.

His children now play for Nemo and Mr Martin is rarely absent from a major hurling or football match involving the Rebel County.

Mr Lynch went to great pains throughout his career to keep his finger on the pulse of local Cork politics and Mr Martin has followed a similar lead.

A former Lord Mayor of Cork, he has taken the lead on repeated issues of local political import ranging from the docklands regeneration to the new Cork School of Music and the Cork Airport debt controversy.

He also maintained strong links with his fellow Cork TDs -- which yesterday proved critical as several came out in support of Mr Martin's leadership bid.

Yet such support should come as no surprise given tribal loyalties.

Mr Martin's older brother, Sean, is a Cork City Council member and a former mayor. His twin brother, Padraig, was defeated in his bid to win a seat on Cork County Council in 2009.

When John Dennehy almost lost his Dail seat to Independent Kathy Sinnott in 2002, it was Micheal Martin who, quite literally, rolled up his shirt sleeves in Cork City Hall and personally directed a series of recounts, which ultimately saved the Dail berth for the veteran Fianna Fail TD.

The prospect of a Cork-based leader of Fianna Fail is regarded by many of the party's TDs on Leeside as potentially representing the difference between holding and losing a Dail seat.

Over recent years, Mr Martin's only rival in Cork has been Batt O'Keeffe who, as a close friend and ally of Mr Cowen, was promoted to, first, the Education and then Enterprise portfolios.

It was Mr Martin who took Mr O'Keeffe's seat in the 1989 General Election in Cork South-Central, leaving the Ballincollig-based TD to kick his heels in the Seanad for three years.

Despite this, both men remain friends if not close allies.

In yet another parallel to Mr Lynch, Mr Martin is also a devoted family man whose idea of a summer break is to take his wife, Mary, and their children to Courtmacsherry in west Cork.

This is the seaside village where he went on holidays as a child with his father, Paddy, and his late mother, Eileen (Lana).

Exotic family holidays hold little attraction for the Martins who still live only a few hundred metres from the Ballinlough-Turner's Cross community where the Foreign Affairs Minister grew up.

But the leadership challenge comes after a particularly traumatic year for the former Colaiste Chriost Ri teacher.

Traumatic

In fact, so traumatic were the past 12 months that there were some who wondered whether the veteran cabinet minister might even reconsider his political career.

Last November, Mr Martin's daughter, Leana, died in tragic circumstances from a cardiac complaint.

Leana (seven) was the youngest daughter of Micheal and Mary who have three other children, Micheal Aodh (16), Aoibhe (14) and Cillian (10).

Tragically, it was not the first time the couple lost a child with a baby boy having died five weeks after his birth some 11 years ago.

Mr Martin's mother, Lana, died last April after a courageous battle against a long-term illness.

Lana and Paddy Martin had five children -- three sons, Micheal, Padraig, Sean, and two daughters, Eileen and Mairead.

It now remains to be seen whether the Martin family will be able to claim a rival for the title of 'de real Taoiseach' on Leeside.

Irish Independent

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