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Thursday 27 July 2017

'Steve Silvermint' isn't divisive . . . he's indecisive

Fianna Fail leadership candidate Micheal Martin. Photo: Collins
Fianna Fail leadership candidate Micheal Martin. Photo: Collins

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

DURING his frequently torrid time as Health Minister, Micheal Martin occasionally indulged one of his few vices.

Mulligan's of Poolbeg Street, a well-known Dublin watering hole located across the road from the department, served a nice pint of Beamish -- a holy grail for a Corkonian based in the capital.

Mr Martin wouldn't exactly be renowned for his drinking exploits. In fact, his clean-cut image tends to grate with some colleagues and led one of his fellow ministers to disparagingly refer to him as 'Steve Silvermint'.

Although he too is regarded as a good mimic, Fianna Fail's apparent leader-in-waiting certainly won't be found standing up at a party think-in entertaining the masses.

"He'd enjoy his pint but it's all in moderation. He's practically a hypochondriac. He's convinced of the theory that you are what you eat," a friend said.

Aside from the controversial introduction of the smoking ban, which he pushed through against opposition from publicans, Martin's time in health wouldn't exactly be at the top of his list of achievements.

His period as Health Minister was where his reputation -- rightly or wrongly -- for indecision was established. He famously commissioned dozens of reports into the structures and reforms of the health services.

He biggest scrape came with the furore in 2004 over the illegal charging of over-70s in nursing homes.

Martin got away with claiming he did not attend a meeting in 2003 where the issue was discussed and had not read a file which was delivered to his office.

A senior civil servant had to resign over the affair and was moved to another position -- but the minister emerged unscathed.

Martin has an uncanny ability of escaping from trouble. The former minister also got out of the enterprise portfolio before the FAS scandal blew up and he was only in the Department of Foreign Affairs a few weeks when the Lisbon Treaty referendum was defeated, meaning he wasn't blamed.

His term as Education Minister coincided with the beginning of the boom, resulting in his star rising fast. But there would be doubts over whether Martin would make a good minister in a spending department when times were hard.

"He wouldn't have the intell-igence of Brian Cowen but he is very bright. Once he makes up his mind, he's not for turning. He is very stubborn," a source said.

From his early days in politics, Martin has always cultivated this fresh image.

In one of his earlier campaigns, he even included a photo of him in his UCC graduation gown to portray the 'local boy come good'.

Martin's real circle of trusted friends is in Cork, where his cabal includes his twin brother, Paudie, older brother, Sean, businessman Humphrey Murphy and FF councillor Terry Shannon.

Martin had developed a Bertie Ahern-style machine around him, trading off his name.

When up in Dublin, his closer associates in Fianna Fail would include Mary Hanafin, John O'Donoghue, Attorney General Paul Gallagher, Sean Haughey and former party councillor Sean Paul Mahon.

"He doesn't cause offence. He gets on amicably. He would be friendly with most people. He wouldn't have a close circle. He never had. He wouldn't have many enemies either," a source said.

Irish Independent

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