Attempt to rise above the fray may backfire
Micheal Martin risks dragging Fianna Fail into the row over garda whistleblowers, writes Fionnan Sheahan
Published 23/02/2014 | 02:30
HIS party's poll figures are still below their support levels in the last local elections, despite talk of a comeback.
He is still haunted by the toxic legacy of a government in which he served leading the country into bankruptcy.
His preparations for the local and European elections are being overshadowed by some of the old guard emerging from hiding.
Micheal Martin needs a boost.
Failure to show there's a revival in Fianna Fail under way in the local and European elections will prove costly to his leadership, possibly bringing it to an end.
In the myriad of concerns swirling around An Garda Siochana, Martin has finally found an issue where he can appear to be operating above partisan politics.
The Fianna Fail leader is walking a delicate line between playing on middle class reservations about a lack of accountability and not being seen to be blackguarding the guards with exaggerated claims of endemic corruption.
He also has the distinct advantage of a lack of public popularity in Alan Shatter.
The Justice Minister's ability to aggravate the public has come back to bite him as the controversies have gained greater traction due to his defensiveness.
By lending the issue of garda transparency some credibility, Martin has brought the cases of alleged mismanagement of serious cases, some involving murder, abduction and assault, into the mainstream and made it a priority.
He met with the garda whistleblower Sergeant Maurice McCabe, got files from him, and raised his concerns in the Dail without making accusations he couldn't substantiate.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny took him seriously and asked to be given the dossiers.
The praise from Kenny for Martin's approach to the "grave" accusations has raised the matter above politics.
Following on from Martin's initiative, the Taoiseach and Justice Minister are both compiling reports.
However, the catch for Martin is any linking back of these incidents to Fianna Fail's term in power. In a potential sign of what's to come, Michael Noonan took a swipe at Martin this weekend.
Noonan said Shatter would answer for himself but the documents related to cases from 2007 to 2009 when Martin was a member of Cabinet.
"If charges are being made about the maladministration of justice, it wasn't the man who is there now that was 'maladministering' justice, it was the people who were there between 2007 and 2009," Noonan said. Fianna Fail's John McGuinness took issue with Noonan linking the current events to the previous government.
However, Shatter's review of the correspondence in the Department of Justice will surely go back further than just his own term in office.
Martin's penchant for not just rewriting history, more ignoring it completely beyond March 2011 and brushing over Fianna Fail's 14 years in power, always has the capacity to bite him. On this occasion, although he's done the right thing, there's the risk the tactic could backfire.
Just three months out from the first major electoral test since his party's wipeout, Martin will be keeping his fingers crossed his stance yields dividends – rather than remind voters of Fianna Fail's failings.