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Drink in? Not a chance as sober Martin takes to his bed

HE was just short of using a megaphone to order a warm glass of milk. Or using a billboard to ask for a hot water bottle.

As the dinner at the Fianna Fail parliamentary party 'think-in' wound down on Monday night, party leader Micheal Martin did the rounds of the half-dozen or so tables.

He had something to say, and he wanted everyone to hear it.

"Good night, now," Mr Martin told all and sundry as he headed for bed at 11.10pm. Maybe he went mad and didn't brush his teeth before he put the head down. Or maybe he stayed up late and played PlayStation, high on jelly babies and his beloved green tea.

But whatever he did, he definitely wasn't staying up until 3.30am, skulling pints, impersonating professional golfers and then singing 'The Lakes of Ponchartrain' just a few hours before being interviewed on the country's biggest radio show.

The dinner was all very modest, although a harpist plucked away in the corner of the room at the no-frills Maldron Hotel in unglamorous Tallaght.

Soup or salad, beef or salmon, profiteroles or cheesecake, sackcloth or ashes -- nothing fancy, take your pick.

Even the room emphasised how much the party has been destroyed in the past year. Downgraded from a ballroom in the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway, scene of Brian Cowen's drink-in, to a small room in the Maldron. Still, the harpist added a touch of glamour.

Parliamentary party chairman John Browne gave a short speech before dinner, and led the ranks in a prayer. Not for the future of the party, mind you, but in thanks for the food.

There was no guest speaker this year, with TDs and senators anxious to get stuck into their nosebag rather than listen to a speech. Last year, former Galway hurling captain Joe McDonagh did the honours.

"Jaysus, he went on," recalled one TD. "He saved himself by singing 'The West's Awake'."

This year Mr Martin took his leave as soon as people had finished their tea and coffee. Short of knocking back a bottle of Night Nurse and putting on his pyjamas, he couldn't have done more to show he was off for a night's snooze before he faced 'Morning Ireland'.

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Sorry there Micheal, did you say something about going to bed? Night, night. After the leader went to the scratcher, it was all very subdued.

A few drinks in the bar, and a song or two -- but nothing like the riotous wedding-meets-Ard Fheis atmosphere of the year before.

Mr Martin was duly bright and alert on 'Morning Ireland', where he was grilled by Aine Lawlor. The only misstep was when he effectively threw in the towel in the upcoming Dublin West by-election.

"Get realistic, that was never on," he said when it was put to him that Fianna Fail should be in with a shout of holding Brian Lenihan's seat if the party was on the road to recovery.

We're sure the Fianna Failerers in Dublin West were delighted with that.

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