Monday 19 March 2018

FF leadership: Meet the contenders

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan rates the chances of FF leadership contenders.

1. Brian Lenihan:Enjoys broad popularity despite cuts

HE IS the leader who rose in estimation through the economic crisis. Despite presiding over the unpopular policies enacted over the past two years, Mr Lenihan's standing with the public has risen, added to by admiration for his battle against cancer.

Ironically, he benefited from being under-promoted by Bertie Ahern, only achieving a full cabinet position after the 2007 General Election. Hence, he is not viewed as being as culpable as other ministers for the policies taken by the Fianna Fail-led Government, which contributed to the economic demise, and has been able to admit mistakes were made.

Mr Lenihan learnt on the job when he was elevated to Finance Minister -- not an ideal situation and he made a series of errors in the opening six months.

Without a doubt, he is an intellectual heavyweight, way out ahead of his counterparts.

He has translated this into an easily understandable and forthright style in communicating with the public on the solutions required to restore the public finances. While he has had success in explaining the necessity of the fiscal measures, he has failed to convince in his handling of the banking crisis. The public are not persuaded by the handling of Anglo Irish Bank.

Although prone to the odd Lenihan 'eccentricity', the lingering question mark over his health remains his weak point.

2. Dermot Ahern: Respected but not loved drum beater

HE has worked hard over recent years to improve his image -- both within Fianna Fail and outside. The tag of unpopularity has stuck with him, so he is respected if not loved. A major negative point will be the tribal politics he displays when defending the Fianna Fail 'family'. His schoolyard bully behaviour as he stood by Willie O'Dea earlier this year in the motion of no confidence in the Defence Minister will haunt him for quite some time.

However, the empathy he showed in his response to the Murphy Commission report a year ago was his finest hour. And the stance he took with the church countered the perception that he is guided by Catholic dogma. But the distinct advantage he has in the current economic climate is to offer surefootedness and certainty. He is also perceived as being tough enough to endure the inevitable punches that will come with the ongoing decisions that must come in the forthcoming Budget and on the Anglo plan.

The transition in his relationship with the Green Party -- from arch enemy to champion of equality causes -- augurs well for his ability to manage the links with the coalition partners. Claims he can't recall ever making a mistake but sitting around the Cabinet for the past 13 years means he is automatically targeted. Aside from his period as Communications Minister, he can't point to any economic portfolio or particular expertise.

3. Mary Hanafin:Able but lacks experience in big portfolio

Got away unscathed with pushing through almost €1bn worth of social welfare cuts in last year's Budget, which was not an inconsiderable achievement.

She can claim this proves she is not afraid to take tough decisions and gain acceptance by explaining them to the public.

However, she hasn't held anything resembling an economic portfolio at Cabinet, unless you want to include the current tourism part of her job, so she does face the charge of not having the experience of heading up heavyweight departments.

Her period in the Department of Education saw her handling of schooling for children with special needs being both her crowning glory and greatest area of strife.

Bounced back twice from demotions by Cowen, first to social welfare and then to arts, sport, tourism to display a deal of backbone in making something of the roles.

Ultimately, she's a woman in a man's party, so she's at a disadvantage.

Unlike some other women TDs, neither does she try to be 'one of the lads', but is a sociable tee-totaller and has always made efforts to curry favour with backbenchers.

An able communicator, she is a presentable and compassionate image for Fianna Fail and, like Lenihan, her Dublin base gives her an appeal in the capital.

Cowen's obvious dislike of her would gain her support, but her party colleagues would regard her selection as a risk.

4. Micheal Martin: Likeable and can read mood of the public

BETTER able than anybody else in the party to read the public mood and has an unbelievable ability to turn a baying crowd in his favour.

He stands in complete contrast to Brian Cowen as he is likeable to the public, and lives a healthy lifestyle.

And yet there's this constant doubt hanging over him about whether he could be trusted as Taoiseach.

The smoking ban remains his best-known achievement, where he stood up firmly to powerful lobbies within business and Fianna Fail and displayed ample ability to hold his nerve.

But his term in the Department of Health also saw him acquire a wishy-washy label as he commissioned a never-ending series of reports, regarded as a means to avoid making decisions.

He was responsible for initiating reform in the health service, primarily through the setting up of the HSE -- but without bringing about the necessary overhaul of staffing. Therefore, he stands accused of bottling major issues.

Then there's the cases of the problems he didn't notice on his watch, such as the nursing home charges scandal in the Department of Health and the FAS excesses when he was in the Department of Enterprise. Still, his record as Foreign Affairs Minister has been impressive and he has proven his ability to command his brief.

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News