MICHEÁL Martin squeezed his mouth into that well-known squeamish smile. He had just been asked about Fine Gael walking all over him on the Katherine Zappone envoy announcement, and was never going to answer candidly.
He doesn’t get angry, but then — say his backbencher critics in Fianna Fáil and many of the grassroots — he doesn’t bother to get even afterwards.
And they see the ‘doormat effect’ as one reason why party support is haemorrhaging all over the country, slumping to less than 5pc in the recent Dublin Bay South by-election.
Here are five previous instances where Fine Gael treated Micheál like that welcoming mat for muddy shoes.
1) A Garda car and driver for the Tánaiste. Oh, and one for the former Tánaiste too! — Fianna Fáilers were aghast when the Programme for Government, already resulting in a rotating Taoiseach, saw Leo effectively elevated to co-Taoiseach by getting a Merc and perk. But he also secured one for Simon Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. If it was the Champions League, Fine Gael would win on aggregate.
2) Our Boy for the Fierce Big Job — The Fine Gael Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, initially all by herself (I’ll say that again — all by herself) brought forward the name of the former Fine Gael member and ex-Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe, for direct appointment as a member of the Supreme Court when he wasn’t even a judge. I’m sure that went well, or am I forgetting something?
Micheál rolled over, but it turns out Seamus was made of sterner stuff, refusing to resign while railing that Golfgate was everyone else’s fault but his own.
3) Do as I say, not as I do — What really got FFers hot under the collar was Leo Varadkar’s ability to send any of them packing at a moment’s notice, while seeing nothing wrong in his own ‘Leo the Leak’ imbroglio and ongoing investigation by the Gardaí under the criminal code.
The Fuming Fáilers see Leo’s hand behind the fall of Dara Calleary and before him Barry Cowen, both as Agriculture Minister, whether rightly or wrong. “They lost their heads while Leo sails on,” muttered one. There were even mutterings in Fine Gael, but Micheál deemed it a matter for that part. And plod.
4) Running rings around him, just for the fun of it — Yes, we all saw it happening in real time. Leo would suck the end of a biro for a moment or two and come up with a few zingers for the press conference — being televised live in a time of pandemic — whereas the Taoiseach just thought he’d go and make a reasonable case (while none of his advisers advised).
It became comical, Leo upstaging the Head of Government in all the joint pressers. When FF tried to make them fewer and further between, Leo just announced policy on the hoof or happened to blurt any good news before Micheál got around to it. Sometimes the official Taoiseach had to reel back the situation, but this just underpinned the party-pooper image of FF. Then Simon Harris started aping his boss, twitting Stephen Donnelly on Health…
5) Robert Watt for the Fierce Big Job — Mr Watt was in DPER, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, where he managed to oversee DPER cuts than even the most dyed-in-the-wool Blueshirt could be expected to delight. So of course he had to be appointed to an FBJ. It was a sideways move to Health, but it somehow had to involve another hundred grand.
It was a complete mystery to the FF backwoodsmen how this one came about, but they managed to force it into a joint Finance Committee and Public Accounts Committee investigation, where it remains.
The Taoiseach used much the same language then as he is using now about Katherine Zappone and the need to cross-pollinate all arms of Government with the brightest and the best.
But FFers also see the forced reappointment of ‘all FG sympathisers across the board’ as their terms conclude, and they don’t like it. They also blame FG for blocking mandatory hotel quarantining for months and standing in the way of increases to the old age pension.
Tail wags dog, they complain. But dog doesn’t whirl into a continuous circle attempting to bite tail.
Dog just looks dumbly happy and lets its tongue loll out.