Saturday 17 March 2018

'Mature FF' gives encouragement to FG rebels

Micheal Martin:
Micheal Martin: "We’re not into optics – we're into action" Picture: PA
John Downing

John Downing

Was Micheál Martin really giving the green light to Fine Gael rebels contemplating a heave against Enda Kenny? The Fianna Fáil leader continued with his "we really are the mature ones here" as his party gathered for their pre-Dáil think-in in Carlow yesterday afternoon.

"We're not into optics - we're into action," he said, as he brushed aside suggestions of backing Sinn Féin's motion to abolish water charges.

More of that water charge business anon. But first, the key question of the afternoon: would Fianna Fáil still underpin Fine Gael in heading a minority coalition in a post-Enda Kenny world?

Or would a general election follow a change of leader, as suggested last week by Enda Kenny supporters, in clear efforts to quell rebel ardour?

We were back in the land of a mature Fianna Fáil, as Micheál Martin insisted that the so-called "confidence and supply" deal was based on policies - not personalities. But then came the rub: the answer was "Yes."

"There is room within the lifetime of the Dáil for changes and that has happened before. One doesn't necessarily have to have a general election when a new Taoiseach is appointed by the Dáil," he opined.

Those words were interspersed, in Irish and English, with an insistence that the "leadership of Fine Gael is a matter for Fine Gael". Inside the Seven Oaks Hotel in Carlow town, one Fianna Fáil TD looked like he could smug for Ireland.

It seemed such a long time since Fianna Fáil had a good blood n'guts leadership war.

"Ah now, there's no fire in this house," our smug deputy said.

Micheál Martin warmed to his maturity theme when asked what he thought of the Independents in government.

Essentially, it was time those Independents hardened up and developed more cohesion between themselves and with Fine Gael.

"We're almost in some cases getting a blow-by-blow account of what happened at Cabinet and who put up the best fight for the best outcome. There's no cohesion and it's going on since before the summer," he said.

That was the Independents given a good slapping with a clear "grow up" message.

Then there was a quick scoot around education policy as the 50th anniversary of Donogh O'Malley's free secondary schooling looms into view. Stand by for another flashpoint here - Fianna Fáil will oppose full-blown third-level fees but more money must be found for the colleges from the national coffers.

Back with the dreaded water charges - Micheál Martin insisted there was no conflict between wanting them gone and not voting for Sinn Féin's motion on abolition when the Dáil comes back next week.

He argued that the Sinn Féin motion would not end water charges because it would require legislation and for now his party was sticking by the deal for a review and a major debate next year.

That is a typically nuanced and clever piece of "mature Martinism." But it will not be the way Sinn Féin will be telling it in the housing estates as this little nasty topic slopes back onto the political agenda really soon.

Irish Independent

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