Thursday 22 February 2018

Micheál Martin vows to succeed Kenny as Taoiseach

Fianna Fáil leader says party won’t tolerate ‘policy surprises’

'It is impossible to miss the glint in Micheál Martin’s eye when the
prospect of becoming Taoiseach enters the discussion' Photo: Gerry Mooney
'It is impossible to miss the glint in Micheál Martin’s eye when the prospect of becoming Taoiseach enters the discussion' Photo: Gerry Mooney
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Over the past two years, minister after minister in the Fine Gael party has flinched when asked whether they want to succeed Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

It's a suggestion none of the main contenders seems to be able to handle.

The mere question often elicits a nervous smile or a simple shrug of the shoulders from the likes of Frances Fitzgerald, Paschal Donohoe, Simon Coveney or Leo Varadkar.

But with the changed Dáil arithmetic comes the new reality that Mr Kenny's successor may not be from within the Fine Gael fold at all.

And so, it is impossible to miss the glint in Micheál Martin's eyes when the prospect of becoming Taoiseach enters the discussion.

"That's the whole objective," Mr Martin replies with a sense of vigour when asked if he wants to succeed Mr Kenny after the next election.

The whole objective? The be all and end all?

The Fianna Fáil leader immediately downplays his words.

"Well, not the whole objective. But, of course, it's a legitimate objective for any opposition leader," he adds.

"We are not about just getting ministerial briefings and off into the sunset ...I think that has taken some people by surprise."

It's been almost three months since the General Election and the Fianna Fáil party is revelling in back-to-back victories.

The party's extraordinary win in relation to water charges was followed this week by the passing through the Dáil of Michael McGrath's bill, which will give new powers to the Central Bank to tackle exorbitant variable mortgage rates.

While Mr Martin says he believes the minority Fine Gael can last the three budgets, he quickly sends a warning shot to Mr Kenny that any "policy surprises" may result in the plug being pulled. These could be any measure whatsoever that is sprung on Fianna Fáil without the party's knowledge.

"Basically, that something isn't pulled out of the sky that nobody knows anything about," Mr Martin explains, adding that the clause is contained in the confidence and supply framework agreed with Fine Gael.

"There is no reason for surprises. There is no reason to be pulling strokes on policies or anything like that. And I think the Government has accepted that position," he adds.

While the confidence and supply framework is the foundation of the new administration, there is nothing formally agreed in relation to meetings between the two leaders.

The last time Mr Martin and Mr Kenny met was just under two weeks ago, the Fianna Fáil leader says.

"It's something that's going to have to be worked out.

"I think there will be ongoing, regular contact to make sure the framework agreement is being adhered to. For example, the no surprises issue, that there wouldn't be surprises. But I'd expect that we'll be having meetings with all party leaders in that respect."

Mr Martin is critical of the manner in which Fine Gael is approaching the so-called and much-heralded new style of politics.

He believes the party's response to Mr McGrath's bill on mortgage rates illustrates its reluctance to get to grips with the new political reality within the environs of Leinster House.

"I got the sense from Fine Gael's position here that their position was more political than one informed by precision. By that I mean they looked at it politically (and said) 'oh Fianna Fáil are going to get a win here and we must try and dampen the win' as opposed to taking a more nuanced view here and come forward with more concrete amendments or suggestions or ideas."

Ironically, Mr Martin also paints himself almost as an adversary to the banks - just years after a government he played a central role in issued the bank guarantee.

He said some bankers must realise they no longer live in "ivory towers".

"I'm not pro day-to-day interference," Mr Martin says. "But I'm just making the point, some of the people in the financial world need to take a deep breath here. Don't be crying out too loudly about the fact there is a debate about the Central Bank in the Dáil. With the greatest respect to everybody in the financial world, they better get used to that. Because we ain't going back to the days when they are in their isolated ivory tower, telling us everything is grand and that day is over."

As is the case with senior Fine Gael figures right now, Mr Martin has little appetite to discuss the issue of water charges. He rejects the suggestion that the issue will once again dominant during the next general election campaign, instead suggesting that education, health, justice and disabilities are far more important issues for families.

"I think there's been far (too) much political capital wasted on it. I'll be honest, I think the thing in the past three years went askew."

But the Cork South Central TD insists that families have now been given some "breathing space" as a result of charges being suspended for a period of at least nine months.

"It seems to be like the land. Water does touch people in Ireland in terms of their view of the world," Mr Martin says.

Irish Independent

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