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Lise Hand: Micheal's not sheepish about task ahead but he refuses to bash Bertie

'I'M off to get a photograph with a sheep," explained Micheal Martin as he climbed into his car. "The sheep is a very important animal, you know," he added with a straight face. Oh the joys of life in Opposition. There have been quite a few (of the few) Fianna Fail politicians wandering about Glenties this week -- it kills some time, now that they're not embroiled in their usual activity of governing the country.

And one of the more junior members of the party's ranks lobbed an unexpected grenade at a once-revered commandant while she was speaking at the MacGill talkathon on Monday.

Although she didn't actually name Bertie, there was little doubt that he was in Averil Power's gunsights when she declared that "in the new Fianna Fail, there must be no place for anybody who thinks it's acceptable to carry around suitcases full of cash, give loans to friends from party funds or refuse to answer reasonable questions about their rather unorthodox financial arrangements".

So no sooner had the current party leader set foot in the Donegal village yesterday afternoon when he was grilled on whether he concurred with the criticism of his new senator. And Micheal didn't equivocate.

"Yes. And I think Averil is reflecting the anger that is there amongst the members of the party across the country," he said.

"Into the future there will have to be clear blue water in terms of behaviour, in terms of what happened in the past and in terms of how fundraising is organised into the future."

But he himself wouldn't bash Bertie.

"I'm not going to pre-empt the outcome of the Mahon Tribunal but I will deal with that when it comes. It's a short time away and I'll deal with it very resolutely and clearly and fast," he declared. And there are sure to be plenty of folk eager to hold him to that promise.

But if the former Taoiseach's status has been revised downwards, then both Micheal and his fellow MacGill panelist -- Green Party leader Eamon Ryan -- have a fight on their hands to prevent their respective parties from suffering a similar fate.

What a change from last year, when both men were cabinet colleagues and the IMF was just a trio of harmless initials. Now Micheal is leader of a decimated party of 19 TDs and Eamon heads up a party with no TDs at all. None. Zip. Nada.

Both of them were taking part in a discussion called 'Transforming our Politics -- Have We The Will?', and both were gung-ho enough to show that they both indeed do have the will to tackle what most people would regard as a Herculean task to breathe life back into their endangered parties.

As the two strapped on their game faces. Micheal got stuck into several of the political reforms being brought in by the Government.

And when asked about comments made earlier in the week at MacGill by a political pundit who once ran for the party that Fianna Fail was likely to wither and die, Micheal simply shook his head. "We'll prove him wrong," he said firmly.

He then headed off for a photograph with some sheep.

Irish Independent