Monday 23 September 2019

John Downing: 'Martin finally stamps his authority on rebels over foray to the North'


Action: Micheál Martin (left) and Éamon Ó Cuív have long had a fractious relationship. Photo: Arthur Carron
Action: Micheál Martin (left) and Éamon Ó Cuív have long had a fractious relationship. Photo: Arthur Carron
John Downing

John Downing

When the row erupted over the two Fianna Fáil rebels' 'Seán South of Garryowen-style' foray northwards last month, one of the duo, Éamon Ó Cuív, raised a little-known historical fact.

It turns out that the party's founder, who also happens to be Mr Ó Cuív's grandfather, successfully stood for a seat in the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont in November 1933. The history books show that Éamon de Valera won a seat for Down South, polling 7,404 votes to his only opponent's 500 votes.

Naturally, Dev did not take the seat in Belfast. But he was technically head of government in the southern jurisdiction, and a parliamentary deputy in the North, at a time when both political entities had turned their backs on one another and engaged in a long and grim cold war.

That smidgen of historical contradiction explains the level of enigma which surrounds Éamon Ó Cuív, also known as 'Dev Óg'. One of the most unorthodox politicians at Leinster House, he is a phenomenon in Galway West, and packs a political punch across parts of the western seaboard.

So, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has taken a brave step in deciding to dispense with his services on the party's front bench.

But in reality as party leader he had little choice other than to stamp some modicum of authority on the organisation.

On October 25, Éamon Ó Cuív and Senator Mark Daly, from Kerry, went to Omagh to endorse the Fianna Fáil candidature of Cllr Sorcha McAnespy for next summer's local elections in Northern Ireland. Fianna Fáil is committed since 2013 to contesting the 2019 local elections in the North and is in ongoing talks with the SDLP about a potential merger.

Sorcha McAnespy is a member of Fianna Fáil who sits on the national executive as the North representative. She could not stand for re-election to Omagh and Fermanagh Council as anything other than a Fianna Fáil candidate unless she quit the party.

Despite all that, she was not a formally endorsed Fianna Fáil candidate as per party rules and procedures.

The pair had put their party leader in a rather embarrassing position, pushing ahead the idea of a 32-county Fianna Fáil organisation off their own bats.

Mr Martin took his time before acting. He sent both men what amounted to a finger-wagging letter a few days after the incident - but there was no mention of disciplinary sanctions. For a full week, it looked like the duo's expeditionary mission was without consequences.

Then on Wednesday we learned that Mark Daly had lost his post as deputy party leader in the Seanad and as spokesman on foreign affairs.

Soon after, Micheál Martin had a meeting with Éamon Ó Cuív, renewing the pair's long-time fractious relationship.

Mr Martin was in Madrid last night when news of the front-bench sacking emerged at Leinser House. He was rubbing shoulders with eight prime ministers from other EU states, and four European Commissioners, at the ALDE liberal political group congress.

Surely, all good company for a man who had taken decisive disciplinary action.

But there remains the little detail of a members' decision to have the party organise north of the Border.

The party's rule 65 states simply that the Ard Fheis of members is "the supreme governing and legislative body of the organisation".

Irish Independent

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

Don't Miss