Monday 20 January 2020

Nothing less than return to power can save Martin

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It seems unlikely that Micheál Martin is looking forward to his summer break because support for the Government usually goes up when the Dáil is off.

Against the backdrop of stumbling Brexit negotiations, a multi-faceted housing disaster and an intractable health crisis, the main Opposition party is struggling.

Mr Martin has never been panicked by bad polls before - but the downward trend is serious.

Much of the focus has been on the 13pc gap to Fine Gael, however he's likely to be even more worried about the growth of Sinn Féin under Mary Lou McDonald.

Fianna Fáil would still beat her off the pitch in a general election, but not by the distance it would once have taken for granted.

In many ways it doesn't make sense to Fianna Fáil's TDs, who wonder whether it's the booming economy or the media's "love affair" with Leo Varadkar that is stumping them in the polls.

But perhaps it's time for some internal reflection too. Fianna Fáil would not have been adverse to a bit of "game playing" in the past, but can't seem to match Mr Varadkar's continuous plotting.

And I'm not even talking about the Fianna Fáil of old. When Enda Kenny was Taoiseach, it was possible to extract regular wins over the government.

The most obvious was Willie O'Dea's fiver for the pensioners at budget time.

However, as both sides have become familiar with the operation of 'confidence and supply', Fine Gael has become less likely to get caught out.

Rightly or wrongly, Mr Varadkar's ministers are more brash than they were under Mr Kenny. They no longer fear that Fianna Fáil will call their bluff and an election - and that's a problem for Mr Martin.

There's also a question as to what comes next after the party leader.

When Mr Kenny was on the way out, voters were already familiar with the talents and flaws of Mr Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald and Simon Harris.

Fianna Fáil's frontbench appears somewhat more neutered and unexciting.

There's definitely some talent in there, but they are finding it hard to shine under the shadow of confidence and supply.

Yet they will hardly sit still for too long if Fianna Fáil can't find a way back to the top of the polls.

It's time for Mr Martin to throw caution to the wind, because ultimately he's in a game of all or nothing. Only power after the next election can save him.

Irish Independent

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