Ordinarily, when a political party is returned to government – particularly in the wake of a recent election which nearly decimated it – its members express joy, pride and gratitude. But, then, Fianna Fáil was never an ordinary party.
Once dubbed the “natural” party of government, Fianna Fáil clearly lost its mojo during its nine years in the wilderness.
Since it staggered back to the promised land of government, it has eschewed decorum and professionalism and instead embarked on a bewildering exercise of self-immolation.
Even student politics, notorious for its pomposity and acrimony, has rarely seen the displays of avarice, egomania, treachery and ineptitude that have characterised Fianna Fáil’s first two weeks in office.
Its coalition partners have been left dumbfounded by its amateurish antics.
It culminated last night when Micheál Martin had to sack Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen after a week of controversy.
It began when Mr Martin struggled to placate his own parliamentary party, the Irish Independent then broke the news that Cowen had received a three-month driving disqualification for drink-driving.
Nobody was more surprised by this revelation than Mr Martin, who said he had no idea Mr Cowen had been convicted of drink-driving in 2016 – despite journalists stating that rumours about the incident had been swirling for years in Leinster House.
Ignominiously for Mr Cowen, among his first duties as minister was the requirement to deliver a grovelling apology to the Dáil for his “stupid, stupid mistake”, an act that was supposed to draw a line under the incident.
Bizarrely, even though Mr Cowen used his statement to reveal an exhaustive list of his motoring infractions – including failing to display a tax disc – he failed to mention the official Garda record of his drink-driving arrest alleged details of how he was stopped that he disputed.
This is despite the fact that, a few days earlier, he had threatened the ‘Sunday Times’ with legal action if the paper were to publish details of the Garda record – a narrative of events he hotly contests and has denied in a public statement, saying he “did not evade, or attempt to evade, a Garda” on the night in question.
One would have thought that, when giving a full and frank statement to the Dáil, all of the pertinent information would be put before the House.
If that had been done, the ‘Sunday Times’ would have been denied its scoop and the matter would be in abeyance until Mr Cowen’s attempts to have the Pulse record amended were dealt with.
Instead, Mr Martin faced a barrage of questions about the incident in the Dáil yesterday, with Opposition TDs decrying Mr Cowen’s failure to mention that he disputed the official Garda record of his arrest.
Prior to that there was the shafting of loyal deputy party leader Dara Calleary by Micheál Martin in an act so ruthless it could have been scripted by Francis Ford Coppola.
Mr Martin’s eagerness to sideline his second in command was such that the entire west coast became an innocent bystander victim in the political assassination, when he subsequently forgot to appoint a minister from the region to his cabinet.
Mr Martin’s failure to appreciate a basic tenet of Irish politics, that geography matters in our parish pump political system, resulted in a chorus of howls, wails and threats emanating from the dispossessed – those who were not promoted to the ranks of junior minister – a few days later.
Having created the impression that rural Ireland was getting a raw deal in an urban-centric cabinet, rural TDs were emboldened to go public with their disappointment when they were passed over for promotion.
TDs did so to send a message to their own constituents, that they would continue to valiantly fight their corner from the back benches, but also to Mr Martin, that his leadership now comes with a 2.5-year expiry date and they’re not afraid to criticise him.
In a hotly contested competition, Cork North West TD Michael Moynihan delivered the most emotive statement when he vowed to be a “thorn in the side” of the new Government after Mr Martin “insulted” his constituency.
This kind of recrimination and self-indulgence, when ministerial ambitions are dashed, is common whenever a new administration is formed.
But never before have so many elected members lined up to wash their dirty linen so publicly.
The spectacle of a succession of embittered Fianna Fáil TDs protesting their failure to secure an appointment, and a hefty €38,787 pay rise above their basic €96,189 salary, when more than one million people are reliant on State income support in the midst of a global pandemic, was truly grotesque.
Those TDs were happy to remain in line once the prospect of a job was on offer, but when those hopes faded all bets were off.
Suddenly, the man they had all campaigned for to be elected Taoiseach in February could no longer be trusted by the voters who elected them.
As the country grapples with an unprecedented public health crisis and teeters on the brink of a ruinous recession, the mutinous commentary from within Fianna Fáil doesn’t exactly instil much confidence in the Government’s competence or longevity.
Meanwhile, ensuring the party’s internecine warfare reached nuclear levels, party activist Ken McFadden stepped into the fray to allege that European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne had leaked Mr Cowen’s motoring travails to the press – an allegation Mr Byrne denied in an interview with radio station LMFM yesterday.
Coups, plots and palace intrigue – and Fianna Fáil have only been back in Government for two weeks. In early July, Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster accused Fianna Fáil TDs of “fighting like ferrets in a sack”, but she was wrong.
Even ferrets know the rules of engagement and don’t engage in mutually assured destruction.
Mr Martin waited a political lifetime to become Taoiseach, but his inaugural few weeks have been devoid of triumph and marred by public controversy, internal rivalries and bitter recriminations.Unless he restores some semblance of discipline in his party, the Soldiers of Destiny will soon be missing in action and nursing their wounds on the opposition benches.