Brexit, Covid-19 recovery and EU budget will frame Martin’s tenure
Albert Reynolds emerged from the marathon talks with his eyes blazing: "Eight billion, Diggy, eight billion … tell that to the begrudgers. Now watch me put a government together," he announced.
The "Diggy" in question was Seán Duignan, Reynolds's press spokesman and for a long time one of RTÉ's most accomplished broadcasters.
It was 10.30pm on Saturday evening, December 12, 1992, and the end of a landmark EU leaders' summit chaired by then-UK prime minister John Major in Edinburgh.
Unsurprisingly, Albert had engaged in a bit of jiggery-pokery and double-counting - but any way you looked at it he and the Irish government team delivered the sweetest ever deal for Ireland, netting IR£1bn per year for the coming eight years.
In sum, Europe had helped Fianna Fáil keep power.
Reynolds had got a political kicking in an ill-advised election the previous month. But this EU largesse helped him put together a coalition with Labour and Dick Spring, who had just weeks earlier publicly castigated Reynolds.
Times have dramatically changed. Ireland is one of the EU's "petits riches" and has no entitlement to such lavish Brussels transfers.
But the EU remains central to the fate of this fragile three-party coalition. Taoiseach Micheál Martin makes his debut at the first post-Covid-19 face-to-face EU leaders' summit in Brussels in a fortnight's time, July 17-18.
The outcome of three issues will frame Martin's fate before his term in Government Buildings ends in December 2022.
These are: Brexit; post-Covid EU economic aid; and regional, social and farm funds from a new EU budget plan. All are replete with problems and it is vital that Martin achieves a good outcome.
He does know the Brussels labyrinth. For the first time Fianna Fáil has a proper EU political home in the European liberal grouping 'Renew Europe', which includes the grouping of French President Emmanuel Macron.
But otherwise, it will be all uphill.
Brexit is on a calamity course with a minimal trade deal the best hope.
The deadline for an extension has passed and, as predicted, the UK has not sought one. London is now whistling past the graveyard on this one saying a good deal is still possible. Ireland is in damage- limitation mode.
It is in a major scrap for a better share of post- corona virus aid. The Netherlands remains the obstacle to a two-thirds emphasis on grants from money to be borrowed by Brussels for the first time on this scale. Ireland's problem is changing the share-out rules.
The related EU €1.1trn budget plan still looks like cuts in farm, regional and farm fund grants, set against bigger contributions from Ireland.
Leo Varadkar rejected the proposals on February 21 at the last EU face-to-face meeting. New proposals are due next week from the summit chairman Charles Michel.