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Bigger challenges ahead for Martin

Editorial


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Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: PA

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Photo: PA

It was Bill Clinton's advisers who came up with the 10-day rule, reckoning that the media would move on from a controversial story at that point in the news cycle if the embattled president was still standing. In the UK, that arch spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, also subscribed to the theory, while adding an extra day. If a Labour minister was still on the receiving end of negative headlines after 11 days, it was curtains - time to exchange polite letters with Tony Blair and go home to lick your wounds.

The concept of ministers falling on their swords has never really caught on in Ireland. Even in circumstances that would be seen as an open-and-shut case across the water, the tendency has been to dig in, lash out, turn on your accusers and refuse to yield. This may partly explain why Micheal Martin was obliged to wield the dagger himself last week, when sacking his newly appointed agriculture minister.

It was probably just a coincidence that Barry Cowen was dispatched on the 11th day of the controversy over his drink-driving offence, but Mr Martin was correct to take the view that this sorry business had gone on long enough. If anything, he was too slow to seek a comprehensive explanation from his Fianna Fail colleague, once the news was broken by the Irish Independent. In dismissing one of his own ministers so soon into his term as Taoiseach, Mr Martin has undoubtedly made a few more enemies within the party he leads, but that should not concern him unduly in the greater scheme of things.

We must assume that Mr Cowen had banked on an abject apology being enough to get him off the hook, but it was more what he did not say that ultimately sealed his fate. The alleged contents of the Pulse report into his case four years ago raised serious questions about his conduct while behind the wheel on that day. The former minister had an opportunity to put the full facts on record, but instead he danced around them.

He subsequently refused to answer further questions in the Dail, on the basis - according to his local radio interview yesterday - that to do might "undermine or prejudice" the legal "opportunities" he has already set in train.

Failing to set out the full facts in the Dail, when asked to do so by the Taoiseach, was simply unacceptable. That he was not required to face a single question when making his statement to the House did no credit to the politicians who voted down a motion that would have compelled him to do so.

If Mr Cowen had been given the transport ministry three weeks ago, he could not credibly have overseen any measures designed to reduce the death and devastation on our roads caused by drink-driving. Why should the bar have been lower just because his portfolio was different?

An unnamed backbencher declared that Mr Martin had "p****d off an awful lot of people" with the decision, but such mutterings should be of no concern to a Taoiseach who is facing into far more testing situatons during the two-and-a-half years he will lead the country.

At the ballot box, politics in Ireland is often too much of a popularity contest. Government is different - and governing in difficult times demands strong leadership. Mr Martin showed a flash of steel last week, albeit it took him long enough to locate it. He will know better than most that more will be required before he hands over the reins.

Sunday Independent