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Andrew Lynch: Choirboy Martin's prayer seems to be 'Make me good Lord... but not yet'

"OH Lord, make me chaste but not yet."

St Augustine's cheeky instruction to God could have been written for Micheal Martin, whose holier-than-thou image has just taken a serious knock.

By refusing to give up his €88,000 ministerial pay-off, the Cork Choirboy has shown that his shiny new Fianna Fail is very much like the tarnished old one -- and made a mockery of his proposals to radically reform the political system.

Martin's double standards are obvious.


Along with the rest of the outgoing cabinet, he will receive the equivalent of a year's ministerial salary between now and 2013, on top of his regular TD's payment of €98,000.

This 'goodbye money' is designed to compensate them for the emotional pain of no longer having people address them as 'Minister' -- and although the system will come to an end for sitting TDs after this election, the new FF leaders fully intends to collect his share of the cash.

Martin really should have seen this one coming.

In his party's election broadcasts, he plays up his humble roots as the son of a bus driver and first member of his family to go to college.

Now this controversy makes him look like just another cynical politician, who preaches austerity for others while sticking his own snout in the trough.

The embarrassment is also acute because Martin has put political reform at the heart of FF's election campaign.

Amazingly, the party's manifesto has barely a word to say about such minor issues as health, education and crime.

Instead, the cunningly titled 'Real Plan, Better Future' is full of elaborate schemes to give Leinster House a major facelift -- which suggests FF are living in a parallel universe where they haven't been in power for 21 of the last 24 years.

While Martin's reform package gets full marks for imagination, some of his ideas are highly questionable.

He suggests that cabinet ministers should be replaced by 'mini-TDs' at constituency level, giving them more time to concentrate on their national duties.

There may be a certain logic to this, but it's unlikely to go down well with an electorate who are already disgusted with the level of politicians' salaries and expenses.

Martin also wants the Taoiseach to be able to choose his or her cabinet from the entire country, just as Barack Obama can do in the United States.

In theory, this would open up the system to all sorts of distinguished people who would never dream of getting involved in politics.

In practice, it would be wide open to abuse -- and the first nightmare scenario that springs to mind is Seanie FitzPatrick as Finance Minister.

Finally, Martin wants a complete overhaul of the system that appoints people to State boards.

He deserves credit at least for saying this with a straight face, since FF have become notorious for packing these quangos with party hacks, donors and other assorted cronies.

He will also be asked to explain once again why he put Bertie Ahern's former partner Celia Larkin on the board of the National Consumer Agency in 2005, a reminder of an era that most of his colleagues want to forget.

All of this is academic anyway -- and nobody knows this better than Martin himself.


Since FF are not going to have a sniff of power for the next five years at least, he is trying to fight this election as if he is already leader of the opposition. Unfortunately, the public's memories are not quite as short as he would like to believe -- and by grabbing his €88,000 ministerial severance payment, he is reminding voters that he was a key member of the cabinet that wrecked the best economy we are likely to see in our lifetimes.

Micheal Martin's honeymoon is over. We now know that he's not quite as innocent as he looks -- and if his sins of the past keep catching up with him, divorce proceedings will soon be on the agenda.