Martin oversees radically changed political scene

Posted By: June 29, 2020

Deaglan de Breadun. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, June 29, 2020

What have the Liverpool soccer team and the leader of the Fianna Fáil party got in common?

After a 30-year wait to reclaim the top spot in English football, the Anfield players emerged as Premier League champions.

On the political front, Micheál Martin became head of the Irish government a full 31 years since he was first elected to parliament.

It was also nine years after the Corkman took over the top job in Fianna Fáil and there were growing suspicions that he would be the first leader of that party who failed to become taoiseach.

Last Saturday he quashed that negative speculation when a majority in Dáil Éireann voted him in as head of a three-party coalition government.

The political scene has fundamentally changed since Martin first became a TD in 1989.

Fianna Fáil won 77 seats in that year’s general election, but in the latest ballot-box outing the party came back with 38 TDs (including the Ceann Comhairle, or Speaker of the Dáil, who was automatically returned).

Fianna Fáil was traditionally the biggest mountain on the horizon, with Fine Gael a formidable second, but in last February’s general election Sinn Féin won 37 seats, with FG taking 35.

So where does politics go from here?

The presence of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael at the same cabinet table for the first time shows that, at long last, the seeds of hatred sown between their forebears during the vicious civil war of 1922-23 have been definitively swept aside.

Whatever their differences on specific issues, both of them could be described in broad terms as parties of the centre.

The Greens make up the third leg of the stool in this government, which faces major challenges such as restoring economic normality after the pandemic lockdown, not to mention Brexit.

The coalition parties need to show us they can tackle these problems.

The manner in which Leo Varadkar and his colleagues dealt with the coronavirus situation enhanced their standing in the opinion polls.

However, Fianna Fáil emerged poorly from those recent surveys and its long-term prospects look problematic at present.

If Micheál Martin and his FF colleagues are seen to perform well in government, it could restore the party’s fortunes.

The plan is that he will hold the post of taoiseach until December 2022, when the Fine Gael leader will take over for the rest of what is intended to be a five-year term.

The 76 per cent vote among the membership of the Greens to participate in coalition affirms the perception that Eamon Ryan’s party secured a positive and progressive deal in government negotiations.

The challenge is to ensure those provisions of the agreement are successfully implemented, but without alienating popular support.

Although politics can be unpredictable, the future looks bright for Sinn Féin.

They are by far the biggest party in opposition, so the golden sky of government and the office of taoiseach could lie ahead in a few years.

As with Liverpool, Sinn Féin has a strong team and Mary Lou McDonald will never walk alone [The song “You Will Never Walk Alone” was adopted by Liverpool Football Club as their anthem].