Micheál Martin will be a lame duck taoiseach as soon as he’s elected

Posted By: June 24, 2020

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, June 24, 2020 
We’ll know by Friday whether there’ll be a new coalition government in The South. The odds are there will be.

Fianna Fáil, or more particularly Micheál Martin, is desperate for it to happen so that he can realize his obsessive ambition to be taoiseach. Fine Gael is more lukewarm and the Greens are openly split. However, all three parties know that the alternative is another general election and none of them wants that.

At present all the pressure is on the Green party with the southern media ganged up against the refuseniks in the party. For a while the calculation was that the northern Greens, with 800 out of a total membership of around 2,500 held the balance, but it turned out that only 195 northern Greens had bothered to register to vote for or against a coalition government in Dublin: interesting. The northern leader, South Belfast MLA Clare Bailey, and deputy leader Mal O’Hara, have both come out against the deal. They say it’s an “unjust transition”, whatever that means, and more coherently, that “it’s the most fiscally conservative arrangements in a generation”.

So presumably they’re happy with the plan for the meaningless ‘united island unit’ in the Taoiseach’s Office? Or perhaps it’s more judicious to object on economic grounds rather than introduce the constitutional question into the party in the north, an issue which, like the Alliance party, the Greens deny exists. Perhaps the fact that less than a quarter of their northern members signed up to participate in the vote on the coalition is an indication of the unionist/nationalist breakdown in the party. Of course they would deny that, but then again, they deny there’s any such thing as a constitutional issue. When they talk about saving the planet you wonder what planet they live on.

Still, in the likely event of a coalition deal being agreed and a government formed next week, the Greens need not worry too much about their future commitment to it because the seeds of its destruction are already germinating. It is certain to be inherently unstable with numbers of Fianna Fáil TDs opposed as well as Green TDs. That’s why both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been talking to as many Independents as possible to offer unsavoury personal deals for their constituencies in the manner enjoyed for years by Michael Lowry of Tipperary and the dreadful Healy-Raes of Kerry. With a paper majority of two and several unhappy TDs in each party in the coalition, the government won’t last with the coming economic crisis in the autumn and with Brexit in 2021.

There’s another fundamental problem: the rotating taoiseach, or should that be taoisigh? With Micheál Martin due to go in November 2022 he’s a lame duck taoiseach as soon as he’s elected. He has a sell by date. He’ll have to go as party leader if he lasts that long, so already Fianna Fáil TDs will be looking towards a new leader, jockeying for position. Fine Gael will hold up legislation they don’t like until he’s gone. The Greens will threaten to walk, and may well do so, as promises to them in the deal fail to materialize. Did you notice many dates in the Programme for Government? Being wiped out after their last excursion into coalition is burned into the Green party’s memory.

As Martin goes, who will decide the Fianna Fáil members of the new cabinet in 2022? Martin before he resigns as taoiseach? Certainly not; the aspirants wouldn’t wear that. The new leader surely? When will the party select him? (Yes, it’ll be a man; it’s Fianna Fáil we’re talking about). Before Martin goes?

The same goes for Fine Gael. Will Varadkar return as taoiseach in 2022 or will Coveney and his supporters launch a heave against him? If Varadkar survives will he sack Fine Gael cabinet ministers if he becomes taoiseach again? Two years in politics is an awfully long time.