Once the pandemic wanes, expect a heave against Micheál Martin

Posted By: March 03, 2021

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

Four dire opinion polls from four different sources since January 28 mean it’s a matter of when, not if, Micheál Martin is defenestrated.

 The polls all show Sinn Féin and Fine Gael either within a couple of points of each other, or in a dead heat around 28-30 per cent with FF languishing at around 12 per cent. In Dublin FF is repeatedly polling around 7 per cent. After a year with Martin as taoiseach the party is back where it was a decade ago when he became leader.

 There won’t be a heave until the autumn when it’s expected the pandemic will be on the wane or under control. That would give time for a new leader to be in place to become tánaiste in late 2022. The contenders are already maneuvering but we’ll not consider their relative merits or otherwise at this point. Suffice to say whoever takes over will be important for the north. That’s not just because a Fianna Fáil leader’s position on the north should be critical in the coalition government, but because there needs to be a sea change in FF’s policy towards northern nationalists and the Good Friday Agreement.

 His almost pathological fear and loathing of Sinn Féin as a mortal danger to FF has meant that Martin has taken a wrong turn off the main road in his dealings with northern politics in general and the trajectory the Good Friday Agreement prescribes in particular. It’s painfully obviously his (and it is only his) meaningless Shared Island unit is a ploy to derail SF’s demands to prepare for an inevitable referendum. It’s going nowhere, has already been repudiated by all shades of unionism and its €500 million is just all the schemes already devised by the north-south bodies thrown in a ragbag with no priorities: a con job which will disappear with him.

His stance is designed to sideline SF, the party representing the majority of northern nationalists for over fifteen years. The corollary is that Martin thereby ignores the repeated electoral will of northern nationalists. So much for democracy. Worse, in trying to steer away from SF he has begun to rewrite the GFA. On February 22 he told the British-Irish Parliamentary Association: “Reconciliation is the core goal of the Good Friday Agreement.” Rubbish.

The GFA prescribes the means of establishing the self-determination of the people on this island. It also legally establishes equality and parity of esteem of both communities in a politico-ethnic dispute and creates political mechanisms for delivering those objectives. Typically, by emphasizing the quasi-religious ‘reconciliation’ Martin once again avoids the main issue and hands its ownership to SF. You may as well talk about reconciliation between Serbs and Croats or Flemings and Walloons. It’s a chimera.

The damage Martin’s cack-handed approach has done to the main problem was exemplified at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee for the Implementation of the GFA on February 16. The Committee is open to all northern MPs and SF were out in strength as were SDLP and Alliance, all of whom asked sensible questions about the agenda, the role of the EU in Irish unification after a referendum. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael put up third tier representatives, senators mostly notable for their genes rather than their political nous; the equivalent of a hereditary Man[chester] United team. It seems they hadn’t read the Report [The EU and Irish Unity] before them, or if they had, they didn’t understand its implications.

The report’s authors, Prof. Colin Harvey and barrister Mark Bassett, patiently explained repeatedly that implementing the GFA means holding concurrent referendums on the island and that the EU will assist with funding as in the case of German unification. FF and FG senators seemed shocked and disbelieving of this information. Following Martin’s policy, two suggested nothing could be done until Unionists are reconciled. So, it’s the Committee for Not Implementing the GFA.