#Ireland – New #Taoiseach has ‘mountains to climb’
Ireland has a new Taoiseach following an historic deal which saw Fianna Fáil agree to enter government with its arch enemies Fine Gael aided by the Greens. But in a new novelty arrangement where the role of PM will rotate after 30 months, Micheál Martin (pictured) has a few mountains to climb if his party is to prove it has a future in a changing country with massive debt, as Ken Murray reports from Dublin.
After almost five months of what appeared like endless talks about talks, Ireland has a new Taoiseach or PM in the form of Micheál Martin from Ireland’s second city of Cork who heads up the Fianna Fáil Party in the 160-seat Irish parliament.
Faced with the possible humiliation of going down on record as being the only leader of his party never to have been Taoiseach having led FF in the 2011, 2016 and 2020 elections, it was a case of do an unthinkable ‘marriage of convenience’ to keep Sinn Féin with 37 seats out or else prepare for a bruising leadership battle!
In this case, ‘the reluctant Bride’ was Fianna Fáil’s old enemies and arch rivals Fine Gael. The two centrist parties have been at odds with each other since the 1930s after their respective members broke away from the original Sinn Féin Party.
The Fine Gaelers accepted the creation of the London-governed Northern Ireland by the British while those in Fianna Fáil bitterly opposed it following the partition of Ireland in 1922 when Irish independence was granted arising from the Anglo-Irish Treaty a year earlier.
After members in the Greens (on 12 seats), Leo Vardkar’s Fine Gael (35 seats) and Fianna Fáil on 37 seats, voted in favour of ‘The Programme for Government’ on June 26th last, Micheál Martin faced a backlash from hard core members of his party around Ireland who felt he had gone too far.
Long serving FF TD Eamon O’Cuiv, whose grandfather Eamon De Valera founded the Party, made his disgust known in advance of the deal and stated he wouldn’t vote for it.
Speaking on RTE Radio, he said: “I doubt very much it [the Coalition] will last the course.”
If O’Cuiv’s hurt wasn’t enough to deal with, several senior members in Fianna Fáil were furious when Micheál Martin named the six FF senior Ministers who will sit alongside the six from Fine Gael and three from the Greens at the Cabinet table.
To the surprise of all political observers, the Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary, who actually helped negotiate the coalition deal, was overlooked for a Ministerial position causing further tension with the Party.
Calleary went on his local station Mid West Radio in County Mayo and didn’t hold back on his fury.
“We had a very difficult conversation. I told him [Micheál Martin] I was disappointed. I had hoped to lead a department, it had always been my ambition and it remains my ambition today. It will happen, it will absolutely happen.”
Then to add frustration, Micheál Martin came under attack for failing to appoint any ministers from the entire west of Ireland, a decision that that was made all the more painful to accept as three new ministerial positions will be located in his own constituency of Cork South-Central.
“He [MM] need not show his nose in Mayo,” one disgruntled man told RTE News in a TV vox pop.
Micheál Martin has until December 2022 to make a mark on his role when the position of Taoiseach will revert back to Leo Varadkar who will then take the top job for the remainder of the parliamentary term to early 2025.
In the meantime, Taoiseach Martin has to get the Irish economy back on its feet. Covid-19 allowance payments have added €30 billion to the national debt which already stood at almost €200 billion following the economic crash in 2008.
Elsewhere the problems in the stretched health service with long waiting lists for operations and a housing crisis in the greater Dublin area which has resulted in close to 10,000 people being homeless, has left his new administration with tough work ahead.
Martin also has to open dialogue with the Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster as his plans to create a dedicated “All-Ireland unit” within his office may meet hostile resistance north of the Irish border.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with, the formal British exit from the EU at the end of the year has the potential to do more damage to the Irish economy than the UK one!
The failure of the British Government last month to properly explain how it will deal with customs, tariffs and VAT when goods entering/leaving Northern Ireland from GB post December next has raised tensions between Dublin and London.
It means that Micheál Martin will have to work beyond the call of duty to persuade Boris Johnson that Ireland has more to lose that the UK when January 1st comes around if clarity isn’t provided on British imports/exports while in the meantime, the European Commission will give its full support to Dublin in the event of Anglo-Irish trading difficulties.
If all the above wasn’t enough to contend with, his new government looks set to become unpopular with Ireland’s already disgruntled farming community who now face gradual changes in agricultural practice to satisfy policy demands by the Greens for a reduction in carbon emissions by seven per cent annually, a notable climate-change red line in the recent negotiations!
With a lot to fix in Irish politics, there is growing concern within Fianna Fáil that this coalition with the ‘old enemy’ may be a self-inflicted death sentence.
According to former Fianna Fáil junior Minister Conor Lenihan in an opinion editorial in the Irish Times, this new government has to deliver overtly or else “the extinction of the party is now a distinct possibility and privately a fear of many of its members.”
Micheál Martin has 30 delicate months to make a lasting impression. It looks like his in-tray will be constantly full!