FROM highs of the furore in Cork last weekend, Micheál Martin’s reign as Taoiseach seems to have already hit a few stumbling blocks in the first week - and it wasn’t among those who didn’t vote for Fianna Fáil, but among the members of his own party the issues lay.
It’s become almost trendy for parliamentary party members to criticise the Fianna Fáil leader this week because they didn’t get a senior or junior ministry.
However, the week got off to a flying start last Friday, with each of the three parties - Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party - strongly endorsing the programme for government, despite talks that it may not get over the line with the Green Party.
Speaking toafter the votes, the now Taoiseach Martin said that people “want a government formed to deal with the enormous challenges that Covid-19 has created, both from the health perspective, the economic perspective, and the social perspective.” He also said that he would be honoured and privileged to take up the position of Taoiseach, following his election the next day.
Despite trading blows in the election campaign, his Cork South Central constituency colleague and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said a Cork Taoiseach is something that will be “very strongly welcomed across Cork city and county” and wished Mr Martin well in his new role - more than was said by some of his own party members.
The positivity poured into Saturday when he was elected Taoiseach, but his first speech in the role highlighted the stark reality the country faces in coming back from Covid-19.
"The struggle against the virus is not over. We must continue to contain its spread. We must be ready to tackle any new wave, and we must move forward rapidly to secure a recovery to benefit all of our people,” he said.
He met with President Michael D Higgins to get his seal of office and began announcing his ministerial appointments. That’s when the tide of opinion within Fianna Fáil began to change slightly.
Dara Calleary, deputy party leader, seemed a shoo-in for a senior ministerial position. He was given the job of Government chief whip - meaning no vote at cabinet. While he wants to make the most of the job he has gotten, he said he was disappointed not to become a minister.
Some other more senior members of Fianna Fáil were overlooked, while first-time TD Norma Foley from Kerry was selected. However, those that felt slighted stayed quiet, if only for a couple of days.
Sunday, again, was a joyous occasion for Micheál Martin’s family, supporters, and friends in Cork, as people lined the streets in Ballinlough to welcome Cork’s second Taoiseach home. He spoke of how Jack Lynch was a hero in his house, and acknowledged those who had died due to Covid-19.
A rousing rendition of The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee was sung as his family and friends greeted him. Mr Martin said the day was enjoyable, but acknowledged the difficult days to come: “It’s lovely to get that respite today but one is always conscious of the challenges that lie ahead,” he said.
Little did he know quite how difficult it was going to become just within his own party on Monday as he announced his selection of junior ministers.
Some senior Fianna Fáil figures may have a right to be somewhat miffed by the snubs, but more and more TDs came out of the woodwork to complain as the week went on. As the junior ministers were announced on Wednesday things seemed to go from bad to worse.
Dublin TD Jim O’Callaghan evidently felt hard done by for missing out on a senior portfolio and subsequently turned down a junior ministry.
It’s highly likely he will contest the party leadership in the future - though how far in the future remains to be seen. It’s expected he will use the time as a backbencher to work on the ground and drum up support for his own leadership campaign when the time comes.
Fianna Fáil insiders say it’s doubtful that a leadership bid would happen before Micheál Martin’s term as Taoiseach comes to an end, but admit it is likely following Deputy O’Callaghan’s decision.
Limerick TD and former Minister, Willie O’Dea came out fighting also, despite Limerick getting two junior ministers, albeit not in the city constituency. Then, Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill expressed ‘extreme disappointment’ he had been overlooked.
The most notable from a Cork perspective was Fianna Fáil North West TD Michael Moynihan.
He said he was disappointed not to have received a junior ministry, and was reported as saying that the Taoiseach had “insulted me and my community” by not appointing him a junior minister, adding that he was “very, very disappointed with him”.
Speaking to C103, he added that he and Micheál Martin “had a full and frank discussion” on the phone regarding the issue. Deputy Moynihan said he gave the Taoiseach some “home truths” adding that “he got it both barrels”.
A Fianna Fáil source toldthat while there was some sympathy for some of the more senior members of the party who were snubbed, the time to make demands was two weeks ago “not after the horse has bolted”.
However, the source said people understood why people like Willie O’Dea and Michael Moynihan were annoyed having given so much to the party “but at the same time, they can’t really blame anybody. They had the chance to voice what they thought in the last few months but they didn’t.”
The source also said that the best people for the jobs should be appointed to ministerial positions, “feck your gender, feck your geography, and pick your best six senior and junior and wherever they fall they fall. It’s supposed to be national politics at the end of the day.”
However, Cork city itself fared well in senior ministerial terms, with Simon Coveney reappointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Michael McGrath appointed Minister for Public Expenditure, both in Micheál Martin’s constituency.
The Taoiseach faces into one of the most uncertain terms anyone in the position ever has. As the country emerges from the midst of a global pandemic, the pressure is on to deliver that economic recovery that is needed, but Micheál Martin has warned: “Economic recovery depends on continued suppression of the virus.”
Just as no one could have predicted the spread of Covid-19 throughout the world, his first 100 days in office will be unpredictable. If his first week is anything to go by, there could be a few surprises along the way.