Margin was substantial
It may have been a sideshow but these sideshows are always more instructive (and much more entertaining) than the drudgery and misery being served up by the star billing.
It’s a bit rich too for Leo Varadkar to be claiming this is a distraction on Prime Time tonight, given that Fine Gael were involved in the selfsame internecine… ahem… internal debate only six months ago.
So Roll up, roll up to witness the spectacular never before sight of a win that is really a loss and a loss that is really a win…
So read on…
And the little bit of background is:
The place Fianna Fail reached last week was the end of something… tether, road, the affair.
But it was bad. Very bad.
For once the kind of high prose rhetoric – Martin’s claim that “the very survival of the party is at stake” – wasn’t too far from reality.
Fianna Fail is facing an existential crisis. A week ago the party, its leader, its TDs were mired. There are many ways of presenting bad news. They all knew there was no way of dressing up 14 per cent. And in the volatile Ireland of 2011, there was no guarantee that that was a nadir for FF.
Tonight’s contest, in precis.
Cowen prevailed for reasons that have are now well known.
For his part: his grabbing of the initiative; his contacts with the entire constituency of 71; his initiative in tabling the motion; his confidence that the middle ground had not shifted. A rousing speech at the end of tonight’s meeting.
From the perspective of TDs: too late; too confusing to have one Taoiseach and another party leader; would it make any difference. Micheal Martin’s decision not to go ahead with his resignation. A loyalty to Cowen and to his reputation.
There was also the (substantial) bar lobby who remain loyal to Cowen through thick and thin. As well as that some of the older and more traditional TDs believe that the leader of Fianna Fail is up there with Benedict II in the infallibility stakes.
We ran a story this morning, saying that 35 had declared for Cowen and saying two others – Brian Lenihan and Mary O’Rourke – were on the verge of doing so. That made 37.
To that total, you could add another four today: Peter Kelly; Michael Mulcahy; Dermot Ahern and Ruairi O’Hanlon.
That made 41. Tom McEllistrim from Kerry North (the most silent TD in the Dail) was also pencilled in as a cert for the Cowen camp. That made 42.
Sean Haughey and Michael McGrath (very very belatedly – what was he at?) declared for the Micheal Martin camp today. That brough the total to 14.
There were 15 others who would not divulge their intentions. They were: Bertie Ahern; Michael Ahern; Noel Ahern; Cyprian Brady; Thomas Byrne; Christy O’Sullivan; Peter Power; Dick Roche: Noel Treacy; Mary Wallace; Michael Kitt; Conor Lenihan; John O’donoghue; Beverly Flynn; Mary Hanafin.
I assume that most but not all of those voted No in the motion.
I know how cyncial people are about politicians and the low esteem in which they are held. I would warrant that very few of those who stated Yes in public actually voted No in private. Perhaps one or two reversed.
So, adding all that up…
I would say that the margin was clear: 20 at a minimum, and probably closer to 25. That’s a vote of about 48 to 23.
It could have been higher. Those unhappy with Cowen have consistently been unable to raise the 18 signatures necessary to table a motion of no confidece.
Obvious Conclusion One: The middle ground had not shifted.
Obvious Conclusion Two: Nobody other than Brian Cowen has built up a support base in the party. From the evidence of the past week, the pretenders can each rely on only a handful (and a smallish one at that) of supporters.
Obvious Concluskon Three: Brian Cowen is a winner but will be a loser in the long term.
Obvious Conclusion Four: Micheal Martin is a loser but may be the big winner ultimately. Reason: He finally faced down the Taoiseach and also began dismantling the image of him as a waverer and ditherer. He also came out really really well compared to the subjects of the next two conclusions. He is now the clear favourite to succeed Cowen. His reputation has been enhanced by the events of this week.
Obvious Conclusion Five: Brian Lenihan has been damaged (and some say badly damaged) by the claims (true or untrue) from John McGuinness that he was encouraging dissent against Cowen last year. Even the uttering of such a claim will taint him – and he will struggle to try to overcome it.
Obvious Conclusion Five: Mary Hanafin has also come out of it badly. Her public utterances last week suggested she wanted Cowen gone but she failed to follow through. She ducked the question on the Frontline, made herself generally unavailable to the media, and then delivered a short speech at the meeting tonight in which she refused to disclose here voting intentions.
And yes, it was a sideshow. And yes it was the most despised party in the State. But that party has badly needed an emergency of this kind to force it to confront its own reality, to allow it focus, and galvanise support.
A dose of CPR. Not corpsing any more. But not exactly running 100 metres in 9.85 seconds.
Focal Scoir: Vincent Browne has just started his programme on TV3 describing Martin as the big loser. What a spectacular misreading.