Win-Win for Cowen and Martin
Deaglán de Bréadún
It’s not easy to foretell the result or outworking of political developments. But it was pretty obvious even before yesterday that Brian Cowen was going to win and win well. The only thing that could have gone wrong was if Brian Lenihan had come out against the motion of confidence but his RTE interview with Sean O’Rourke on “The News at One” made it clear where he stood. This piece from today’s print edition reflects my state of knowledge prior to the result of the vote being announced last night:-
Man who would be king has put himself into pole position
ANALYSIS: IN THE run-up to last night’s critical vote on the leadership of Brian Cowen, the consensus in Fianna Fáil circles and the political class in general was that Micheál Martin would emerge from the whole affair with his stature enhanced.
The man who would be king had brought the realisation of his ambition that much closer. There are times in politics when you have to put up or shut up, and Martin had nailed his colours firmly to the mast.
The general consensus for several hours prior to the parliamentary party meeting was that Cowen would win the vote by at least two to one.
This was accompanied by some incipient speculation that Martin would immediately resign as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
There was general agreement, however, that Cowen was unlikely to force him out, although Martin had lost brownie points with actual and potential suppporters by acceding to the Taoiseach’s request to put his resignation on hold until after the vote.
Cowen is regarded as someone with an innate sense of fair play and, for that reason, the widespread expectation was that, in a spirit of magnanimity and the interests of party unity, he would not demand Martin’s head once the result of the secret ballot was announced.
The only consideration that might have hindered Cowen from taking a generous stance was Martin’s forthright critique on Morning Ireland in relation to the Government’s communications strategy, or lack of it, on the EU-IMF bailout.
The atmosphere must have been somewhat tense at yesterday morning’s Cabinet meeting where Martin’s special task was to secure Government approval for taxation agreements with the Pacific island of Vanuatu and the Caribbean republic of Panama. Internal party issues were reportedly not discussed.
The schedule for Mr Martin this week had included Dáil questions tomorrow at 3.30pm and a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council in Armagh on Friday morning: would Micheál still hold the portfolio or would it be allocated elsewhere by the Taoiseach, perhaps to himself, was the question on many people’s lips yesterday afternoon.
Comparisons were being drawn between the trajectories of Micheál Martin and Albert Reynolds.
The Longford man had thrown down the gauntlet to then taoiseach Charles Haughey in late 1991 by declaring his support for a motion of no confidence in him.
For his pains, Reynolds was fired from the cabinet along with his “country-and-western” associate, Pádraig Flynn. Haughey won the vote but, a mere two months later, Reynolds had replaced him as taoiseach.
The motion of no confidence on that occasion was tabled by Kildare TD Seán Power, part of the “gang of four”. He remains a Dáil deputy as well as a sharp critic of the Taoiseach of the day.
But yesterday Power’s strictures were mainly reserved for the Minister for Finance and he expressed shock and surprise at the notion that Brian Lenihan, seen as a long-time critic of Cowen’s failings, would now be backing the Taoiseach.
There was an even sharper rebuke for the Minister from Kilkenny dissident John McGuinness: Lenihan might have greatly enhanced the prospect of a Cowen victory but in the process he diminished his own chances of the top job, at least in the short term. There was also a feeling that Minister for Tourism Mary Hanafin was ill-advised in withholding her own stance in advance of the meeting, although party loyalty would be a strong consideration in her decision.
There was no expectation in any quarter that Cowen’s leadership would survive the general election and the widespread assessment was that Martin had put himself in pole position in any contest to take over what was left of the party after polling day.
One long-time member of the parliamentary party put it thus: “Micheál has built up a great base for after the election; it was a good day’s work.
“It will also help him keep his seat in Cork South Central where he will be seen as a potential successor to Jack Lynch: the next Cork taoiseach.”
A stalwart Cowen supporter admitted that Martin had “done himself a lot of good” and, while he was at it, “given the Taoiseach a new lease of life and a new mandate”.
Leadership issues would now be “put to bed” for the duration of the election campaign and Martin would hold on to the votes he obtained in the confidence vote, estimated in advance of the meeting to range between 20 and 30 in number.
Better to have challenged and lost than never to have challenged at all, apparently.
© 2011 The Irish Times