A strung-out issue resolved as fiscal treaty war-drum finally falls silent


ANALYSIS:O’Cuív’s decision to back down reflects better on Micheál Martin than on the Galway West deputy

ANTON CHEKHOV once said if you put a loaded rifle on to the stage you’d better intend to use it.

Éamon Ó Cuív was clearly not playing by the rules of the great Russian playwright yesterday when he came on to the Dáil plinth shortly after 5pm and did whatever the political equivalent of not pulling the trigger is.

After 48 hours of building up expectations and banging away on the war-drums, he read a statement archly criticising his own party and then stating he was staying in it anyway. It begged the question as to why all the drama and the anger over the previous two days; why all the uisce faoi thalamh stuff about quitting Fianna Fáil; why all the brinkmanship and bluff with the party leadership about the fiscal treaty?

A week ago, Micheál Martin told the parliamentary party that the situation could not be tolerated where the party was advocating a Yes vote, while Éamon Ó Cuív was involved in a parallel campaign calling for a No vote.

For his colleagues the notion of him being a regular guest on primetime TV debates or, worse, appearing on stage with United Left Alliance and Sinn Féin representatives at No rallies, was a step too far. There is no Declan Ganley knocking around this time and Ó Cuív would be identified by the media as an obvious go-to figure.

He himself had said that he was not going to canvass actively. But at the same time he wasn’t going to refuse invitations to share his anti-treaty views at meetings or on the airwaves. Fianna Fáil’s approach to this delicate problem was not absolutist. Party sources said that a limited number of appearances by Ó Cuív – and perhaps mainly in the Irish-language media – would be acceptable. But it could not accept him popping up everywhere pushing a line that was contrary to the party’s official position.

That it has taken a full week for this relatively simple matter to be resolved can only be attributed to the deputy for Galway West and the manner in which he strung out a straightforward issue.

The sequence went as follows: he held a short meeting with party whip Seán Ó Fearghaíl last Tuesday, where the conversation was mostly Ó Cuív giving his view that the party had made a mistake by backing a Yes vote. A more formal meeting took place on Thursday evening. It lasted an hour and a half but there was still an overhang – a continuing “academic” discussion on what constituted campaigning. The conversation resumed by phone on Friday but was still unresolved.

But by that stage, the party believed it had a general understanding from him – which they shared with the media – that he would not campaign. But that was not his understanding. He requested a letter. Ó Fearghaíl sent a letter which ostensibly set out the party rules – by its nature it was more inelastic than the realpolitik of their discussions. The party pointed out that the letter mentioned nothing about expulsion or delivered no ultimatum. Ó Cuív, however, treated it as such, claiming the leadership was trying to force him out. And so began the prelude to yesterday’s non-announcement.

It is uncertain why he went against the party so strongly this time, when he had remained silent during all the EU referendums since Nice I. He denied last night other factors were at play, or he was trying to undermine the leadership.

His decision to back down will reflect better on Micheál Martin than on the Galway West deputy. Martin was fully prepared to lose another of an already small corps of TDs to ensure consistency of purpose and message. He would have lived with it. By bringing the matter to a head, Martin can quell any criticism that the party is sending out mixed messages.