Taoiseach-in-waiting meets man waiting to be taoiseach
Latest round of negotiations shouldn’t be too taxing for newly installed FG chief
Thomas Byrne with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Dara Calleary during a Fianna Fail press briefing on the plinth. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Where would we be without the plinth?
Or that pavement patch of no man’s land outside the gates of Government Buildings?
Oh, the thrill of witnessing a line of politicians as they stride purposefully towards the cameras, carefully adjusting expressions to gravitas level before reaching the microphones.
We saw lots of these scenes after last year’s general election, when various parties and Independent groups spent weeks trooping into Enda Kenny’s office for talks on government formation, while Fianna Fáil agonised about lending minority support to Fine Gael.
There is nothing politicians like more than being at the centre of top level negotiations concerning themselves. It’s all them and the issues and doing what is right for the country. Stuff they could talk about forever.
Now it’s Leo Varadkar’s turn to do the hosting. Barring a major upset (and none is expected) he will become taoiseach next Wednesday. Most people thought it would happen a day earlier, but that was before a departing Enda Kenny shouted “See you next Tuesday” to Leo and Micheál Martin, and they hadn’t the heart to deny him.
Long goodbyes to Enda
He didn’t get a proper official send-off last week, so he will have one next week. This will allow Leo take a good run at announcing himself and his new cabinet the following day, without the long goodbyes to Enda dragging proceedings to some ungodly hour.
This latest round of negotiations shouldn’t be too taxing for Varadkar. He is dealing with people who are already in a deal with the current Government and are not keen on sundering it. But they want to let the new man know they are no pushovers and will insist he makes good on the promises of his predecessor.
While the interested parties in the discussions have to show they’re willing in the period before Varadkar ventures forth, there isn’t any sign of discord among them.
Members of the Independent Alliance flitted around the corridors of Leinster House yesterday, busy with their Government business. Their Ministers – senior and junior – had a lengthy meeting with Varadkar on Tuesday.
“All very harmonious,” said one of them, casting a longing look at the media massing on the plinth for Micheál. “It was a bit like a monologue. We listed all our demands and Leo sat there taking notes.”
They’ll be in to meet him again on Sunday. Finian McGrath will seek to further burnish his credentials as the Minister for Beaumont hospital, Shane Ross will probably get up Leo’s nose and John Halligan will either walk out or cry. Then they’ll march happily back to the Government benches.
Independent Ministers Denis Naughton and Katherine Zappone, along with backbench Independent TD for Clare and Government supporter, Dr Michael Harty, did the ceremonial walk from the back of Leinster House along Merrion Street to the gates of Government Buildings.
Two of them got half way and then appeared to take fright, disappearing from view at the Natural History Museum. It turned out they had nipped in at the ministerial gate, there to collect Naughton.
Denis said they would be pressing Leo to deliver on the commitments made in the programme for government, particularly in the areas of health, agriculture, education and justice.
A group of American students got very excited.
“Is that the President?” asked one, preparing to hoist his iPhone.
He lowered his arm. “She says they’re just politicians.”
Once safely inside, the trio posed for a nice photograph of themselves at the bottom of the stairs in front of the stained-glass window.
Meanwhile, over on Kildare Street, the blue velvet rope was up on the plinth awaiting the arrival of the Fianna Fáil contingent. Three dark suits came out - leader Micheál Martin along with Thomas Byrne and Dara Calleary. They did the purposeful walk, Micheál in the middle.
He did all the talking. The other two planted themselves on either side, grim of face, feet apart, hands down and clasped together, like a pair of nightclub bouncers looking for troublemakers.
They never said a word, their boss took questions for 20 minutes about his two hour meeting with Varadkar. Just the two of them, each with one key adviser: Brian Murphy with the taoiseach-in-waiting and Deirdre Gillane with the man waiting to be taoiseach.
“Positive and constructive” was Micheál’s verdict.
After that bombshell, he mentioned all the issues he brought up. The kitchen sink may have been flung.
The “operation of the Dáil” and the “slow, tardy” manner of bringing about legislation, was one. His party will “engage constructively and energetically in getting these Bills though”.
Why? Did he not do that with the last guy?
In the recent past, Leo said unkind things about Fianna Fáil. That didn’t bother Micheál, who knows how these things work. “I didn’t get any of that hostility at the meeting, to be frank.”
Then a young pup wondered if the new Fine Gael leader’s youth – he’s 38 to Martin’s 56 – was a worry.
“I don’t feel old at all . . .that’s no concern,” laughed Micheál, who is in the whole of his health and a testament to good living.
He’ll be continuing his party’s minority support for a Varadkar-led government, while keeping an eye on them from the Opposition benches.
“As far as we’re concerned we’ve tempered the worst excesses of Fine Gael but they’re always there to be pushed out,” he remarked. He may have been referring to party strategy but was most likely noting they must remain vigilant at all times.
“Do you trust Leo?,” he was asked.
“I wouldn’t trust Leo as far as I could throw him” is what we hoped he would say.
“On a personal level, I’ve no reason not to trust Leo Varadkar and I go into these meetings in good faith. We don’t know each other that personally, you know, but, I mean, we’re two pragmatic professional politicians; we want to see things done for the country” is what he actually said.
So it’s as you were.
Move along now.
Nothing to see.