Politics
Subscriber Only

Micheál Martin has not had the best run of luck as taoiseach

Inside Politics: When it looked like sunshine was breaking through, another crisis hit

Napoleon famously exhorted, “Give me lucky generals.”

With his stint as taoiseach well into its second half, one has to wonder has Micheál Martin come close to passing muster using Bonaparte’s famous test.

He has not had the best run of luck as taoiseach. He assumed the position in the midst of Covid with a brand new model of co-government with Fine Gael. It took him the best part of a year to assert himself and to get widespread public acceptance as the undisputed taoiseach of the country.

Finally when it looked like there would be a little sunshine for Irish society after all the rain, another crisis, with terrible human consequences, has occurred. The wound inflicted by Vladimir Putin's savage invasion of Ukraine will suppurate a very long time, globally, at European level and locally.

Already we are seeing its impact on energy prices. That’s not going to improve. Every sector is going to experience shortages, squeezes and supply chain issues. Inflation is beginning to bite. One can almost feel the air being deflated from the post-pandemic buoyancy. The mercury on the public moodometer is falling rapidly.

In that vein, Micheál Martin's misfortune to be diagnosed Covid-positive on the eve of the shamrock ceremony with US president Joe Biden was just awful bad luck. Even his detractors would feel sorry for him, with Martin appearing at the White House only as an image on a television screen a la Max Headroom. (If you were born after 1990, you may need to Google that.)

Several weeks ago, Pat Leahy wrote in his column that Martin might defy the expected narrative and indeed become tánaiste at the end of the year rather than stepping down as Fianna Fáil leader. Pat added that the succession could happen between the end of 2022 and the general election in 2025.

Fianna Fáil backbench TDs yesterday said the direction of the wind has been changed. By dint of circumstances over which the State has no control, the situation has become more fraught and looks likely to become even more difficult during the course of the year. They have no doubt it will have an impact on the Government’s standing with the public.

Most immediately, Martin is still in isolation and will obviously not take Leader's Questions today. He is in a race against time to attend the crucial EU leaders' summit in Brussels later this week, which will take key decisions on further sanctions against Russia, as well as dealing with the tricky issue of the EU's security and defence.

It takes place against the continuing horror of war, particularly in the besieged Mariupol, where many thousands remained trapped there.

Meanwhile, the second wave of Omicron is more like a tidal surge. As we report, almost 64,000 cases have been reported in the past five days, with 1,308 patients in hospital, of whom 49 are in intensive care. That's the highest number of patients with Covid in Irish hospitals since April 2021.

Ministers have been talking down reintroducing restrictions or looking at mask-wearing in certain situations. If the surge continues, however, that might become hard to resist.

Best reads

  • Jack Horgan-Jones reports how Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald pushed the European Union to back Irish reunification, describing it as "a realistic, achievable and necessary future".
  • He also looks forward to Cabinet on Tuesday which will hear how Ireland is expected to host the 2028 Uefa European Football Championship alongside the UK as rival bids have fallen by the wayside.
  • Derek Scally looks at the first 100 days of the new German coalition.
  • Kevin O'Sullivan reports that seven offshore wind farms could be fast-tracked to allow operators to being within five years.
  • Vivienne Clarke reports on Simon Coveney's comments in Brussels pointing to further sanctions against Russia. He is not sure, though, if Russian oil and gas will be included in the list.
  • Fintan O'Toole's closely-argued column makes a distinction between Vladimir Putin's crass aims and the true nature of Russian culture. "Alongside his physical war on the people of Ukraine, Putin wants to run a culture war of Mother Russia versus the West. It is vital to the future of Europe that we do not play it. Justified rage at Putin's atrocities must not become Russophobia."

Playbook

Minister of State for EU Affairs Thomas Byrne will travel to Brussels to represent Ireland at a meeting of the General Affairs Council ahead of Thursday's summit. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney travelled there on Monday. The big question is if Micheál Martin will be able to attend the leaders' summit later this week (starting on Thursday).

Dáil
Leaders' Questions is at 2pm.

There will be pre-European Council statements in the afternoon, with Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys taking parliamentary questions at 6.55pm.

Seanad
There will be debate on two Bills, the Garda Síochána Compensation Bill 2022 and the Animal Health and Forestry (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021.

Committee
The Environment Committee is holding a discussion on energy challenges. It's starting at 10am.

Paul Reid of the Health Service Executive will be among a number of senior officials appearing at the Committee on Children to discuss the report by the Ombudsman on Children looking at unmet needs for children with disabilities plus the waiting lists for children seeking to access assessments for needs.

The Committee on Justice continues pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Gambling Regulation Bill.

At 3pm, the Committee on Housing is examining the financing and funding of social and affordable housing with the Housing Agency as well as the Housing Finance Agency.

The Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence will discuss the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine with Dóchas, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Concern Worldwide and Trócaire.