Miriam Lord: Micheál Martin didn’t walk, but floated along the corridors
The Fianna Fáil leader has a big problem – dealing with his party’s high spirits
Perhaps to signal its intent, Fine Gael decided to hold a transition day photocall on the plinth, trotting out its parliamentary party for the cameras. An unusual move. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times
There were so many puffed out chests parading around Leinster House yesterday it was like waking up in the middle of a Foghorn Leghorn convention.
The prime offenders were from Fianna Fáil. In the weeks to come, the party leader’s biggest task will be the containment of his deputies’ exuberance. But he’ll have to deal with his own first. Micheál Martin didn’t walk, but floated along the corridors, beaming at everyone he met.
At lunchtime, after a reportedly high-spirited and rather triumphal post-election parliamentary party meeting, it was feared Micheál might have to be tethered to stout rope and even stouter men for fear he might take off altogether.
He was cheered to the rafters when he entered the meeting, which will have done his confidence no end of good.
His three closest advisers roamed around for most of the day, failing miserably to look inscrutable, spotted in conclave in various parts of the Kildare Street campus. Make no mistake, the boys and girls are back in town.
Terry Leyden, bursting with delight, was already handing out leaflets for his forthcoming Seanad campaign. We saw former FF minister Síle de Valera in the car park. Willie O’Dea and Billy Kelleher beamed together at the front gates.
Former senator Marc MacSharry was already working on looking statesmanlike, making pronouncements.
Old faces from Fianna Fáil administrations past started reappearing. Oh, but it sickened the lads from Fine Gael. Fit to be tied, they were. They’re feeling trapped at the moment; hemmed in by their own piffling success.
Enda Kenny and his TDs are the winners on 50 seats. But as they are discovering this week, it’s not always the winning that counts.
For them the taking part is proving a major problem. As the largest political party in the 32nd Dáil it is expected to take the leading role in government negotiations, yet it does not have sufficient strength to forge its own future
Micheál and his reinvigorated troops are, of course, in the national interest, very anxious to play a solid part in the delivery of a viable administration, but at what price?
Even at this early stage they haven’t been behind the door in naming it. It was clear from the reactions of returning Fine Gael deputies that they are totally cheesed off with what they see as grandstanding by their old rival.
Already, Fianna Fáil statements about Dáil reform and Irish Water have been interpreted as clever pre-emptive strikes in the negotiating process, designed to appeal to the large number of Independent TDs.
If the ankle-snappers can soft-soap enough of them, they could even win the vote to elect a taoiseach when the new Dáil meets next Thursday. That’s the plan, and judging by the demeanour of the Soldiers of Destiny scurrying around the building, they think they have a good chance of doing it.
Fianna Fáil, technically the losers, breezed back to business with a big smile. And Fine Gael, technically the winners, trudged back to business with a heavy heart.
The deflated Blueshirts had to fight back. So they too puffed out their chests, albeit in a less than convincing manner.
It wasn’t actually the first day back. That happens next week. Leinster House is in a state of flux, with people on the way in and people on the way out. A month ago, the vanquished candidates were shipping out their leaflets and their hope in brown boxes; yesterday they were packing their parliamentary careers into them.
But, perhaps to signal its intent, Fine Gael decided to hold a transition day photocall on the plinth, trotting out its parliamentary party for the cameras. An unusual move.
Somebody stopped Martin in the canteen and asked him if Fianna Fáil were going to do the same.
“Certainly not” he grinned, with a cheerful “Humility! Humility!”
The Fine Gael photocall was late. The waiting media eyed the darkening sky. A party official approached journalists to tell them that no questions would be taken.
The TDs, and some Senators, gathered outside the front door and were joined by the Taoiseach. Then they spread along the plinth and began that familiar, self-conscious, chorus line swagger down the granite, stopping at the steps in front of the photographers.
Simon Coveney – who would later apologise to his parliamentary party colleagues for his “loose” words about Fine Gael’s commitment to retaining Irish Water – was tucked well in at the back, as was Leo Varadkar.
It started to rain. Enda joked and made small talk with the female TDs around him while the rest of the group laughed and joshed and looked like they were having a marvellous time.
A few journalists, hoping to surmount the no-questions edict with an easy starter, wondered if everyone was happy. Nothing.
A photographer, trying to get them looking a little more animated, shouted: “On the count of three, give a little cheer. Three, two, one...” Silence.
Then they walked back down the plinth to begin their parliamentary party meeting.
Earlier rumblings from angry TDs about a possible U-turn on their Irish Water policy were given a full airing.
Having spent the best part of five years getting hammered for their stance, the politicians had no intention of being bounced into a change by Fianna Fáil. “We stick to our guns,” is what Wicklow’s Andrew Doyle said on his way in.
At the meeting, with deputies smarting at the idea that Fianna Fáil is trying to get them to roll over, Paschal Donohoe was reported as saying there is no point in having power if it is power without authority. Which was a nicely pointed “leak” from the fifth floor.
Perhaps the awkwardly defiant little episode on the plinth was a message from Fine Gael to the fired-up ankle-snappers of Fianna Fáil: they aren’t going to be steamrolled into anything.
Meanwhile, Micheál was busy glad-handing Independents. He bumped into Shane Ross. “Howya, Shane. Your mobile number is very hard to get. Sure, give me a shout!”
Outside, workmen were building a new entrance at a blocked-up archway.
“What are they doing exactly?” inquired someone.
“Widening it for Micheál’s head,” sniffed a Fine Gael TD.