Miriam Lord: Micheál Martin begs for just a little more time

Fianna Fáil leader stutters in the Dáil but there’s no sign of dissolving from Kenny

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. File photograph: Eric Luke

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

It’s vicious in Cork South-Central, where five high-profile sitting TDs are battling for one of four seats in this redrawn constituency. There’ll be blood on the doorsteps by the end of February.

Here’s the famous five: Micheál Martin, the leader of Fianna Fáil, who shares the ticket with his party’s highly regarded finance spokesman, Michael McGrath.

On the Fine Gael side, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney is lining out alongside Jerry “Butsy” Buttimer, chairman of the Oireachtas health committee.

Labour is represented by Ciarán Lynch, chair of the Oireachtas banking inquiry, who had his moment in the sun yesterday when the group launched its report.

All are no strangers to the limelight. All are itching to return to Leinster House. At least one of them will have to go, but he won’t go down without a fight.

Or so everyone thought.

As the Dáil’s orderly wind- down continued through another session of Leaders’ Questions and on into the Order of Business, Micheál Martin spoke at some length about the Technological Universities Bill.

He took the best part of 10 minutes, so the Ceann Comhairle tried to move on to another speaker.

Micheál protested. He wasn’t finished yet. “I just want to make two points, which I normally get a chance to do,” he pleaded, advancing a sob story worthy of Peter Mathews to bolster his request.

“This could be the last, er, this could be my last day here, Taoiseach, you know, or, or, Ceann Comhairle . . . ” stuttered the Fianna Fáil leader, apparently undergoing a major crisis of confidence.

To the untrained eye, the handful of hecklers reposing on the Government benches might have looked unconscious.

But as soon as Micheál issued his plaintive appeal they snapped smartly to attention and started to roar.

The object of their taunts was not so much Martin but FF’s domesticated “maverick” John McGuinness.

McGuinness’s time

Joe Carey

Patrick O’Donovan from Limerick joined in: “Your time has come, John. You’re the man!”

Of course, as soon as the words left his mouth, Micheál Martin knew they had come out the wrong way.

His last day? He sincerely hopes not. He rattled out the correction immediately.

“Of this Dáil!” he cried, mortified. “Of this Dáil! Of this Dáil, yeah!”

Across the floor, Jerry Buttimer looked ever so slightly disappointed.

“Do you know something I don’t know?” asked the Ceann Comhairle, giving Micheál the chance to recover by putting to the Taoiseach the one question of interest in Leinster House these days.

“Will you confirm that you will be coming into the House on Tuesday to dissolve the Dáil and go to the park to commence the general election? You might be in a position to confirm that.”

Enda was, indeed, in the position to confirm, but he had no intention of doing it. He smirked and muttered something nobody could hear.

So what of the latest rumour?

Twickenham bound

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But they were, as the lawyers might say, resiling from that position yesterday.

Much too frivolous a reason for picking a date, they insisted, like they’d been got at by the stability police.

Yet they still weren’t ruling out the 25th. Why? Because five years ago to the day, when Enda Kenny was swept to power, the general election took place on February 25th. He’d like that symmetry.

Meanwhile, as sanity seeps slowly from the corridors of power, thoughts turned to next Tuesday, when the Taoiseach will name the day. Or not.

If he goes to the park on Thursday for a February 25th election day, that will mean a short, sharp three-week campaign.

But could cold- hearted Enda really inflict another week on everyone? If he does, he should be arrested for cruelty.

Which brings us to last Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting. We hear Ministers presumed the Taoiseach would finally let them in on his election date secret.

According to our high- powered source, “at the end of the meeting the room hushed and all the Ministers looked to Enda expectantly, waiting for him to put them out of their misery. And he stood up, grinned, and said: ‘See you all next week’.”

He’s making a meal of it now.