Micheál Martin’s balancing act
Fianna Fáil leader has relatively free hand going into the final 12 months of confidence-and-supply deal and critical decision about when to call time on it
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has managed to keep a delicate political balancing act going for far longer than many expected when he agreed to underpin the Fine Gael-led minority government in May of last year.
The confidence-and-supply arrangement with Fine Gael was designed to last for three budgets. With two down and just one to go, there must now be a real chance that the deal will run its full course.
From the beginning Martin had to deal with the conundrum of how Fianna Fáil could attack the Government while simultaneously keeping it in power. He established a rapport with Enda Kenny that kept things on an even keel for 12 months, but the arrival of Leo Varadkar in the Taoiseach’s office has changed the dynamic. The two men are clearly suspicious of each other, as is evident from their fractious Dáil exchanges. But they have managed to keep the arrangement going.
At his party’s ard fheis last weekend, Martin tried to put as much distance as possible between himself and the Taoiseach, attempting to characterise Varadkar as a right-wing ideologue intent on tax breaks for the well-off rather than the good of society as a whole. It begs the question as to how Fianna Fáil can justify continuing to keep the Government in power if there are actually such serious policy differences between them.
Martin attempted to square the circle by claiming the “fair” elements of the budget were only there because of Fianna Fáil’s supervisory role but the generally muted atmosphere at the ard fheis reflected the confusion many party members feel at the party’s stance. One issue that generated some heat at the weekend was abortion, with the mood strongly against any substantive change in the Eighth Amendment. The tone of the debate proved the wisdom of Martin’s decision to allow his TDs a free vote on the issue.
With delegates endorsing his policy of ruling out coalition with Sinn Féin, he has a relatively free hand going into the final 12 months of the confidence-and-supply deal and the critical decision about when to call time on it.