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Government faces battle to win hearts and mind of public

Comment & Opinion

SURPRISE VICTORY Catherine Connolly’s victory in the secret ballot vote for the position of Leas Ceann Comhairle shows the relationship between many Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs cannot be relied on for government unity.

Faltering start means Martin under real pressure to maintain unity

MICHEÁL Martin waited a long time in the political wings before he became Taoiseach but his first few weeks in the role have really been a baptism of fire for the Fianna Fáil leader.
It is just over a month since the Cork TD announced his front bench on June 27 and the crises that followed have come thick and fast.
His omission of Dara Calleary from that front bench was met with shock in this part of the country, but Martin steadfastly defended that decision by stating he needed someone of Calleary’s stature in the role of Chief Whip, and that like it or not, that decision wasn’t for changing.
However, the dust had barely settled on that furore when the story broke about Barry Cowan’s drink driving indiscretion, which would eventually lead to the new Minister of Agriculture been sacked by Martin just 17 days into his tenure.
Ironically, this opened the door to allow Dara Calleary a ministry, but the whole episode has obviously fractured the relationship between Martin, Calleary and Cowan, three of the main players behind the decision that Fianna Fáil had a future even if the party went into coalition with Fine Gael.
Party leaders Martin, Varadkar and Ryan have been at pains to insist that behind the scenes there is harmony within the coalition, but in truth they have had to handle a fair amount of internal party ructions since the coalition was formed.
The aforementioned Fianna Fáil problems have been matched by former Fine Gael minister Michael Ring’s stern criticism of his own party in relation to their approach to rural Ireland, while Eamon Ryan just about managed to hold on to the Green Party leadership when challenged last week by Catherine Martin.
A real test of the harmony among the coalition came last week when the vote for the Leas Ceann Comhairle took place, and it was widely expected that the Government’s nominee, Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd, would coast home, considering the Government majority in place. However, the results of the secret ballot revealed that the other nominee, Galway Independent TD Catherine Connolly, had defeated O’Dowd, and in the process would become the first woman to fill that position.
It appears a lot of Fianna Fáil backbench TDs voted for Connolly in the end. This could be due to the fact that O’Dowd had never enjoyed a good relationship with the former opposition. The whole sorry episode goes to show that long-serving Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs have long-standing grievances with each other – grievances that they could find difficult to park, even for the sake of keeping the Government’s head above water.
Leo Varadkar also did Micheál Martin no favours with his confused messaging over the infamous ‘green list’ in relation to foreign travel.
All in all, there does seem to be a bit of chaos going on behind the scenes, and the coalition leaders could do with being a bit more co-ordinated in their comments when talking to the national media.
When forming this government, the three leaders really had to expect that in the Covid-19 environment in which we now all live, the tests would come thick and fast, and a few more are coming down the tracks over the next fortnight.
The August 10 opening date for public houses is now on the horizon, and guidelines need to be issued as soon as possible to bring clarity to a sector that is bordering on a huge crisis.
And the ultimate litmus test may be the coalition’s ability to get schools opened late August in a streamlined and organised manner that will satisfy all the parties involved.
August is normally a month when out politicians put their feet up and take what they consider to be a well-deserved break from Dáil Éireann. However, in these extraordinary times, August now could well indeed be a pivotal month for this new government, which still has it all to prove that it will even see 2021, never mind December 2022, when Leo Varadkar is set to return as taoiseach.