Micheál Martin, a savvy political operator, keeps his circle small. He has curated relationships over a number of years, and takes their counsel seriously. Although most formal appointments haven’t been made yet, his pick of personal advisors will come as no surprise to those who have observed him in Leinster House for the last two decades.
However, more of the same may not be ideal, as concerns have mounted in the last few years that Mr Martin is not listening to his TDs or his grassroots, preferring instead to listen to the small circle around him. Members felt further justified in this view after the party’s disappointing performance in the February election. In the early days of his tenure, these five personnel will have the Taoiseach’s ear.
Arguably Martin’s most trusted advisor, and chef de cabinet is Deirdre Gillane. A former nurse and trade union official for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the Cork native was an adviser to Martin when he was health minister, before going to work for Brian Cowen when he was taoiseach.
Gillane has been by Martin’s side for the past nine years. A straight-talker, she has been centrally involved in the last two election campaigns, and took on a senior role in handling the recent negotiations with Fine Gael and the Green Party, where she was regarded as “no-nonsense” but “professional to work with”.
Known as the ‘Child of Prague’ because he is based in the Czech capital, MacDonagh, from Rathgar, has worked for Fianna Fáil for two decades. A grand-nephew of the 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, he is considered an enigma, although heavily involved in Fianna Fáil’s elections.
Once regarded as an “expert on reading the mood of the public”, hailed by both Bertie Ahern and Micheál Martin for his work on campaigns, many within the party have doubted his advice to the leader.
One TD said MacDonagh has a “foreign Svengali influence” on Martin, while some of the longest-serving TDs in the party have rarely seen him in real life.
“TDs don’t know much about him, Micheál takes his advice very seriously which is strange for a fella who’s not even on the ground here,” they said.
The secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach since August 2011, Fraser will now be Micheál Martin’s go-to advisor for civil service and official government matters. The Dubliner has served under Enda Kenny, and Leo Varadkar, in the around €190k per year role.
One person who worked in the previous Fine Gael government described Fraser as “ruthless, but that’s stating the fucking obvious for that job”.
His tenure is due to run out in 2021 after serving out a three-year extension that was granted to keep him in the role on a further temporary basis.
Former party communications director Pat McParland was hired by Fianna Fáil in 2010. He was previously director of corporate affairs with NI Water and its previous head of communications. McParland’s career in politics got off to a shaky start; the first days of his tenure saw then-taoiseach, Brian Cowen accused of being drunk on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme. Some within the party say what was pipped to be a powerful career in the party was knocked off its trajectory and never fully recovered. Although highly regarded by the Taoiseach, his popularity among TDs and other members is less impressive.
When asked what they thought of McParland, one TD said: “I don’t think I can repeat it to a family newspaper.
“He’s chancing his arm most of the time. We had a horrible election campaign and failed to maintain the party identity, and that would be down to a failure of public relations.
“He plays favourites with whom he wants to front the media, and that doesn’t seem to be a very successful strategy.”
A Co Monaghan native, Collery is the only newcomer to the list, and is the new government press secretary. She has been the party’s senior press officer for a number of years after a career in local radio journalism in Cork and Radio Kerry.
Highly regarded by the press as an approachable and genuine press officer, it’s widely assumed that her appointment to a more senior role is due to the work she undertook in the general election campaign, where she was described by a party source as a “consummate professional”.