Benchmark decisions see Martin plane down the dead wood

MICHEÁL Martin cut a lonely figure as he walked down the Leinster House plinth in search of a bench.

There were eight empty benches around him, but he stopped and announced he wanted to create one of his own.

Then Brian Lenihan appeared some distance behind Mr Martin — but not nearly as distant as they are said to be in private — and all became clear as what’s left of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party gathered around the two men.

This was to be Mr Martin’s bench — wags noted that it could not really be called a “front bench” as Fianna Fáil is now in such reduced circumstances there is no “back bench” behind it — so it’s just a bench.

A bench which it must be said is looking a tad weather-worn, what with it being made up of dead wood from the last battered administration and drift wood left from the general election wash-out.

The only remaining ex-minister Mr Martin kept in the same portfolio they had held in Cabinet was Brian Lenihan at Finance. And given that Mr Lenihan’s handling of the finance brief was probably the biggest single factor in Fianna Fáil’s near wipe out, this was certainly a brave move.

The Government may be conveniently forgetting its opposition stances and taking over many elements of Mr Lenihan’s banking and anti-Croke Park deal policies with dizzying speed — but it is the ex-finance minister who will forever burn in voters’ minds as Mr Anglo, Mr Bank Guarantee Disaster, and Mr IMF Fiasco all rolled into one, so he hardly seems the best person to give FF a fresh and credible economic edge.

But then Mr Martin knows he has to play the hand he was dealt, which has thrown up some curious choices.

With only 15 Cabinet posts to shadow, Mr Martin clearly thought it would be rude to leave the other five members of his party out in the cold, so came up with the intriguing idea of making Seamus Kirk spokesperson for Horticulture and Rural Affairs.

This is a tad odd as the dictionary defines horticulture as “the art or science of gardening”.

So, let’s not worry about mass unemployment, record emigration or the looming default, at least we now have a shadow minister for weeding and window boxes.

Baby-faced Charlie McConalogue, the TD for Donegal North East who was thrust into the campaign at the last minute as Niall Blarney stormed off the pitch, was presumably given the Children’s portfolio because he looks awfully young for a TD and is the closest they have to a teenager.

Indeed, he has a rather unfortunate habit of slouching in his Dáil chair while the expression on young Charlie’s face during debates often reads like: “What am I doing here, and more importantly, where’s my Xbox?”

And then there was Willie. Ex-defence minister Mr O’Dea was handed the Enterprise and Innovation brief — and as one of the definitions of innovation is “change” who would be better suited?

You’ll recall Willie had to quit Cabinet after changing his account of whether he had smeared a political opponent by telling a journalist he had heard rumours the opponent was connected to a brothel.

O’Dea initially denied ever saying such a thing, even providing a sworn affidavit to the High Court to that effect.

But then a recording of Willie making the (untrue) smear emerged and O’Dea withdrew his untrue affidavit.

And it’s swings and roundabouts for Dara Calleary at Justice and Equality, difficult to justify no FF women deputies, yes, but on the other hand, an openly same-sex parliamentary party because of that.

It hardly helps Fianna Fáil’s traditional jobs-for-the-boys image, but don’t expect Mr Martin to feel embarrassed about not having a solitary woman TD.

“That was the decision of the electorate,” he snapped.

Great start Micheál — blame the voters.

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