Paul Hosford: Micheál Martin wouldn't have imagined his first 9 days as leader going like this

Paul Hosford: Micheál Martin wouldn't have imagined his first 9 days as leader going like this
Leaders' Questions will provide a respite for new Taoiseach Micheál Martin after a challenging few days. File Picture. 

The first time he took Leaders' Questions from the government side of the Dáil chamber will have played out differently had Micheál Martin ever imagined it.

Publicly, Mr Martin always maintained prior to his election as Taoiseach that he had not given thought to the idea of leading the country. But as the leader of Fianna Fáil, it is unlikely that his mind never drifted.

In those scenarios, he was likely leading a Fianna Fáil majority into Dáil Éireann on the back of a romping electoral victory, his position untouchable. Instead, he will come to the floor of the Dáil in power for the next 29 months, before handing over power to Leo Varadkar, while one of Mr Martin's own TDs has already suggested he won't last that long as a party heavyweight and has already began his own moves to take over over the leadership of the party.

The appointment of junior ministries led to bitter recriminations in the party, following suit from the senior appointments. Mr Martin was variously accused of ignoring two of Ireland's four provinces, of betraying his party's deputy leader Dara Calleary or of forgetting the people of rural Cork and Limerick city.

On top of that, a friend has been forced to apologise for breaking public health guidelines in order to be there for Mr Martin's election and a senior minister was found to have a four-year-old drink-driving ban which wasn't disclosed to Mr Martin until the media became aware.

In Micheál Martin's head, the first nine days of life as the leader of Ireland must surely have gone differently.

Mr Martin is not known as a disciplinarian or a micro-manager, but the transgressions of Barry Cowen and Billy Kelleher will rankle given their timing.

Mr Martin says that he was only informed about Mr Cowen's driving ban on Friday and has accepted his Agriculture Minister's apology. But as the issue drags on and attracts more media scrutiny, the Taoiseach will find himself wondering if any other members of his cabinet or junior ranks has anything of which they haven't informed him.

In Kelleher's case, Mr Martin will be frustrated that it came to light so shortly after leading Sinn Féin figures had been criticised for their attendance of Bobby Storey's funeral in Belfast. In his own case, when he returned to Ballinlough 24 hours after being elected Taoiseach, Mr Martin went to great lengths to be seen physically distancing, resisting the urge to shake hands with old friends and only embracing his wife and children.

Now, the question is how much damage has been done by this government stumbling out of the traps. For now, his coalition partners have seemed willing to accept apologies and move on, but one can only wonder how many more individual issues will be allowed to cross the plate before somebody tweets their displeasure at their Government buildings roommates. On a personal level, it calls into question his vetting of his own ministers - Mr Martin says he didn't know about Mr Cowen's ban, but did he ask?

It is probable that these are just teething problems: the adjustment to life of a party with no muscle memory of being in power, getting all of its mistakes out of the way early. But as Mr Martin prepares to take on what's on the opposite side of the political divide, rather than seated behind him, he will hope his party colleagues can spare him further headaches.

It is rare to see a July Dáil sitting where one is to be grilled by Mary Lou McDonald, Alan Kelly and Catherine Murphy or Roisín Shortall and others as a respite, but Mr Martin will welcome the distraction of his actual job, where he gets to look at the opposition, instead of his own party.

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