Daniel McConnell: Overtures begin as Mary Lou left out in the cold

The extraordinary spat between Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil on Thursday night was highly significant in the context of a new government being formed.

Daniel McConnell: Overtures begin as Mary Lou left out in the cold

The extraordinary spat between Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald in the Dáil on Thursday night was highly significant in the context of a new government being formed.

Re-watching the exchanges only serves to highlight just how personalised and hostile they actually were.

As the Dáil was rejecting all four of the candidates put forward to be taoiseach, McDonald and Martin swapped bitter blows, and thus ended any chance of a tie-up between their two parties.

Martin, who has most to lose,delivered a scathing critique of Sinn Féin’s commitment to democracy and its role in dealing with survivors and the victims of IRA violence, stressing that these matters relate to today and not the past.

Setting out why he felt he cannot work with McDonald, Martin let loose.

“First, the fact is that the corepolicies of our parties are irreconcilable on fundamental issues. There is also the fundamental issue that we do not believe that Sinn Féin operates to the same democratic standards held by every other party in this House,” he said.

“This is not simply about the past. The past is important and Sinn Féin’s efforts to legitimise a murderoussectarian campaign keeps alive anarrative which is used by dissidents to legitimise their campaigns today,” he said.

“However, this is more fundamentally about today. It is about practices which any party that shares government with Sinn Féin must accept as normal. Every single time an issue arises about the behaviour of people associated with the provisional movement and today’s Sinn Féin, the response is to attack and dismiss. Only when the evidence keeps piling up and the political pressure grows is there any movement. Offers to meet are expressed and calls for co-operation with law enforcement are issued but nothing ever happens. No one ever comes forward. Victims never get justice,” said Martin.

“When I raised the issue of the systematic cover-up of child abuse by the Provisional IRA, I was called a low-life by deputies present here today, yet when everything turned out to be true those deputies, be they old hands or new faces, carried on regardless,” he said, looking directly over at McDonald as he spoke.

“To be fair, I do not think Bríd and Stephen Quinn should have had to wait for 13 years for an apology from Sinn Féin for the way their beloved son was murdered or about the comments that followed his murder. Repeated anti-semitism is brushed aside as a small slip. Let us not forget that, allegedly, there have been 27 representatives who have resigned from Sinn Féin citing systemic bullying,” he said.

“The glorifying of the Provisional IRA is not an accident of one deputy’s exuberance, as Deputy McDonald claims. She has herself praised Provisional IRA units and when she ends speeches with ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá’. I think she knows full and well what the use of that phrase means. Popularised first by the former deputy, Gerry Adams, for decades it was shouted in our courts to signal a refusal to recognise this democratic Republic. When Deputy McDonald says that her party sees no reason to change its behaviour and that it insists that it be brought into government as it is we fully take her at her word. It is up to others to justify themselves if they accept that Sinn Féin’s practices are of no concern to them,” he said.

“However, they have no right todemand of us that we join them inaccepting these practices,” Martin concluded.

McDonald was next up on her feet, and in nine minutes and 53 seconds, she delivered a speech, largely without notes, but with a clarity and force which was hard not toadmire.

Undaunted by the strength of Martin’s attack, she hit out at what she called “vitriol” and “bile” from Martin and his steadfast refusal to countenance a dealwith her party.

“I see that we still live rent-free in Deputy Micheál Martin’s very narrow and bitter mind. I see that he proposes to continue the diatribe and vitriol that sustained him and served him very badly in the course of the election campaign,” she began.

“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have run the show for almost a century and by Christ they’re not minded to let it go,” she replied. “And that really is what it’s all about.” “The 500,000 or more people who voted for us were clear that a vote for Sinn Féin was not a protest, it was a vote for a different government — a government that would have the courage, the imagination and the energy actually to do things differently, a government that would put the citizen and families and communities front and centre, not big corporates, not the elites, not the well-networked, not the people that Deputy Micheál Martin used to knock around with in the Galway tent,” she blasted in her opening salvos.

“If Deputy Micheál Martin is concerned about the democratic practices within my party, I am deeply concerned by a party and a leader who sat around a cabinet table with people who were subsequently jailed for corruption. I have a problem with that and I think that most reasonable people have a problem with that. I trust that that is no longer the case within Fianna Fáil and I am sure that we will be assured that it is not the case,” she added with venom.

“I also know that if one keeps reaching desperately for the past, it really says that one is not up for the future. It says that there is something profoundly wrong, arrogant and dysfunctional in one’s political positioning. I hope that Deputy Martin will change that position but perhaps he will not. Whether he does or not, the people who vote for us are not going anywhere,” she went on.

WHATEVER hope some may have had of a Sinn Féin-Fianna Fáil coalition died on the floor of the Dáil on Thursday night. The highly embittered nature of the exchanges and the explicit and lengthy case set out by Martin means that road just simply cannot be travelled as of now.

Which was why a short time later, Martin and Leo Varadkar spoke on the phone.

The two men agreed that “exploratory talks” between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are to begin next week.

Having been defeated in the Dáil and tendered his resignation to President Michael D Higgins, the now acting taoiseach agreed with Martin to meet in person in the coming days for exploratory talks.

We also learned that Varadkar also accepted the offer from the Greens for similar talks next week.

A senior Fine Gael source stressed that the mandate from the Fine Gael parliamentary party is only for exploratory and consultative talks, not for a programme for government.

It is a small step forward but one in the direction most people now see a sinevitable.

Martin, having ruled out Sinn Féin so definitively, now has to find a way to do a deal with Varadkar if he wants to realise his dream of becoming Taoiseach.

It is the only viable option to avoid a general election and he and Varadkar both know the public will thank neither of them if they are forced back to the polls this year.

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