Daniel McConnell: Six days into the Fianna Fáil ministerial row and recriminations are still flying

Most Cabinet appointments and reshuffles bring a degree of unhappiness, disappointment, and resentment. But, Mr Martin’s choices to fill his Cabinet and junior ministerial ranks have truly turned into a messy quagmire which has overshadowed his rise to power.
Daniel McConnell: Six days into the Fianna Fáil ministerial row and recriminations are still flying
Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach Micheál Martin: controversy over cabinet selections continues. Pic: Dan Linehan.

Day six of the ministerial appointments row and the recriminations are still flying for Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Most Cabinet appointments and reshuffles bring a degree of unhappiness, disappointment, and resentment. But, Mr Martin’s choices to fill his Cabinet and junior ministerial ranks have truly turned into a messy quagmire which has overshadowed his rise to power.

The highly surprising omission of his own deputy leader, Dara Calleary, from the Cabinet ministerial ranks, set the tone for a “difficult weekend” for his party.

While Calleary’s appointment as junior minister and chief whip dominated the headlines as the finalised list of ministers emerged, it quickly became apparent that a huge number of counties, particularly along the western seaboard, were left with no minister.

In an interview with this newspaper for Monday, the Taoiseach defended his decision, insisting that Calleary is perfectly suited for the chief whip role and that the numbers were just too tight.

Having kept his counsel throughout Sunday, Calleary broke his silence on Monday morning in response to the Taoiseach’s Irish Examiner interview.

Calleary said he had had an "incredibly difficult" conversation with Micheal Martin and was "angry" when he was not appointed to a ministerial role.

"We had a difficult conversation, I told him I was disappointed, I had hoped to lead a department, and still is my ambition today, it will happen. It's been a difficult time, but it's what you do with that difficulty,” he said.

"I have an opportunity now to repay that to the country in this term of government.”

Calleary said he is "proud to be a member of Fianna Fáil", and has "worked incredibly hard in the 13 years" he has represented Mayo.

Another side story was the omission of Jim O’Callaghan, the well-regarded Senior Counsel and TD for Dublin Bay South from Cabinet. He lost the Dublin Fianna Fáil Cabinet race to Darragh O’Brien who was inserted as Housing minister.

Some mutterings indicated that O’Callaghan, having been overlooked, would remove himself from consideration as a junior minister.

And that is exactly what happened.

On Wednesday, as speculation swirled around Leinster House as to who was in and who was out, O’Callaghan released a statement stating that not only was he offered the junior justice portfolio, but that he had snubbed the offer.

He said he turned down the offer from Taoiseach Micheál Martin, saying he believed his energies would be better used as a backbench TD. O'Callaghan said he would focus on strengthening the Fianna Fáil party: "At a time when many of our party’s senior members will be preoccupied with their ministerial duties, I want to devote more time to strengthening our great party by making it a more attractive option for young voters. I also believe Fianna Fáil needs strong voices outside government who can ensure that our party’s identity can be protected during the term of this coalition government."

A short while later, it emerged that Donegal TD Charlie McConalogue had accepted the post turned down by O’Callaghan but Martin had still left out one of his most loyal servants since he became leader in 2011.

Cork North West TD Michael Moynihan was absolutely furious at being left out altogether by his fellow county man and leader.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Moynihan let fly: “There was no justification given to me, but he has insulted both me and my community. I spent many years rebuilding the party — there's not a county that I wasn't in when we were rebuilding. I took a lot of shit up and down the country and kept it from (Mr Martin).

"It shows the level of respect he has for me and my community. They can say there are three Ministers in Cork — I'm 45 miles from Cork city — we're a different world here,” he said.

Then yesterday, Moynihan spoke to Patricia Messinger on C103's Cork Today Show: “The last 12 or 14 hours has driven me harder by the response that I've got".

Moynihan added that he is going to work harder than ever saying: "I will be a thorn in the side of the government."

Moynihan revealed what he said when he spoke to the Taoiseach on Wednesday: "It was a full and frank discussion. I gave it to him both barrels. We had a very fraught discussion, I explained a few home truths to him. It was a very frank discussion.”

Moynihan clearly felt he had nothing to lose in lashing out against a leader he has served so faithfully for nine years and signals a real difficulty for Martin that deep fissures exist within his own party.

With no more ministerial goodies to give away before he vacates his office in two years' time, Martin’s shaky authority over his own TDs has been loosened further.

This was evidenced by the intervention by veteran TD, poll topper and former Defence minister Willie O’Dea who accused Martin of “insulting” and “letting down” the people of Limerick city by not picking a minister from there.

“I am bitterly disappointed for the people of Limerick that the third city of the Republic and economic driver of the Mid-West has been completely overlooked for either senior or Junior Ministerial appointments,” he said.

“I have been inundated with messages from people who feel let down and grossly insulted. There are 3 Government TDs out of 4 in Limerick City, yet Micheál Martin has felt it appropriate to insult all the people of Limerick City with this decision. It's strange if he thinks that we can deliver 3 out of 4 after this,” he blasted.

Such criticisms are most uncommon against a Taoiseach who has just assumed the levers of power.

Martin has always stood a remove apart from his parliamentary party and has survived because of better-than-expected electoral performances in 2014, 2016, and 2019.

But there is a residual anger about the party’s poor performance in February’s General Election — and the events of the past six days will have done little to improve Martin’s standing among his bemused TDs.

As one Labour Party handler quipped yesterday, the Fianna Fáil appointments have become the “gift that keeps on giving.”

Not the start Martin would have wanted at all.

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