Juno McEnroe: Et tu, Barry? Fianna Fáil rancour means Micheál Martin will need to look over his shoulder

At a pivotal moment, Micheál Martin now turns a corner where his honeymoon period as Taoiseach is over. 
Juno McEnroe: Et tu, Barry? Fianna Fáil rancour means Micheál Martin will need to look over his shoulder
Taoiseach Micheal Martin will have to beware slings and arrows from both opposition and from within his own party.

At a pivotal moment, Micheál Martin now turns a corner where his honeymoon period as Taoiseach is over. 

Instead, he will need to peek around every corner, taking stock of political crises and traps ahead. 

After his sacking of embattled Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen over his drink-driving controversy, Martin must guard against the worst attacks on his coalition government coming, not from the Opposition, but potentially from within the very heart of his own party, Fianna Fáil.

Roman emperor Julius Caeser once warned that “the greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look”. 

And so Martin now has a band of dissenters who will undoubtedly, from the backbenches, make his two-and-a-half years as ruler not just uncomfortable but painful.

In just the two-and-a-half weeks since he was elected Taoiseach by the Dáil, Martin has managed to make more enemies than friends, in striving to put together the coalition.

Seeing off attacks from Sinn Féin and other opposition in the new Dáil, the coalition leader seems comfortable, knowing where hits will land, whether it be about Covid-19, housing or health. 

His problem now - not all of his making - is the hidden anger that will haunt his reign for months to come.

Already, Barry Cowen and his supporters in his native Offaly have made their displeasure known about his sacking, telling local radio they were “disgusted”.

One member of local Ogra Fianna Fáil yesterday tweeted that Cowen had told him and others by text that “FF is bigger than me. It’s definitely bigger than M Martin.”

Cowen, said the young member, had pledged to find out about his garda records and then “regroup”. 

Are these the first signs of problems for Martin ahead?

Barry, brother of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, was a key figure in the coalition negotiations for Fianna Fáil. 

He has also performed as opposition spokesman on housing and then public expenditure.

It now faces into a five-year term as a backbencher, a spell in the political wilderness could cause trouble for Martin.

Other TDs, constituencies and elements in the party pose problems too.

Cork North-West TD Michael Moynihan was again overlooked for a ministerial position after the mini-reshuffle. 

While Laois-Offaly TD Sean Fleming got the role of junior finance minister, others were disappointed once more.

Moynihan acted as party whip for Martin during the last Dáil. 

After being passed over for a ministerial post recently, the usually low-key TD said he would be "a thorn in the side of the Government".

Equally, veteran TD Willie O'Dea blasted Martin for “insulting” the people of Limerick City after he was left out.

Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte, while a junior minister for disabilities, will also have been disappointed yesterday after being overlooked again. 

She was a member of Fianna Fáil's negotiation team and is probably the most experienced party female TD.

Martin might also still get a cool reception if and when he visits the West. 

Mayo TD Dara Calleary was today announced as Barry Cowen's successor. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Mayo TD Dara Calleary was today announced as Barry Cowen's successor. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

After Mayo TD Dara Calleary - who succeeds Barry Cowen as Agriculture Minister - was left out of Cabinet last month, his disappointment, and that of his supporters, was made known.

Chair of Ballina Fianna Fáil, Matt Farrell, said Martin “need not show his nose in Mayo”

Adding to Martin's woes will be a smaller group who voiced opposition about sharing power with Fine Gael, including TDs Eamon O'Cuiv and John McGuinness.

A fourth element adds to the new Taoiseach's concerns. 

Dublin Bay South TD Jim O'Callaghan is sitting out this government, having turned down an offer from Martin of a junior justice role. 

His statement that “Fianna Fáil needs strong voices outside government” has been interpreted as the start of a leadership bid.

So, ultimately, will anyone wield a knife if and when a moment comes to dethrone this new Taoiseach? And who would be that political assassin or Martin's Brutus?

As the Opposition sharpen their questions over the Cowen drink-driving controversy, their focus is turning to Martin and what he knew about the incident and any garda file.

This will rumble on for a few days. 

But Martin, instead of watching across the Opposition benches, will need to check behind his back in the weeks and months ahead.

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