Interview with Micheál Martin… December 1, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Uncategorized.
…in the Irish Mail, conducted by Jason O’Toole. There’s some quite interesting stuff in there too – the interview while understandably leaning on the personal has some useful pieces of information drawn from the political. Though tellingly Martin comes across as oddly unfocused as a personality.
Anyhow, his father’s family weren’t FF, indeed a number of uncles served in the British Army (Martin is against wearing the poppy), whereas…
…his mother’s family were founding members of the party and his father would canvass for former taoiseach Jack Lynch. He describes his mother’s family as ‘old IRA’ and Cumann Na mBan (the Irish women’s paramilitary organisation) and tells me that members of the family fought in both the Civil War and the War Of Independence.
He met his wife in UCC at the local FF branch. It’s also clear that with the death of two of their children, one from SID and the other when she was eight, they’ve experienced some particularly tough times. Martin, who was a teacher, could have gone the academic route – according to himself, clearly was eaten up by politics.
There’s a slight note of ambiguity in the following, or is that my imagination…
Would he describe himself as a religious person? ‘I’m a Catholic. I’m Christian. I’m committed. I like to go to Mass every Sunday. I’m very clear on separation of Church and State. The Bible is a great book. ‘I actually look at it in terms of society. I like meeting my neighbours, having chats with people after Mass. I think there’s a lot in the Gospel that informs how we should live — very basic stuff like looking after your neighbour, looking after those who are vulnerable. ‘The letters of St Paul are inspirational, even if you weren’t a Catholic. The Bible is a great tome and there’s so many lessons for life within it. That’s primarily what I get from religion.’ So does he believe in Heaven and Hell? ‘I believe in a God. I pray. But do I have the same doubts that most people have? Do I believe there’s an after life? I simply don’t know. I hope there is. I pray there is.’
And what of this?
On the subject of Uncle Gaybo, how close did the former Late Late Show presenter really come to running for the presidency? ‘We didn’t really have talks. I rang him to find out was he interested. I kind of knew from the phone call that he wasn’t. One phone call. The whole thing was overplayed a bit.’
I’d tend to agree with this:
As for his own political career, he’s perhaps best remembered for being the first health minister in Europe to introduce an outright smoking ban. ‘To this day people come up to me and say, “thanks for the smoking ban”. And these are people who might hate Fianna Fáil.’
But I’m not sure I’d accept his interpretation in the last part of this quote:
His biggest regret as health minister has to be the fruitless number of years he spent attempting, as a result of the X Case, to change the 25th amendment of the Constitution in 2002 to permit abortion where necessary to prevent the loss of the mother’s life, other than by threat of suicide. ‘I’m one of the few ministers to actually attempt to legislate for the X Case. We comprehensively addressed it and it went to the people. It was defeated by about 10,000 votes. We were very disappointed at the time. If it was accepted we would be in a better situation now.’
Well, perhaps. Though here’s another interesting thought.
Another contentious issue facing the current government is that of same-sex marriage. However, he doubts Eamon Gilmore will be able to fulfil Labour’s promise to legislate for such unions within the lifetime of this Government. ‘The Tánaiste said it’s the civil rights issues of a generation yet the Taoiseach won’t even discuss it. ‘So, what I’m trying to get from the Taoiseach is, “Is this really on the agenda for the next four years or not?” My sense is it’s not.’
Then there’s the vision thing.
Micheál, …. certainly has one radical suggestion for future governments — he wants ministers to resign as TDs as soon as they are appointed, to separate them from the Dáil. ‘We’ve had the worst crisis since the late Twenties and I think we should use that crisis to change how we work our politics. ‘The future Taoiseach should have the power to nominate people from outside of politics to the Cabinet — people with expertise. ‘
I’m currently reading an interesting book by an historian called Martin Pugh on British fascism in the inter-war years and I’ll return to it next month. One thing that set the scene for the partial rise of fascist groups in that period was the sense amongst conservatives and the far right – particularly following the war and with the growing franchise that ‘experts’ from ‘outside of politics’ (even to phrase it that way is to suggest the problematic aspects of the concept) could somehow succeed where politicians were failing. Of course that’s not in itself fascist, and I’m not in any sense suggesting that Martin would mean it as such, but it is part of an anti-representational and anti-political discourse which can serve to undermine democratic institutions. Something that unfortunately seems to have been overlooked here in during the crisis and something that is deeply troubling to hear reiterated by a leading politician.
And here’s an echo of a talking point we heard quite a bit of in the US in the recent enough past.
‘People are annoyed. They voted in the Government thinking there was going to be big changes, there’s a sense of betrayal.
Then there’s this:
‘The parliament should be a bit like the American version. ‘There, it’s a parliament in its own right with powerful committees that can hold office holders and various agencies and regulators to account. ‘I want that kind of revolution in politics.’
Micheál admits that many frustrated Fianna Fáil backbenchers urged him during the party’s last months in power to challenge then taoiseach Brian Cowen’s leadership as he was increasingly appearing out of his depth as Ireland faced into the fiscal abyss. So why didn’t he plunge the metaphorical dagger earlier? ‘If the Irish public saw us having an internal squabble about who became leader while Rome was burning I think it would’ve been in pretty bad faith. I was very conscious that my loyalty was to Brian Cowen and to the Government and the people.
And as to his less than illustrious predecessor?
He was a decent person, he was the genuine article.’ But he accepts Cowen had his downfalls. ‘He was not PR conscious. He actually believed substance was more important than image. ‘He didn’t have the sense of maybe the importance of perception in politics.’
And he surely must be the only FF leader to ever have to wrestle with the following issue.
…[he] coyly refuses to confirm or deny if he would bring Fianna Fáil into Government as a junior coalition partner after the next general election,
Times have changed. No doubt about it.