Fine Gael have approached their third sequential period in government as a seamless transition. Buy the Varadkar FG, get the Varadkar FG.
Green TDs have spent the fortnight calling on the Gov to do things to improve transport etc while holding the Ministry of Transport . Both in content and effectiveness, so far, so expected.
But this is the long awaited return of FF to government. Their leader is the Taoiseach and the man who was almost a one-man campaign during the election.
The one thing he hasn’t looked, over the last few weeks, is in charge.
Having picked his ministers, he faced open revolt from his jilted party spokesmen. FF TDs started briefing against their more Ministerially-successful rivals. His Minister for Agriculture had to apologise to the Dáil for a years-old drink driving court appearance which suddenly surfaced. Senior party reps loudly spurned job offers they felt were beneath them.
Then the new Cabinet started saying things- apparently without central vetting or control. The Phoenix Park was reopened as a “thoroughfare” by a Junior Minister representing Adare and a FF TD from Park-adjacent Castleknock let it be known he’d delivered this rat run.
Apparently the closure of the city’s green lung to through traffic had been impeding access to a parish pump.
Then the new Minister for Education started to equivocate loudly on sex education for children, on gender recognition and, outside her brief, on legislating to give full effect to the provision of abortion services.
Let’s leave aside the merits or otherwise of these particular decisions and opinions.
Michéal Martin has given himself two years as Taoiseach. In those two years, he has to demonstrate that Fianna Fáil is a party with a vision of the future that it can rally voters to.
At the moment, his party is behaving like a group of TDs with no faith their party has any future to speak of. Minister or not, it’s every public representative for themselves.
And Michéal Martin, a heartbeat into the job, has discovered that a time-limited Taoiseach simply lacks the power to impose a central discipline on his own party, let alone its coalition partners.
If you’re going to be gone soon anyway, who cares about offending you or your leadership?
Enda Kenny met this problem at the end of his time as Taoiseach as soon as he announced he wouldn’t be looking to lead FG after the next election. The election turned out to be years later, but his leadership ended long before that.
Michéal Martin needs to show the whole electorate that FF has a vision for Ireland. His party’s chances of re-election depend on it.
That’s going to be hard if his TDs keep openly trying to use the National levers of power to please their personal constituencies. There is a centrifuge pulling FF TDs away from him, each spinning away from any central control. What plays well in Kerry on sex education in schools isn’t going to help increase the imperilled FF vote in Dublin and surrounds.
A party of half-Independents has no story to tell about itself. And a party without a story is a party without a future.