As the summer turns to rain it’s time for some fresh faces.
By Conor Lenihan.
In the light of the botched Zappone Envoy appointment the Covid lockdown guidelines are again under the microscope.
When is a Lockdown guideline not really a line of any sort?
Clearly when former Taoiseach and current Tánaiste Leo Varadkar is in attendance at a party then the guidelines can be safely ignored.
One feels a certain sympathy for the former European Commisioner Phil Hogan who was confused in relation to the shindig down in Clifden.
Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin brooked none of it – swiftly dispatching Hogan from his position.
The three leaders of the coalition went one further and wrote to the President of the European Commission to underline their unease.
It is a different matter of course when Leo Varadkar and Katherine Zappone decide to have a party attended by Dublin’s political glitterati, including Ivana Bacik and Dónall Geoghegan, the joint chief-of-staff of Green Party leader, Eamon Ryan.
That’s all we know so far of who attended the Zappone ‘just in from New York’ gig. The frisson of excitement and anticipation at the Merrion Hotel party must have been hard to bear. You can easily envisage the Covid equivalent of air kisses in the sultry five-star dusk.
The party itself, viewed in retrospect, has all the appearances of a celebration in advance by insiders of a yet to be announced Envoy appointment.
The only persons of importance not at the party seem to have been ascetic Micheál Martin and his busy Attorney General Paul Gallagher.
Martin and Gallagher have offices across the road from the Merrion Hotel.
The absence of these two has not prevented them from providing a strong element of cover for colleague Varadkar’s attendance.
The Attorney General showed himself ready with a legal opinion to pronounce the occasion for 50 in line with Covid guidelines.
This kind of rapid legal clarification of Covid guidelines and their meaning has been largely absent since the pandemic began. More discomfiting still is the commentary of solicitor Simon McGarr who notes that: “the limit is not 200 attendees, but 200 people ‘proposed to attend’, which suggests a limit on invites rather than people who turn up. Because, even as the Attorney General was issuing his blessing for up-to-200-person social events in hotel gardens, the non-statutory guidelines from Fáilte Ireland, which hotels and other hospitality businesses have followed dutifully were unambiguous: ‘Meetings/ Events: Organised events are not permitted'”. So…it is clear the Attorney was being charitable.
Still, the behaviour of Leo Varadkar is not too hard to understand.
After all the Tánaiste has already steered a coach and horses through cabinet protocol when it comes to leaking government documents.
It seems – irony of ironies – he cannot now sanction a Fine Gael colleague who leaked the Zappone appointment to the media while the cabinet was still meeting.
The actions of Micheál Martin throughout the Zappone drama are entirely in character – shifty in the extreme.
Martin is Taoiseach – notionally in charge of the country.
At the meeting discussing the Zappone appointment he confessed himself to have been ” blindsided” by Simon Coveney’s extravagant Envoy idea.
Martin was so blindsided as to be rendered speechless.
When Coveney proposed the appointment neither Martin nor his timid Fianna Fáil cabinet colleagues murmured a modest exhalation of objection.
The next day the Martin advisors were busy leaking to the media, hint-hint, that the Taoiseach was always apprehensive about the appointment.
The question remains – why be in cabinet as Taoiseach and not stop something that you clearly believe to be demonstrably wrong?
The normal thing at cabinet when there is an anxiety about the optics of a decision is to have it, at the very least, postponed.
Martin has taken the art of taking cabinet responsibility to a new level.
It would appear that Martin, as is often the case, wanted to have his cake and eat it – let the Zappone appointment through on the nod, but object to it afterwards.
He and Leo Varadkar have a slightly dysfunctional cabinet arrangement.
For a start, Varadkar and his colleagues are inveterate leakers.
Their advisors make Varadkar look great by getting out fast with cabinet decisions and pre-emptive drive-by commentary.
Varadkar looks good as result – with Martin looking weak and not in control.
This ongoing scenario between Varadkar and Martin is not politically sustainable.
In fact as high summer turns rainy it is a car crash waiting for a dangerous bend.
Either or both Varadkar and Martin will have to eventually go.
There is no sign, as of yet, that either Martin or Varadkar have fully internalised this fact.
Fine Gael have the luxury of being able to take their time about this decision.
After all, all going smoothly, Leo Varadkar is going to be Taoiseach at the end of next year.
Fine Gael’s relatively strong showing in the opinion polls affords greater time for reflection.
Mind you, Fionnán Sheahan of the Irish Independent has pronounced both Coveney and Varadkar out of touch because of the long time in power.
Micheál Martin is by far the most vulnerable of the party leaders in the coalition.
His TDs are evenly split as to whether he should stay or go. Those who do not have a ministerial position are bound to be more vociferous.
Contenders to replace Martin position would relish a stint as Taoiseach, even if only for a year, before handing the job back.
It really is time for some fresh faces.
Conor Lenihan is a former Minister for Science, Technology & Innovation. His biography of Albert Reynolds, ‘Risktaker for Peace’, will be published by the Merrion Press in the autumn.