FF leadership battle is a more 'civilised' era in politics

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin announced yesterday evening that he will vote against the Taoiseach in a motion of confidence to be put before a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party on Tuesday. By Alison Spillane

Speaking at a press conference yesterday evening, Minister Martin also announced he had tendered his resignation to the Taoiseach but the latter had requested he continue in his present post as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Martin is the first Cabinet minister to openly withdraw his support for Brian Cowen as party leader. It remains to be seen whether he can garner the support necessary to remove the Taoiseach as leader of Fianna Fail in a secret ballot.

The Cork TD believes a change in leader could improve the party's chances in the upcoming election, however he maintained this evening that his actions were not motivated by self-interest. "It's not about Micheál Martin. Someone has to call it, someone has to say it, and I have", he said. He also commented that the leadership issue is not a traditional type of heave, but that the very survival of the party was at stake.

Speaking on RTE's The Week in Politics, Limerick TD Peter Power described the manner in which events had unfolded as a new, more "civilised" era in politics – referring to the apparent incongruity that Micheál Martin could stay on in government whilst having no confidence in Brian Cowen. 

Responding to Seán O'Rourke's reference to Charlie Haughey, Mr Power said the actions of both Micheál Martin and Brian Cowen demonstrated a "very different, mature politics". He also said there was none of the "old-style politics of the 1980s"`(read 'How Charlie won the War' from Magill 1983). Indeed, Brian Cowen will have drawn admiration for the consensual and democratic way in which he is dealing with the question of party leadership.

Yet without resignation Martin's conviction over the leadership issue is questionable. His actions yesterday evening are perhaps an attempt to maintain credibility following the disclosure in yesterday's Sunday Independent that he asked Brian Cowen to step down as party leader on Monday last (10 January), following the publication of the latest Red C poll which put Fianna Fáil on just 14% nationally.

As well as this, Frank Fitzgibbon, editor of the Irish edition of the Sunday Times tweeted Saturday evening that "[Micheál] Martin told Cowen on Monday he'd give him a week" (to decide his position as leader).

Instead of maintaining his credibility however, Minister Martin's actions this evening may have had the opposite effect. Labour's Ruairí Quinn drew attention to the oddity that is the situation on The Week in Politics commenting:

"The idea that the dauphin, the pretender Micheál Martin would offer his resignation because he wants to take out the Taoiseach and at the same time be persuaded that he can't go and stays in cabinet is just Gilbert & Sullivan farce."

Mr Quinn also said that Fianna Fáil was putting its own self-interest before the rest of the country. Political agendas aside, there is truth in this statement – by announcing his intention to table a motion of confidence in himself, the Taoiseach has ensured the saga of the Fianna Fáil leadership debacle is more protracted, further distracting from the "national interest" he professes to prioritise.

Below is a video of Minister Martin's press conference, courtesy of Newstalk's Paraic Gallagher.

Watch live video from paraicgallagher on Justin.tv