OPINION: Micheál Martin – Ruthless Leader or Wary Companion?

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Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen arriving for the Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle - Credit: The Irish Examiner

On Friday July 3rd it emerged that the newly appointed Minister for Agriculture, Barry Cowen, had served a 3 month drink driving ban in 2016, while on a provisional license, what ensued was a headline scandal that lasted all of 12 days, with Mr. Cowen being one of the shortest serving ministers in the history of the state.

The shortest was Donegal North-East TD Jim McDaid in 1991, who resigned on the day of his appointment as Minister for Defence, after an image emerged of him at the wedding of a suspected IRA member, James Pius Clarke.

Some say that the Taoiseach has “blooded” himself by assuring that his time in charge will prove him to be a decisive, no nonsense leader. Others say it proved the opposite, especially considering that just 7 hours before sacking him, Martin had defended (then) Minister Cowen with something akin to fervour.

Minister Cowen had been called upon a number of times by members of the Dáil to face them and answer questions, so that a clearer understanding of his position may have been gained. He refused to do so, saying that aspects of the accusations against him, in particular the apparent illegal release of Garda Pulse documentation stating he had attempted to avoid the Garda Checkpoint on the night he was found driving under the influence, were false.

After Micheál Martin’s defense of Minister Cowen, wherein he said that he had seen a copy of the Pulse document and agreed with Mr. Cowen, that it was not being portrayed accurately in the media, a vote was held in the Dáil on whether Mr. Cowen should have to answer questions, the Government won the vote.

You can imagine everyone’s surprise after such a defense, when at 9 o’clock the same evening Mr. Martin announced that Mr. Cowen had been removed from his position as minister. It appeared that the Taoiseach’s defense of his former minister had been an attempt at buying time so that Mr. Cowen would change his mind and choose, of his own accord, to answer questions in the Dáil.

The truth is, like him or loathe him, agree or disagree with the call, Micheál Martin has made an important and term-defining decision, just a fortnight into his tenure as Taoiseach.

Barry Cowen attracted unto himself a media firestorm, and he handled it poorly. Rather than face the questions of his peers, he chose to withdraw and remain righteous in his silence, a move that resulted in more criticism than appreciation and understanding.

Had he faced the issue head on, answered the questions that the opposition would have posed to him, and pursued the legal aspects of the case as well, then he may have survived to serve another day as minister.

Unfortunately, he did not, and Micheál Martin chose to eradicate rather than prolong the issue.

At a time where the nation is dealing with an unprecedented crisis, unnecessary distractions are best to be removed, and the new Taoiseach has done so, setting the standard for his time in office.

Many agree with his decision, others less so. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

-Daniel Potter