By acting decisively in the Barry Cowan scandal, Micheál Martin may have shown that he is serious about fixing Fianna Fáil, a party that has devalued Irish politics all of my adult life.
Fianna Fáil has always had honourable members and supporters, who were born into the tribal loyalties of the legacy of the Civil War. But ever since Charlie Haughey became Taoiseach in 1979, it has governed and opposed through a mix of nods and winks and corruption.
I was delighted to see circumstances force Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to govern together. I have always hoped that a merger between the two parties would open up a new era of serious ideological debate in Irish politics.
I then became nervous as typical Fianna Fáil stories started to surface. Prominent party members have acted for decades as if they are not subject to the rules that apply to the rest of us. Ah sure, ’twill do. I knew your father. Just leave the cheque blank.
Like Donald Trump in America, they have served up wave after wave of scandals, any one of which could bring down a Government in a functioning democracy, but they have survived because we became so desensitised by the sheer volume of scandals that we accepted them as normal.
A tribunal found that Charlie Haughey as Taoiseach took over €50 million in today’s money and granted favours in return. He had trees planted in an estate to bribe voters in a by-election, then took the trees back after Fianna Fáil lost.
His supporters assaulted fellow party members inside Leinster House, his Justice Minister Sean O’Doherty unlawfully tapped journalists’ phones, and double murderer Malcolm McArthur was arrested living in the home of his Attorney General.
Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach lost one coalition partner over claims of dishonesty at a tribunal into the beef industry, and another after a scandal about paedophile priest Brendan Smyth. Meanwhile, Frank Dunlop was a regular in Conway’s pub bribing Councillors to rezone lands.
Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach regaled tribunals with fantastic tales about not having a bank account, getting dig-out loans from plasterers, giving £30,000 to someone he can’t remember and getting briefcases of cash from future landlords who were at dinners but didn’t eat the dinners.
Liam Lawlor was jailed three times after chairing the Dail Ethics Committee, Michael Collins was found guilty of tax evasion, Ivor Callely was jailed for fraud, and Michael ‘Stroke’ Fahey was jailed for fraud while chairing a Prison Visiting Committee.
Jim McDaid was caught drunk driving on the wrong side of a busy dual carriageway, GV Wright knocked over a nurse while drunk driving, and Conor Lenihan referred to Turkish workers as kebabs.
Ray Burke accepted corrupt payments before being jailed for breaking a tax law he had helped to pass, and Padraig Flynn complained about the difficulties of maintaining his three houses on a European Commissioner’s salary.
Charlie McCreevy tried to give a disgraced ex-judge a job as Vice President of the European Investment Bank, and Denis Foley ‘hoped against hope’ that his money was not in an illegal offshore account.
Brian Cowen, in fairness, seemed to have more integrity as Taoiseach, but his government ran the economy into the ground.
Since the public decisively rejected the party in the 2011 general election, new Taoiseach Micheál Martin has rebuilt the party from the opposition benches. But can he fix Fianna Fáil?
As Fintan O’Toole recently covered, Martin stood up to vested interests when he was Minister for Education under Bertie Ahern. And he has now acted decisively to address the Barry Cowan scandal.
Only time will tell, but Micheál Martin might be Fianna Fáil’s last chance.