Andrew Lynch: Soldiers of Destiny attack SF, but Enda is the likely winner
Michael Martin has burned his bridges.
By going out of his way to condemn Sinn Fein as a bunch of criminal thugs, he is deliberately shifting the goalposts for next year’s general election.
The Fianna Fáil leader’s new tough-guy approach should give his party a morale boost in the run-up to its ard fheis next weekend – but unfortunately for him, it also shortens the odds on Enda Kenny winning a second term as Taoiseach.
Although Martin has often given Sinn Fein tongue-lashings before, yesterday’s attack was in a league of its own.
Speaking at Fianna Fail’s annual 1916 commemoration at Arbour Hill, he accused the Shinners of lying about their non-existent links with the Easter Rising and trying to hijack the centenary celebrations.
He also ran through some lowlights of the party’s recent past, including its alleged cover-up of child sex abuse and callous murder of mother-of-ten Jean McConville.
Most scathingly of all, Martin declared that Gerry Adams and his colleagues are not entitled to call themselves republicans.
For a true Shinner, there can be no worse insult.
This effectively means that whatever the election result, a Fianna Fáil-Sinn Fein coalition is now a complete non-runner – no matter what any opinion poll says between now and then.
Why is Martin cutting off one of his potential paths back to power? The simple answer is that he believes sharing power with Sinn Fein might be like sharing a bedroom with a tiger.
Only one of them would come out alive, and going on past form it would not be difficult to predict the outcome.
In other words, the great Irish republican split that started almost 90 years ago is not going to end any time soon.
Back in 1926, Eamon de Valera walked out of a Sinn Fein ard fheis after a row over whether they should take their seats in Dáil Éireann.
He then formed his own spectacularly successful nationalist party, which kept Sinn Fein at bay for the rest of the century.
In recent years, however, the balance of power has dramatically shifted. Sinn Fein are eating into Fianna Fail’s support base, helped along by the Soldiers of Destiny’s capacity for self-destruction.
Micheal Martin is determined to stop the rot, which is why he intends to harp on about the Shinners’ blood-soaked history right up to polling day in a year’s time.
Martin may also be sending out a message to his critics in Fianna Fáil, who have been muttering about a leadership coup due to the party’s weak performance in recent opinion polls.
One of his problems, he knows, is that many people see him as a decent man but also a bit of a wimp.
The British Labour leader Ed Miliband is in the same situation, which is why he told Jeremy Paxman, “Hell, yes, I’m tough enough!” during an election debate.
Micheal has obviously decided to follow a similar strategy – whether it will work or not remains to be seen.
When the Fianna Fáil ard fheis opens at the RDS next Friday, Martin will no doubt continue with his macho approach.
While lashing out at the party’s opponents is all very well, he must start to offer voters some positive reasons for supporting him instead.
If he and Gerry Adams just keep hurling insults at each other they are in danger of creating the impression that there is no realistic alternative to re-electing the current Government.
All this is very good news indeed for Enda Kenny.
Basic maths tells you that if Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein rule each other out, it will be impossible to form a new coalition without Fine Gael.
To stay Taoiseach, Kenny just has to win more seats than either opposition party – and that seems quite likely if not a complete slam dunk.
Micheal Martin decided to fire some of the first shots in Election 2016 yesterday.
He must aim carefully to make sure that his own leadership does not end up as collateral damage.