Micheál promises not to make promises…

I know – it sounds crazy, but it’s true.

  Last Thursday, the Roscommon People and local media colleagues had a 40-minute audience with Micheál Martin, the Man Who May Be Taoiseach – and we never once mentioned that political earthquake.

  I take full responsibility. I don’t know what I was thinking, or rather, what I wasn’t thinking.

  We were sitting in the Burke Suite in the Abbey Hotel in Roscommon Town, and the Fianna Fáil Leader was fielding our questions. In the room: three journalists, two TDs (Deputy Martin and Deputy Eugene Murphy), two PR ladies and one photographer.

  I directed quite a few questions at Mr. Martin during the press briefing, but I have to admit that I never asked him about that seismic political bombshell.

  Trump? No, no…a different political earthquake…

  …there wasn’t one word about that Cllr. Ivan Connaughton missile of Christmas 2014…

  Two years on from the Connaughton/Martin falling out, Fianna Fáil HQ and their leader have a new suitor in Roscommon: Scramogue’s Supreme Soldier of Destiny.

  Of course, no more than in the case of Conaughton, the FF HQ/Murphy relationship hasn’t been without its explosive moments – and its long silences – either.

  But all that’s in the past now following Murphy’s dramatic success in this year’s General Election, a back-to-the-wall win that raised eyebrows in FF HQ, if not necessarily back in Roscommon.

  Fianna Fáil got over the winning line in the Roscommon/Galway race despite chaotic messing during the warm-up.

  Now, Deputy Martin has arrived in Roscommon to officially open Deputy Murphy’s office in the centre of Roscommon town. What a difference a year or two makes!

  The office, by the way, is just three ‘doors’ from the new office of Fine Gael Senator Frank Feighan, a touching symbol of how close the two parties have become at national level, where Deputy Martin is facilitating the Fine Gael-led Government, while reserving the right to give them a bit of a kicking every now and again.

  The only places keeping the offices of Deputy Murphy and Senator Feighan apart are a butcher’s and ‘Finishing Touches.’ Make of that what you will.

  Back in the Abbey Hotel, the past is another country and the Fianna Fáil leader and his local TD are all smiles, but it’s soon clear that one word reigns in the Burke Suite. It’s ‘Brexit.’ Just about everything Mr. Martin says is influenced by Brexit concerns.

  It’s all very sobering, with the Man Who May Be Taoiseach bordering between pessimistic and pragmatic. Prior to this engagement with the media, he had held a 9 am meeting with Roscommon Chamber of Commerce. His concern on Brexit is very evident. He feels the Government should have set aside a ‘Brexit Reserve Fund’ in the recent Budget. He is concerned over falling sterling, falling Irish exports, the vulnerability of traditional manufacturing industries, “of the agri-food area and tourism.”

  He is concerned too about union pay demands, stating “we stand by the Lansdowne Road Agreement”, which he stresses allows for pay increases, but only in due course.

  Presenting himself as a leader who will not ‘over-promise’ anything, Martin says there will not be enough money in the national kitty for extra pay, better services and dealing with Brexit fall-out. Not enough, not for all three. Accordingly, Lansdowne Road needs to be adhered to, and there will have to be curtailment of expenditure in order for the State to be protected against Brexit.

  It’s all very bleak, and we haven’t even mentioned that electoral earthquake in America…

  Throughout it all, Mr. Martin is affable and courteous, indeed charming, while, as you’d expect, there’s a steeliness there too. 

  Soon it’s 10.10 am and a friendly but firm PR woman is calling time on us.

  We insist we have more questions, and, in fairness, the Fianna Fáil leader seems happy enough to continue talking. Eugene Murphy sits on his right. The photographer keeps clicking, while Mary Claire from Shannonside puts Deputy Martin on the spot about internal wrangling in Longford FF, so I am not the only one thinking of the faction fights that have broken out in the party in these parts in recent years.

  Five minutes later, the PR woman is adamant that we have to finish. She’s local, very pleasant, and has a job to do.

  But…no, I protest, I have two more questions.

  “One” she says.

  Unable to choose between Roscommon A&E and Paddy Kilduff, I avoid eye contact with the PR woman and ask both questions in one. 

  On A&E, I acknowledge that Deputy Martin, as Health Minister, had provided the funding to build the facility. However while it was always FF policy to maintain the services there – and his party castigated Fine Gael for closing them – Fianna Fáil, under Martin’s leadership, have made no commitment to restore A&E. Will that remain his party’s position? What, if anything, distinguishes Fianna Fáil from Fine Gael on Roscommon Hospital?

  Martin says “actions speak louder than rhetoric” and criticises Enda Kenny for his broken promises. The Fianna Fáil leader says he will work to enhance services at Roscommon Hospital but he will not make pre-election promises that he might not be able to deliver upon. Health, after all, “is a complex issue.”

  He dismisses Cllr. Paddy Kilduff’s call for an investigation into Strokestown-Gate, and says he expects “no further action.”

  The PR woman has been on edge for a few minutes, and we really do have to leave the Burke Suite (call it another Brexit if you like), but not before the two smiling TDs pose for a photo for Twitter.

  Deputy Murphy’s office opening is due, and the premises at The Square is heaving with familiar faces. For the Man Who May Be Taoiseach, and his new Top Man in Roscommon, the tape-cutting will be followed by a series of meetings with groups in different towns and villages in the county. 

  Mr. Martin may not have promises to keep (as he’s not making them), but he has miles to go before he sleeps.