From top: Dan Boyle and Micheál Martin, Christ the King Parish Hall, Turners Cross, Cork, 1986; Dan Boyle

Our family homes are little more than 100 metres from each other. The two year age difference between us might as well be a generation gap. We didn’t hang out and had different groups of friends. But we did similar things – played soccer in the cramped square in O’Connell Crescent; took part in Nemo Rangers street leagues.

We did serve simultaneously as altar boys at the iconic Christ the King Church in Turners Cross. For both of us, I suspect, it was less of a spiritual journey and more for the want of something to do.

My Dad was chair of the local ‘Joe Murphy’ cumann of Fianna Fáil. He nominated and supported Micheál, in his successful attempt to be elected, to what was then Cork Corporation. It was a political debt Micheáll has always been prepared to acknowledge.

While he became a city father I engaged in community activism. As a local councillor he told me I was brave to be challenging both church and state when suggesting that each had a role in providing facilities for the area.

After an unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Dáil Éireann in 1987, he eventually succeeded in 1989. Once elected he did what he had to do to get noticed, such as his befriending of the Haughey children.

I was elected, as a lone Green, to Cork Corporation in 1991. Within five months l found myself as a swing vote necessary to pass a budget and keep the council in existence. Michéal negotiated on behalf of Fianna Fáil.

He allowed himself a wry smile when the Fine Gael Lord Mayor of the time, Dino Cregan, sought to smoke me out by stating “We’ll have no Gregory deals deals here,”.

Micheáll ascended into cabinet in 1997. I thought the procession through Turners Cross, that evening, a bit redolent of another Ireland, but I did not begrudge him his success.

In Government he acquired a reputation for avoiding decisions. The principle seeming to be that firm decisions risk alienating those who disagree. His response, invariably, was to commission a report or to establish a committee.

History will be the judge of whether his ban on smoking in public places will outshine his setting up of the Health Service Executive.

In 2002 I succeeded, after several attempts, in being elected to Dáil Éireann. In sharing the constituency the unspoken convention was to co-operate rather challenge, even with Micheál being a Minister and my being an opposition TD.

In 2007 I found myself negotiating a programme for government with Fianna Fáil. Micheál would have rung me a number of times then. I’m still unsure whether the calls were for his personal benefit, or if he was meant to be something of back channel.

The arrival of the Trioka brought that government to an end. Micheál timed his exit well, just as Brian Cowen was seeking to pack the cabinet with cronies. The following morning’s Irish Times ran a picture of me talking to Micheál, just inside the gates of Leinster House, my arms outstretched in a WTF pose.

Micheál went on to lead FF into its worst ever election defeat. The way he has stuck to his task since has been admirable. This is despite collecting unwanted records along the way. Michéal remains the only FF leader never to have been Taoiseach, and he is the longest standing FF leader of the opposition.

With these epithets, along with naturally cautious nature, his statement on repeal of the Eighth amendment seemed surprising.

It may yet be the making of him. To seem to go against his parliamentary party and membership, undoubtedly he risks his position as leader. Paradoxically, in undertaking this decisive act of leadership, he may just have given his party a more sustainable future.

He must realise that as Ireland becomes more urbanised, it also becomes more liberal. Dragging his party into the 21st century could become his defining political act.

I wish him well on that endeavour, while continuing to disagree with him politically on many, many things.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


Dan Boyle’s ‘Making Up The Numbers – Smaller Parties and Independents in Irish Politics‘ published by the History Press is available at all good bookstores now.

47 thoughts on “Micheál And Me

      1. Bodger

        Tim, this is getting more common. Michael Clifford’s Maurice McCabe’s book is the same and pretty much all the books about the collapse (Namaland being an exception) are index-less.

        1. Tim

          Just finished Namaland. Excellent. About time I re-read the Tom Gilmartin book. What’s the deal with the indexes, is it just a cost-cutting measure, not having to pay an indexer?

          1. Tim

            I was only interested in the book up to the 1960s. I read those pages. Plus, you can always get the book in a library. Who’d give Dan royalties? He’s rich enough.

          2. Shayna

            To be fair, Dan, you looked great with an 80s beard. It doesn’t matter who one grows up with, it’s not about locality, education, none of that. In Ireland, it’s who YOU are, relatively-wise, in politics. Michelle O’Neill is albeit the Deputy President of Sinn Féin Na hÉireann. My dad’s neighbour in Clonoe Graveyard is Michelle’s dad.

      2. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

        Indexing (done properly) is expensive. That’s why.
        It is the most tedious job in the universe. Though I guess the publishers could have thrown a crappy one together themselves.

        1. Tim

          And reading Dan’s book (well, half of it), it would not have been difficult to index it. There’s a lot of padding in it.

  1. Nigel

    Can’t empower women with the rights to have children when and if they want them, that’s evil population control.

  2. Brother Barnabas

    really interesting read

    thanks Dan

    (sort of related / sort of an aside… curious that FF hasn’t really responded to its evisceration in last couple of GEs with any real repurposing / redirecting of the party and what is all about. younger faces, more women perhaps, but, more or less, the same shy te)

  3. Steve

    Excellent article Dan.

    Good to see Broadsheet posting this after that woeful collection of words last week

  4. Diddy

    The cynic in me says that meholes Change of heart has more to do with polling data then well, his heart. Meanwhile Leo and his slick PR machine have yet to play their hand.

    Dublin is all too play for at the next election and and liberal stance on the 8th and a shift to the left on housing could see FF Hoover up votes.

    1. ahjayzis

      Not so fast.

      I think you’re right on his motivation but I think it mostly stemmed from his horror that 80% of his grey, old parliamentary are going to go full William Binchy on this thing. it’s damage control only, FF will not come out of this looking well or modern or liberal.

  5. newsjustin

    Interesting piece.

    I think this is a simplistic cliche though:
    “Dragging his party into the 21st century……”

    Abortion as a shorthand for human development is a grim position (one shared by many, I know).

    1. Nigel

      It’s only grim if you completely ignore the regimes that suppress it and the results of its suppression. Now those were and are grim.

    2. Listrade

      How about dragging it back to the 19th Century then? Abortion has only been illegal in the state since 1861.

      1. nellyb

        God complex is a condition to be dealt with by professionals, let him be. But please write another piece to broadsheet, we enjoy them in our household. Looking forward to it, whenever you get around.

  6. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

    A beard suits you. I didn’t read the piece as I’m busy.
    More important thoughts anon.

      1. Andyourpointiswhatexactly?

        To be fair, I think it’s the angle at which the photo of the photo was taken. If not, Micheál Martin has hands the size of shovels.

  7. Andrew

    “My Dad was chair of the local ‘Joe Murphy’ cumann of Fianna Fáil. He nominated and supported Micheál, in his successful attempt to be elected, to what was then Cork Corporation.”

    Were you not at the point of running yourself at that time Dan/ I assume not.
    Apart from that, how did your Father feel afterwards about Michéal and his subsequent rise?
    It seems you wish him well. He was part of a cabinet that drove us off a cliff and you wish him well?

    1. Rob_G

      You can disagree with someone politically but still relate to them human level.

      Though clearly many Broadsheet commenters have trouble with this concept.

      1. Andrew

        It’s nothing to do with liking him or relating to him. It’s to do with competence and being fit to do a job. Michéal and his comrades have already shown they can’t actually do the job and the taxpayer is bearing the brunt of it.
        People like Michéal shouldn’t be encouraged.
        I’m being kind here as well, because it wasn’t just incompetence that led us off the cliff either.

    2. Dan Boyle

      I was 22 at the time of the 1985 local elections. It would another three years until I joined the Green Party. There was a Green candidate I gave a first preference to. My preference vote probably elected Kathleen Lynch, then of the Workers Party.


    So 60 odd years between the two a you in politics, & you both managed to achieve f’all.

    Well done lads.

  9. ahjayzis

    What’s your question here?

    Is it a good thing women and couples can finally have full control over their fertility? Yes.

    That there will no longer be 15 person families living in poverty and deprivation for want of contraception and modern medicine? Yes.

    A slower rate of population growth will ease the pressure on the environment? Yes.

    How many soldiers of Christ do you think the world can sustain, Zup?

  10. realPolithicks

    “[“Reproductive rights” being a liberal euphemism for abortion and population control]”

    For us actual Liberals “Reproductive rights” involves giving all the women of the world free and easy access to birth control and proper education so that they themselves can make the decision on whether they wish to become pregnant or not. As for “population control” as you so delicately put it, we live in a world which is currently unwilling to take the steps necessary to take close to half of the population out of the extreme poverty in which they live. That being the case doesn’t it make sense to try to do something to keep world population at a somewhat sustainable level.

    1. ahjayzis

      Vaccines and medication are population controls, he doesn’t moan about those interfering in his god’s plan.

  11. daithi

    that window behind in the photo was broken for years, great place Turners Cross, full of strange people though and institutions where as a school goer I was beaten to a pulp from time to time

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