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.