Two words hold the key to Fianna Fail avoiding complete catastrophe, and Michael Martin voiced them within minutes of becoming party leader: “I’m Sorry”. It can’t be overestimated, the power of being seen to genuinely express that feeling, and not in that Brian Cowen “I’m now going to qualify my apology and completely suck the goodness out of it” way.
Michael Martin must be willing to spend the next four weeks in chains and sackcloth letting people vent their fury at him and his party, and taking it, and not lashing back. That’s a big ask for Fianna Fail, whose gut instinct is to retaliate with a ferocious kick in the goolies, but the reality is that Fianna Fail cannot progress without forgiveness, and forgiveness only comes when one owns up to one’s failings. Why do we think Bill Clinton was so personally popular in Ireland? Because he was flawed and admitted it, and that is something the Irish people respect. We all carry more baggage, as a people, than Samsonite. Martin would do well to remember that.