Nobody actually feels like Micheál Martin is the Taoiseach, do they?
I want to make sure it's not just me.
At the end of his first full month in office, it's fair to say that Micheál Martin has not hit the ground running. It's a bit more like he's been blindfolded, pushed from a moving vehicle, thudded face-first against the tarmac, and now he's rolling into oncoming traffic.
A strange start for a man who has spent nine years as leader of Fianna Fáil, lying in wait for his moment. What has gone wrong?
Anecdotally, it seems as though the Irish public is having a hard time moving on from the last guy. Not out of any love for Leo Varadkar, mind (his party did lose 20% of their seats less than six months ago). And not because we're so used to it either. Varadkar isn't Eamon De Valera. The guy was Taoiseach for less than three years. He was never even elected Taoiseach by the Irish public, he just took over when Enda Kenny stood down. At his first general election his party totally bombed and he got relegated to the role of Tánaiste.
There's always some element of this when a new government takes over, of course. It's the equivalent of signing everything you write with last year's date until around April. Once you've gotten used to saying "Taoiseach Leo Varadkar" then it's tricky to stop.
The only thing is... Usually when someone stops being Taoiseach, they go away. In the case of Ireland's most recent Taoisigh, they go very far away. They pretty much go into hiding until they feel it's safe to come out again and remind everyone how big a part they played in the Good Friday Agreement and hope nobody asks them about why they didn't have a bank account.
But Leo is still around, doing his Leo thing, snatching the dole away from people unexpectedly, undermining key government proposals like the green list, and tweeting about Richard Bruton's obscene eight-pack abs. He's just as much Leo as he was before we voted him out of office, and the plan is for him to be Taoiseach again by 2022.
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) July 29, 2020
None of this would be such a disaster if Micheál Martin had done a single thing to help himself. But he hasn't.
In his first 30 days: he dilly-dallied on the Barry Cowen drink-driving-without-a-proper-licence scandal, waiting so long to sack him that the public's first impression of him was indecision. Then he had to rearrange his Cabinet to fix the problem, giving Dara Calleary a ministry when he'd previously said Calleary was the only man for the Chief Whip job.
The Chief Whip job went to Jack Chambers... One of the three "super" junior ministers that the Martin government tried to bump up the pay for. That PR blunder resulted in an embarrassing climbdown with much of the money being given back, and Martin saying his government was taking a "10% pay cut" when what he meant was they were continuing the previous government's pay cut while actually earning a little more.
So far, so Fianna Fáil.
All the while, veterans of his party like Willie O'Dea and rising stars like Jim O'Callaghan are waiting like praying mantises, either whining about their lack of Cabinet position or turning down Cabinet positions outright.
And the polls? Fianna Fáil are in the 13% range and falling - well behind FG and Sinn Féin. This is the case against Martin that's less anecdotal, and more so based in cold, hard facts. Micheál Martin has to be the weakest Taoiseach in Irish history, not least because his party only have 37 seats.
We've had weak leaders before. They'll all go down in the history books with the prized title of Taoiseach before their name. But what does it mean for the people of Ireland to be trying to move forward when the man in charge is offering them so little.
Leaders, and I'm about to get very technical about this, are supposed to lead. For a whole hape of reasons, Micheál Martin hasn't done anything like that yet. He has not given the Irish public anything to feel good about, he has no policy he can point to and say "this is what I have done for you".
Even the €5 billion stimulus plan, the biggest package Ireland has seen since Michael Fassbender in Shame, was wasted. It also had to be the first stimulus package in history to include cuts. Other vaunted elements of the deal are low cost business loans. You're just paying back less, rather than receiving money that you didn't have before, money that's really yours.
Unlike his plan to award higher allowances to his super junior ministers, Martin is more hesitant to introduce any measure that would immediately make life more convenient for ordinary Irish people. The Pandemic Unemployment Payment, a successful policy, has been extended to April of next year but reduced for everyone receiving it from September onwards.
The reason we don't feel like Micheál Martin is Taoiseach is because nothing has changed. The new government has utterly failed to breathe life into a population worn out by political scandals, taxes that don't seem to pay for anything at all, a housing market that eats first-time buyers alive, and to top it all off, the worst global pandemic in living memory.
People entrust their politicians with power so that when times get tough, they can step up and lead the way forward. The public's patience is quickly wearing thin with a Taoiseach who hasn't started doing his job yet.