From top: clockwise from top left: Ceann Comhairle, Pat The Cope Gallagher, Micheál Martin; Leo Vardkar and Frances Fitzgerald, all taken during Dáil proceedings on Wednesday ; Derek Mooney

How did we get to this situation?

Well, as with any crisis, we got to it one step at a time.

Leo Varadkar did not start this week with a plan to trigger a snap election, no more than Micheál Martin did, but with a series of serious missteps Leo Varadkar walked this government to the brink and last night whipped things up to a point that the country is now on a course that means a general election either before Christmas or early in 2018.

Misstep number one came with the Taoiseach’s opening comments on Leader’s Question in the Dáil last Tuesday. when he attempted to address the issue:

“The House will appreciate, once again, that I do not have first-hand knowledge of any of these matters.”

With those words it was clear that an Taoiseach was approaching the issue of Minister Fitzgerald’s level of knowledge on the campaign against Sgt McCabe satisfied that it had nothing personally to do with him and, so it was not something for him to be worried about.

In his own view he had not been directly embroiled in any of the Garda Sgt McCabe machinations that had brought down a Garda Commissioner, a Minister and dispatched a Department Gen Sec, in fact he had been the first Fine Gael minister to speak out in support of Sgt McCabe, so how could he be personally damaged by this issue?

What he had forgotten is that he answers for the actions of the whole of his government, not just the bits he has personal involvement in.

Misstep Two came a few minutes later in an exchange at the Order of Business between An Taoiseach and the Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat The Cope Gallagher that inadvertently revealed part of the problem with how his government and ministers had approached this and other issues.

As a row ensued about whether the Dáil should require the Tánaiste to make a statement and answer questions on the unfolding email saga, the Taoiseach attempted to chide the Leas Ceann Comhairle, a TD of very long standing, saying:

“I do not wish to tell the Leas-Cheann Comhairle how to do his job here – he should not take me up in that way – but I believe it is important that he, his office or somebody get some legal advice”

The Cope exploded.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Hold on. I do not need legal advice on a simple question. Deputies are requesting that an opportunity be given to make statements. It is a matter for the House, not a matter of legal advice for me…

I might not be a lawyer but I have common sense. I have been here for 36 or 37 years and I will not be dictated to by anybody in this House, not even the Taoiseach…

It is rare you see a Taoiseach so openly and roundly scolded in public. But more than that’ it is rare to see a Taoiseach having to be schooled on their role and reminded that Ministers are there to use their judgement and common sense, not to sit with a lawyer at their shoulder 24/7 and do nothing but to follow their legal advice.

If that is how government is to operate why not cut out the middle man, drop all ministers and simply appoint a panel of lawyers to oversee Departments and exercise neither judgement nor political common sense.

The surest way to never do the wrong thing, especially the wrong thing legally, is to do nothing. That is the basis of the charge against the Tánaiste. She did nothing and is championing her inaction while the State pursued an innocent man as a defence. This crisis is about what type of government we want.

There were another series of missteps with the Taoiseach having to come back into the Dáil again, and again, and correct the record. Did it never occur to Taoiseach that the volume of misinformation that his ministers was conveying to him and, in turn, to the public signalled a much greater problem? Did the Taoiseach and his advisers ever think to look at the timeline of the email revelations and maybe consider its implications? (courtesy of the Indo’s Kevin Doyle):

Nov 8 – Alan Kelly submits PQ

Nov 9 – Justice find the email

Nov 13 – Email is “mentioned” to Charlie Flanagan (but he didn’t see it)

Nov 15 – Flanagan alleges “smear campaign” in Dáil

Nov 16 – Fitzgerald phones Justice & is told about the email

Nov 20 – Taoiseach sees email.

These were then followed by two major missteps by the Taoiseach that border on reckless.

The first of these was not to respond adequately to Michael Martin’s contacts on Wednesday and Thursday which initiated the clause in the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael confidence and supply agreement that was specifically drafted to address emerging crises like this:

Should an event arise that has potential to undermine this arrangement, efforts will be made to have it resolved by the two Party Leaders.

This was then followed by another major misstep by wrongly supposing that Micheál Martin and Jim O’Callaghan were bluffing when Deputy O’Callaghan went on to Thursday’s RTÉ News to set out Fianna Fáil’s absolute lack of confidence in the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

Rather than acting to calm things down, Varadkar chose to act like an arrogant Young Fine Gael branch secretary, not a Taoiseach, and ramped things up.

This catalogue of Varadkar’s missteps, his bad judgement calls and clear political naivete come on top of the rolling revelations from Katie Hannon, Alan Kelly TD and others.

The bottom line is not whether there will be a general election, it is when will it be. Will it be between now and Christmas or will it be in early 2018.

As for the next steps… it is just possible that some sanity and calmness will reassert itself within Fine Gael today and tomorrow and that someone, though almost certainly not the Taoiseach, will see that the Tánaiste’s position is untenable and that it is in everyone’s interests in the short and medium term for her to gracefully resign, recognising that it was never her intention to do anything that undermined Sgt McCabe.

If that happens, then maybe Varadkar will think back to what The Cope said to him on Tuesday and exercise some common-sense and approach Micheál Martin and other leaders to agree an orderly pathway to an early 2018 election that will see the Social Welfare, Finance and other key legislation passed and allow Ireland’s interests to be protected at the December EU Council meeting on Brexit.

The Taoiseach has taken the wrong step at almost every juncture this week. The step to take us back from the brink in now in his rear-view mirror – but he still has one last opportunity to somewhat redeem his reputation by taking some right steps now.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010.  Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

33 thoughts on “What Happened

  1. Charger Salmons

    It’s not just Varadkar’s ill-judged comments on the domestic front.
    His grandstanding and insults towards the UK in Europe over the border issue have been poorly received in London.
    You may think it really doesn’t matter what the Brits think and Varadkar is merely sticking up for Ireland’s interests.
    But whatever your views on Brexit it is ill-advised for the leader of one country to be so arrogantly disdainful towards another in public.
    Especially with a country with so a close trading relationship and ties that go back well before the EU.London will not forget his remarks in a hurry.
    Varadkar’s total inexperience and ineptitude have shone through in the past fortnight.
    Sadly even if he were to go early next year who would replace him – the standard of politician who might step up to the plate is pretty poor.
    Maybe Ireland should give the Healey-Raes a go.

    1. Brother Barnabas

      That’s nonsense. You showed your economic naivety yesterday, now you’re showing your political naivety. You think May etc give a fiddlers about his comments? Anything important is said in private, anything for domestic political consumption is said in public. Varadkar’s popularity probably went up by 10 points last week. And that was the objective of those comments. The British government would be wholly aware of that – and would absolutely ignore what he said. You haven’t a clue.

      1. Charger Salmons

        Well,as you think – and I quote you directly here – ” English are (mostly) racist scum ” I’d say your knowledge of the real world in the United Kingdom is mostly gleaned from the bottom of an empty Guinness glass.

          1. Nigel

            Never smile at a crocodile. This stuff is hilarious and harmless, right up to the point where it isn’t.

          2. Charger Salmons

            Oh Nigel lovey do lighten up.
            It’s Friday afternoon and the first scoops of the weekend are not far away.
            Allow yourself a smile even as you whip yourself with a switch and religiously chant ” down with this sort of thing. “

    2. Martco

      you’re not a million miles off there,..our public representatives with the odd exception are not equipped to deal with a monster like Brexit however just as Westminster aren’t either….

      our system does not have a minimum bar for educational and working experience that a candidate must reach to be elected i.e. if you have enough money & are a good bullshttr then you too can be a TD…fairly sure Westminster same??
      we need elected reps that a) see it as a privilege/vocation b) have certain useful experience/educational background (not just be an ex schoolteacher) or in Leo’s case ex white pvc window salesman)
      then at least people can vote according to moral or ideological standpoint with knowledge they will have an expert COMPETENT person at the wheel.

      but what do we have? the system as it stands is broken & most of these clowns are not up to it anyway double whammy

      1. Charger Salmons

        I agree.
        You look around the Dail and what you mostly see are glorified local councillors who sell their principles for a few baubles and trinkets that they can show off on the front page of their local newspaper.
        On the foreign front when Verruca and Coveney pitch up at the European meetings you almost expect them to be carrying their school homework in satchels on their back.
        They think gravitas is what you pour over the meat and spuds.
        I’m sure when there’s a big state banquet after these get-togethers the two of them have a pint of milk and some buttered white pan with their mains.

        1. Rob_G

          Varadkar. The man’s name is ‘Varadkar’. Or even ‘Leo’, if the former is too difficult for you to mash into your keyboard.

          I do know that it is difficult to pronounce the ‘fuzzy-wuzzy’ names of some of your former colonial subjects, but then you would be surprised how annoyed we get when English people purposefully mispronounce our names.

          (This is something that everyone who is actually Irish already knows, of course).

          1. Boj

            You see no meaning to “Verruca” other than the poster not being able to pronounce it correctly? Ha, that in itself is funny.

          2. Charger Salmons

            Nope,I’ve given it some thought and I’ve decided to continue with Verruca.
            It doesn’t have the same caché as Biffo but it’ll do for me if it manages to irritate sanctimonious Spud.
            Begorrah !

          3. Rob_G

            Of course he does, just as does with the terms ‘spud’ and ‘paddy’ for Irish people.

            He clearly is clearly just some Home Counties pensioner taking a break from posting in the Daily Telegraph comments to troll foreign blogs for a change.

          4. Charger Salmons

            Well I’m definitely open to an explanation of how calling an Irish politician with Indian parentage a plantar wart is racist.
            Do your best Spudders.

          5. Charger Salmons

            But the day Verruca drags himself into the 21st century and openly supports modern abortion laws to prevent thousands of women having to travel to the UK every year because they’ve been abandoned by their own state I’ll call him by his proper name.
            Prancing around the world’s stage as a modern gay metrosexual while condemning women who voted for him to Victorian morals over abortion is the height of hypocrisy.

          6. bisted

            …wasn’t it Inda who first called him Verucca…at least Oliver Callen’s version of the ginger Taoiseach…

      2. Rob_G

        Right. And how will admission to this patrician class be decided?

        It’s a pity when the party that you like doesn’t get elected, but that’s democracy, baby – one person, one vote. If you’re so much cleverer than the current crowd, why don’t you run for election and let us know how you get on?

        “…or in Leo’s case ex white pvc window salesman”

        – that’s funny, I thought he was a medical doctor(?)

        1. martco

          so you think it’s ok for a former social worker to head up the Dept of Justice?

          or someone maybe like Eoghan Murphy from the slums of Ranelagh there to solve the biggest social issue the country faces today…with his Arts degree? seriously? hows the stats there Eoghan?

          and as for Varadaker….yep I don’t like him at all, I don’t trust him, he’s shown himself over the years to be a self-interested player. NOTHING positive happens in his sphere unless it benefits him personally. I have some direct knowledge of him and how he treats people who work for him btw @Rob_G and it ain’t good…and how he leads figures to me. and I certainly didn’t elect him to lead anything @Rob_G he’s an (bad) accidental Taoiseach…..and we could go on and on..FF riddled with self-interest just version 1.1 of FG…Sinn Fein? who knows wtf they are up to really, they of all the parties here have a chance to do the most when it comes to Brexit and the continued unwillingness to prove a break with the past and get over to Westminster to take their seats and fight for common sense tells me all I need to know…

          etc. etc.

          our system breeds ALL of this, thats my point. and in 50 years from now it will still be the same because of that. the system is broken.

          personally I wish we’d look at a reboot to a direct democracy idea like the Swiss

          1. Rob_G

            “so you think it’s ok for a former social worker to head up the Dept of Justice?”

            – if they are elected to this role, yes. Is there something inferior about being a social worker?

            Eoghan Murphy does have an arts degree, yes. He also used to work for a UN agency and was a junior minister by his early 30s, I doubt he is a dummy.

            You seem to want to some sort of technocrat government (which I concede wouldn’t be a bad idea in some ways), but then advocate for direct democracy, which is basically the opposite. If you think parish pump politics is bad now, imagine how bad it will be when there are 10 referendums per year for bypasses for every hamlet in Ireland, a referendum on every post office and garda station closure, and yearly referendums on the status of the Northern Ireland and on Ireland’s EU membership.

          2. Martco

            yes, I guess technocrat territory, I firmly think there should be a minimum bar to meet if you are going to become a line minister, take Eoghan Murphy was more my point that he has SFA background in the very area he’s “supposed” to be ceo for. honestly what is he doing there?? when there’s a major fire on you don’t send in Ryan Gosling, you call Red Adair. he’s clearly out of his depth and I’m going to give him benefit of doubt here that he’s actually trying. I think he’s not invested in it or sufficiently experienced to succeed. It’s just not good enough. on the Swiss system I see the danger but maybe that gets solved by finding a way to disconnect elected reps from local matters. we don’t have to copy, why can’t we design something new ffs???
            Irish people have great ingenuity and usually community spirit, we are generous and tend to give a sht. what we have clearly doesn’t work properly, you wouldn’t choose it now as a system if you were at day0 would you? I feel doesn’t reflect what we are about as Irish people. I doubt it reflects you. I want something different that at least listens to and reflects us properly.

  2. :-Joe

    Hey Derek Mooney, can yoiu tell us what happened when you were working hard for the PR / Spin / Manure in the media sector on behalf of Michael and Bertie and the Fine to fail and wreck the economy while our buddies and financial overlords at the top get rich party.

    Seriously, can you…? Do you have the spine to actually tell the truth.. ?

    No.. didn’t think so.


  3. Charger Salmons

    Perhaps Sinn Fein and the Greens should get together and form a new party and call themselves Guns N’ Roses. (*)

    (*) copyright Funny Friday.

  4. Twunt

    I think you’ll find it was SF that marched themselves and FF up the hill.

    SF have yet to realize they shouldn’t be there, and FF don’t know how to get back down.

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