Author Archives: Dan Boyle


From top: Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan arriving at Leinster House this morning for an appearance at the Justice and Equality Committee in the Dail; Dan Boyle

The real errors lie in the appointment of the current commissioner, rather than her subsequent performance. Having been part of the problem, why was it ever thought she could be a solution?

Dan Boyle writes:

I suspect I’ve had a more than average number of interactions with the Garda Siochána. As a politician paths cross on numerous occasions – when trying to deal with anti social behaviour; the policing of public events; or the odd protest march. For the most part these interactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

At other times I have transgressed. I’ve failed to drive my motor vehicle in a tardy fashion. I have been too attentive to my mobile phone. These brushes with our legal custodians were, on the whole, pretty judicious. These were fair cops, I thought.

I can only remember two incidents when I crossed swords negatively with members of the force, who I thought were acting with an attitude.

The first occasion was on Arranmore Island. I was breathalysed at two thirty in the afternoon, having just arrived on the island. When I commented that it was a futile, box ticking exercise I was told ‘you seem tired, sir’ before being threatened with prosecution under section this of that act. And no, there was no alcohol in my system.

The second event was when I had beeped my horn at a car that had cut across me. A nearby motorcycle Garda, who had heard my beep but hadn’t seen the cutting across, pulled me over to accuse me of road rage. He asked to see my licence.

On seeing my (non Irish) place of birth he proceeded to tell me, that had I come from here (Ireland) I would know how to drive properly. Imagine that being said to a person with a different skin tone. Community policing it wasn’t.

In the scheme of things these were two fairly trifling events. The attitude exposed was the confusion of judging with policing. I have found that those who are judgemental, tend to be less tolerant of being judged themselves.

It is a tough job. We live in a better society because they are there. I don’t expect them, nor the force they are part of, to be pristine. All State institutions reflect the society they are meant to represent.

Irish society remains too tolerant of a cutting corners approach in our institutions. What we should expect is that they enforce standards that are, at least, better than average.

The management of the Garda Siochana, is typical of the management of many of our State institutions. They seem to follow a deflect, deny, dump on approach to difficulties that arise in their organisation.

Confusing judging with policing is at the heart of the ongoing problems being experienced by the Garda Siochána. Problems that should be owned by this Garda Commissioner.

The real errors lay in the appointment of the current commissioner, rather than her subsequent performance. Institutional malaise is rarely, if ever, cured by those oblivious to the symptoms that have brought about the illness. Having been part of the problem, why was it ever thought she could be a solution?

It is those who made that decision who now need to come forward, take responsibility, and own that why.

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



From top: Martin McGuinness in Downing Street; Dan Boyle

As a young man his sense of anger seems palpable. In older pictures there is a sense of a man who had learned the value of hope.

Dan Boyle writes:

Willy Lomax, the lead character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, cuts a sad and pathetic figure. In writing about Martin McGuinness, I make no attempt to compare their respective characters. I merely borrow the play’s title to consider the role of politicians as salesmen, a role I believe McGuinness performed very effectively.

At least it is a role that politicians need to play, even though too many take a ‘whatever you’re having yourself’ approach to life.

The selling of ideas, concepts, ultimate destinations, but most obviously possibilities, should be a central part of the role of a politician. That so many take a ‘where are my people so I can follow them’ approach, is a tragedy and failure of politics.

The ability to identify key audiences; to measure and manage expectation; to use language to be understood and where possible inspire – these are the tools of that rare breed, the successful politician.

I once had a relatively private meeting with Martin McGuinness. The then evolution of politics on this island saw David Trimble and Seamus Mallon as the nexus of the Northern Ireland executive. It would be a number of years until McGuinness became the heart of that executive. At this meeting he was part of a Sinn Féin delegation meeting with the Green Party, seeking support for the early release of IRA prisoners.

The Green response was not as enthusiastic as the Sinn Féin team had hoped. Mr. McGuinness was most forthright is expressing his disappointment. I found him intimidating. Perhaps that feeling was as much informed by a preconception I held of Martin McGuinness and his reputation. Perhaps it was the hypersensitivity we Greens suffer.

In that brief meeting, through that flash of anger, I caught a sense of the Martin McGuinness for whom the bomb and the bullet had been his preferred methods of persuasion.

Or he could have been having a bad day. Making character assessments on the basis of one off meetings is always unwise. An even more superficial approach would be to look at photographs of the younger and older McGuinness. As a young man his sense of anger seems palpable. In older pictures there is a sense of a man who had learned the value of hope.

Nor should we be unaware of the realities of those who had lived in an apartheid statelet, where the hatred foisted on them created a violent response.

The identification of that violence as being self defeating must have been a difficult obstacle for him to overcome. To go from there to work with, work within and to seek to make work a system that had consistently undermined his community, must have required huge reserves of self evaluation.

That he managed to do that while mastering the timing of when to push, when to leap, when to take the risk, makes his an extraordinary achievement.

He did so more openly, more honestly, more effectively than anyone else in the republican movement. They will miss him. So will we.

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



From top: the old Irish passport, 1978; Dan Boyle

We are far from being the welcoming, inclusive Irish, we often pretend to be.

It’s a question of degrees.

Dan Boyle writes:

The proposal to allow Irish citizens, not residing here, to vote for our Head of State, is not the most pressing constitutional issue needing attention. It probably is being suggested to deflect from many more serious issues.

Nonetheless it should be considered as bringing about a necessary change, to allow for standards that are in practice in many other countries.

What I find worrying is the making of the proposal has brought out a reaction, that seems to go beyond an understandable disdain towards political cynicism.

It seems to reveal an attitude that a pecking order of Irishness exists; a pecking order defined as much by the how and where a person chooses to live, than by any genetic privileges earned.

At the top of this pyramid are those who live in this country, and have always lived in this country. Let’s call them The Famine Survivors. These are the people who have the right to say ‘My country right or wrong’. That they usually choose wrong, remains only their privilege.

Below them are The Returnees. Emigrants, with their children, who have come back to the ‘auld sod’. They were Irish there, but they are not thought fully Irish here, because of a disconnect they are made feel they have made.

Then we have Our Northern Brethren. De Valera’s constitutional conceit that there is the State and there is the Nation, has created a particularly Irish Limbo in Northern Ireland. We like to romantically believe them to be our compatriots, but we are reluctant to make any economic changes of ourselves to fulfil that romance.

To be fair to De Valera, the idea of lost countrymen in other territories wasn’t uniquely his. It was quite a popular idea in the 1930s.

A more recent category would be that of The Wilder Geese. These are our more recent emigrants. Economic reasons may have informed their leaving, although some have left out of choice! The temerity of seeking better lives outside of the motherland.

We have The Honorary Irish. The children of emigrant Irish, who however much soaked in their adopted culture, gain honourary status by being successful in their fields, usually in the entertainment industry. We are happy for them to be Irish out there. Less so here.

The same could be said for their parents, and of those who left in other eras, The Lost Generations. We mock their wistfulness as being twee. We condemn their vision of an Ireland that if it ever existed, certainly doesn’t exist now.

Last, and sadly for many least, we have The New Irish. A moniker born out of political correctness that has assumed Orwellian proportions. As in The New Irish are not considered Irish at all.

We fear their different ways. We fear their differentness. We are wary they will dilute our cultural purity. The thoughts of a samba infused nine hand reel blows our minds.

Maybe I am deflecting here. We are though far from being the welcoming, inclusive Irish, we often pretend to be.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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



From top: Greenmount Industrial School, Cork run by the Christian Brothers; Dan Boyle

These were children apart, not thought suitable for polite, moral society.

Dan Boyle writes:

Once upon a time in I undertook a course in child care. I was hoping it could improve my opportunities in my chosen area of youth work.

Others on the course were involved in residential care centres. Most of these centres continued to be managed by religious communities. In describing their work conditions they shared their frustration, that the spiritual needs of the children they cared for, were considered more important than any physical or emotional needs they may have had.

One course participant told of a practice that had happened at her centre, up to a few years previously. Each Sunday the children of this care home were marched down to their local church. They walked in file, all dressed in a drab, grey uniform, to be sat in allocated seats. These were children apart, not thought suitable for polite, moral society.

Earlier my schooling had been provided by the Presentation Brothers. Ours was the GAA rather than the Rugby playing school. Class context being important.

Other than the then still legal practice of corporal punishment, which lay teachers practiced with as much enthusiasm as their religious counterparts, my education was relatively benign.

A generation earlier the Brothers had also been responsible for the management of the nearby Greenmount Industrial School. In my parents’ generation their good behaviour was sometimes encouraged with the threat of their being sent there, if they didn’t behave appropriately.

The implication being clear. This was a place where children suffered. Where society insisted they suffer.

A number of years later, when I had been elected a city councillor, I learned of the existence of an unmarked mass grave at a local cemetery. In this grave were interred the remains of thirty eight boys who had died while confined at the industrial school.

I campaigned to have a headstone erected to acknowledge these shamefully long forgotten boys. I did receive co-operation from the Presentation Brothers, even though the co-operation given they preferred wouldn’t be seen as being so public.

A parallel campaign, I hadn’t been involved with, convinced the Good Shepherd Sisters to similarly acknowledge children who had died under their ironic care.

As a councillor I once was officiating, on behalf of the Lord Mayor of Cork, at an event at Bessboro, a now infamous Mother and Baby Home. I mentioned that someone important in my life had been born there.

It seems I misspoke. Implying pride on any person associated with a Mother and Baby Home was not to be encouraged it seemed.

None of these events can be compared to the horror of Tuam, or to the scale or intensity of what happened there. What they do speak to is the extent to which Irish society colluded with a definition of children being tainted, solely on the basis of the circumstances of their births.

A definition defined through a hateful religious dogma.

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

File Photo Fine Gael have a parliamentary party meeting tonight to discuss Enda Kennys future as leader. End. 19/07/2016. Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny at the launch of the Government's new Housing Action Plan which will help deal with the housing and homeless crisis at the Government Press Centre. Photo RollingNews


From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Dan Boyle

While it is possible to rise without a trace in politics, it is rarely a facility that exists for those departing public office.

Dan Boyle writes:

The time before the ending of any political career, is in marked contrast to the etiquette attached to what happens when an end does occur.

That end tends to be accompanied by a litany of eulogies, based on a theme that the politician in question has served his country with distinction, has done so selflessly and has gone about his (usually his) tasks without seeking fear or favour.

What is immediately forgotten, what then must remain unsaid until considered by future historians, are the recriminations and the derision placed upon the head of the unwanted politician in the days, weeks and months prior to their denouement.

This occurs regardless the of competencies, or the accomplishments, of the said individual. While it is possible to rise without a trace in politics, it is rarely a facility that exists for those departing public office.

We surround ourselves with a myth that a functioning democratic society requires widespread popular support. The truth is that most democratic societies function by having enough support existing enough of the time.

Those who choose to be involved in political life, do so knowing that a majority of people will either be indifferent, or more likely be hostile towards them.

Keeping enough people happy enough of the time is the essence of politics. Eventually you run out of people and/or time.

The public cynicism that attaches to politicians can be at its most vicious as a career end draws near. Each politician is said to be clinging onto power. Often their motivation is thought to be financial.

On occasion that can often be the case. There are, however, at other times more human factors that are at play. Factors we tend to forget about, and certainly are rarely applied to the sub species that is that of politicians.

The idea of clinging onto power is a nonsense. Power is never absolute. It is always comprised by the need to consult, persuade and share responsibility for decisions taken. The World can and does go on without any given politician.

Some factors are down to political vanity. The loss of status can be significant. There will come a day when people will no longer seek your opinion. Where your name will no longer be as prevalent. Where the when and how of you meeting with people isn’t governed by protocol.

Of course much of this can be placed into a ‘Get Over Yourself’ category. The deeper the effects of this, the more rarefied a cossetted politician has been exposed to this condition. When individuals end up with no driver’s licence, having been driven around for thirty years; or others don’t know how to check into an airport; it shows up the individuals, and the system they have been a part of, quite badly.

The most obvious human factor we tend to lose sight of, in this situation, is that of uncertainty. What to do with your life afterwards? Again the assumption gets made that you get looked after, that passing status gets picked up on by those who think they may gain from second hand prestige. Another myth too widely believed.

The rabidly right wing Conservative, Enoch Powell (who ended his career as Unionist MP for North Down) is remembered for two things. One is his incindiary ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. The other is a quote of his that all political careers end in failure.

It’s the careers of failure that begin we should be more worried about.

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



“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again.

“They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

Through The Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll.


Dan Boyle writes:

One thing we can be sure is that Donald Trump hasn’t deliberately styled himself on the character of Humpty Dumpty, however apt that character can be related to his use of language or its veracity.

We can be sure that Trump himself wouldn’t make that link because of how he celebrates the fact that he doesn’t read books. If he were a reader it is probable that a fantasy novel might appeal to him. His superficiality though, would make it unlikely he would want to interpret any allegory attached.

There are some, many, who see genius in Trump’s loose approach to language. His phraseology is deliberate, they believe. It seeks to evoke a response. A response that distorts reality and seeks to distract from the actual.

The alternative, the more obvious, is less likely to be believed. He does want to evoke a response. He wants us to believe that what he is saying is true. That he does so in the most inarticulate, ill informed and insincere manner, is not an affectation, it is how he wants to communicate what he thinks.

It is child like in its application. Perhaps a children’s nursery rhyme character is a fair comparison. A more recent cultural reference might be the character ‘Chauncey Gardiner’ played by Peter Sellers in the film Being There (1979)’. In this he plays a simple soul, who comes close to the US Presidency, by stating inane comments that are taken as pearls of unique wisdom.

How should we respond to this conscious stream of inanity? Are we being trolled? Do we give the unwelcome attention he so desires for his every utterance? If we ignore him does that allow him, and those around him, to construct an alternate reality that comes to be believed by his followers with religious intensity?

The answers might be found in identfying what angers Trump most. He is notoriously thin skinned. He possesses an enormous ego. He hates being contradicted, or being stymied. He is never amused at being made fun of.

These should be our weapons of choice in seeking to overcome Trumpism. Each piece of Fake News (that which we used to call lies) he produces must be countered by verifiable facts that undermine the intent of the myth makers.

Although it could yet be the merry makers who have the best laugh. The Trump team are their own satirical script writers. What they presume to be strength of purpose comes across as a cartoonish approach to government and to diplomacy. Today we giggle nervously. Eventually they will realise we are laughing at them, not with them.

The truth about Donald? There is no truth about Donald.

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

Illustration by Chloe Cushman



From top: Green Party members led by then party leader John Gormley (centre) leaving Government Buildings on January 23, 2011 after informing the Taoiseach Brian Cowen that they can no longer continue in Government: Dan Boyle

As The Maurice McCabe scandal has shown our politics is bedevilled with a belief that the most complex path is that most likely, not so much to deliver truth, but to somehow hold reputation intact

Dan Boyle writes:

It was the fag end of the FF/Green government. The Greens had already decided and had announced that the government was working towards its conclusion.

A Budget and a Finance Bill needed to be passed. It was hoped some other bills might also be approved, but there was no real expectation.

A meeting was organised in the  Taoiseach’s office to arrange remaining government business. Brian Cowen was accompanied by Tony Killeen (not that long a cabinet minister) and the Government Chief Whip, John Curran. On the Green side I made up the numbers along with John Gormley and Eamon Ryan.

After what had been a number of horrendous months, Brian Cowen was in an euphoric mood. The previous evening he had unexpectedly won a vote of confidence from his parliamentary party. His demeanour screamed hubris.

Towards the end of the meeting he announced his intention to fill a number of cabinet positions that had become ‘vacant’. Each of us Greens said that would be a bad idea. It would, in effect, be the announcing of a new government.

Later I found myself appearing on TV3’s Vincent Browne Tonight. I like Vincent. His exposés added to his combative style, have dragged Irish politics to a better place. I was well used to his shtick. Before transmission he would have had decided what the story was, and from that he would not deviate during the programme.

In effect he called me a liar. I admit I somewhat lost it with him, challenging him as to which of us had actually been at the meeting. The story was what was or wasn’t said at that meeting.

There was a Fianna Fáil version of events and there was a Green version. This is what piqued the media’s interest. What I took from this experience was a painful lesson, that the truth mattered less than possessing the most persuasive narrative.

I’m reminded of these events, as with most people, I try to make sense of new Irish politics this week.

We have seen and heard a number of overlapping accounts of what was said by whom when. It’s possible that none of those involved have been telling an unvarnished truth. What is certain is that all involved have been trying to outspin each other, in their efforts to win the most persuasive narrative contest.

What has been most dispiriting about all this, is that none of it should really matter.
What should matter is the fate of one citizen, a public servant, who for trying to do right, has endured years having the essence of his character maligned, through many agencies of this State.

Some of these agencies, formed for the protection of actual victims of our society seem to have, at least peripherally, been actors in the blackest of dark propaganda against a man whose only crime has been the telling of the truth.

Under these circumstances the who said what is of little relevance. Even the idea of a judicial commission versus a public inquiry is something of a sideshow. Either mechanism only guarantees further delay, and certain further distress for Maurice McCabe and his family.

There instead should be an Oireachtas resolution thanking Maurice McCabe for his service, apologising for how he has been treated, and insisting that all those in public positions who sought to stymie his efforts resign.

This won’t happen because our politics is bedevilled with a belief that the most complex path is that most likely, not so much to deliver truth, but to somehow hold reputation intact.

I recently leafed through a newly published book on the FF/Green government. I came across  an admission from a Fianna Fáil person who had been at that meeting with me, that the Green account of what happened was what happened.

It seems that, eventually, truth does become the persuasive narrative.

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




From top: New Yorker cartoon; Dan Boyle

Debates no longer seem to about content. It’s the stylistic difference that now determines whether an argument is being won or lost.

Dan Boyle writes:

The Argument would be one of my favourite Monty Python sketches. Michael Palin having paid for his argument session enters a room to find John Cleese sitting behind a desk.
Apropos of nothing Cleese says “I’ve told you once,”. Palin somewhat taken aback responds “No you didn’t,”.

There then follows a ping pong of Yes I did/No you didn’t, until Palin stops the dialogue to express his annoyance. “This isn’t an argument,” he says. “It’s just contradiction. Contradiction isn’t argument,”.

Cleese pauses, having been countered, he then says “It can be,” after which volleys of No it can’t/Yes it can follow.

I now see this sketch as something of a harbinger of how debased debate would become.
Inconsistency isn’t hypocrisy. Correlation isn’t causation. Dúirt bean liom doesn’t constitute an authoritative source. The only rule on debates that now applies is that there are no rules. We have been Games of Thronesified.

Debates no longer seem to about content. It’s the stylistic difference that now determines whether an argument is being won.

By way of illustration let me identify some of the sparring types I come across. First there is The Anal Retentive. This person only ever has one point which is repeated again and again and again. Even when that point has been proven wrong the first time.

Then we have The College Debater. This person don’t really hold any opinion, but is nostalgic at having almost gotten into King’s Inn, looks for alternative arguments to be made.

A near relation is The Hypothesis Buster. This person detests any statement that is confidently asserted. Their intent is then not only to undermine the confidence in the argument, but the confidence of the argument maker.

These catagories at least continue with the point/counterpoint structure given to us by Aristotle. Much more prevalent these days are those for whom a debate is something of a distraction.

Take The You’re History Buff. This person ignores any point being made in an argument because you are the person making the argument. Each counterpoint has nothing to do with any salient point being made, but is rather a statement of their opinion of you, who you are, or what it is you have been.

A variant of this would be The You’re A Langer Boy. This is a Cork version that has several more offensive counterparts. With this approach each counterpoint again ignores the argument, and instead inserts any and every offensive comment possible.

There is a myriad of other types who would need a book to properly explain. There’s the My God Is Better Than Your God Believer. These people can expound in a theological detailed way on politics or on sports, as much as they do with religion.

I keep getting sucked in by these types. I’ve even been accused of exhibiting many of these traits myself. Of course I would say that is arguable.

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


From top: Mosque shooting in Quebec, Canada on January 29, 2017; Dan Boyle

We have allowed a myth to take hold that doing things differently, and radically differently, is the only alternative to doing things better.

Dan Boyle writes:

We hear a lot of talk these days of us all living in a social media bubble. Our debates, such as they are, being conducted in echo chambers.

It’s something I try to avoid through following people I knowingly disagree with, on the social media platforms I choose to inhabit.Lately I’ve been wondering about the value of this in the seeking of honest, informed debate.

What I’m increasingly coming across is not such debate, but instead the reflection of the echo chambers where these voices are heard constantly in shrill-like tones.

A case in point is the reaction to the recent Quebec mosque killings. I could sense among some of a rightward bent, a palpable elation quickly followed by deflation on learning that a Moroccan who had been arrested, was instead a witness to the tragic event.

At first there seemed, with some, an almost orgasmic delight at the thought of Muslim on Muslim violence, in a country with a humane migration policy. The thought of a young man poisoned by the invective they believe to be truth, will not be accepted nor will responsibility for it be admitted. The failure to confirm the bias gets ignored.

Those on that side of the political spectrum are not isolated in this behaviour. Often they find unlikely bedfellows among the trendy lefties, those who never lose any opportunity to tell us we deserve what we are getting.

In their world view Trump/Brexit, the inexorable rise of hate is an inevitable consequence of the failure of liberal democracy. Clinton would have been worse. Obama was as bad. Them, others – Europe, immigrants, Arabs, Mexicans are the source of all our problems. We have let down, we have been told, those who came to believe these ‘truths’.

Like their hard-right counterparts, what trendy lefties won’t ever countenance is that the failure hasn’t been not to listen or to understand these ‘fears’, but not to confront them much earlier and far more strenuously.

The social media bubble has exaggerated the strifes of the Western World. We are agonising over first world problems. We have allowed a myth to take hold that doing things differently, and radically differently, is the only alternative to doing things better.

This is a bubble which seems to defy physics as well as logic. Bubbles tend to expand before eventually exploding. This is a bubble which traverses inwards, choking us with its contradictions.

And yet I will continue to try to listen and understand. I block infrequently. When I do it is against those whose most frequent form of argument is abuse. I’ve come to learn that time is too precious, in discussing issues of such seriousness, to placate those who refuse to be coherent.

By nature I am an incrementalist. I worry that revolutionary zeal can become misplaced, and even more worryingly that the cloak of revolution can be used to justify the most abhorrent of views.

Trump and his acolytes claim to be revolutionaries. It is justifiable for them to so claim. The problem for the many of the rest of us is that we don’t share the rabid belief that this how the wheel should be spun.

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



From top: Martin McGuinness and Michelle O’Neill; Dan Boyle

The Northern Ireland election campaign will show us the extent to which voters will engage differently, think differently and act differently away from the traditional, sectarian electoral ghettos.

Dan Boyle writes

After only ten months we are to have a another set of elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly. It shouldn’t be happening. An advantage has been identified. This early election is an attempt to take advantage.

As often has been the case in the North’s political history, those seeking advantage should be careful of what they wish for.

One thing that can’t be wished is Martin McGuinness continuing as Deputy First Minister. Observing his health has been a discomfort, not least for him. It’s hoped he can recover well. The illness has afforded him, at least, the somewhat dubious privilege of hearing his own eulogies.

These have been overwhelming positive, often from the most surprising of sources. They’ve mostly been deserved. He has made an incredible journey. His presence will be badly missed in the next Assembly, should it progress.

Not that I believe cuddly, chuckling Martin is an exact representation of who he is politically. He has, however, won considerable public respect for relating an honest account of what he has been and what he has become.

In this he has been far more honest than Gerry Adams. History will be kinder to him as a result.
And there is such a lot of history to assess. Gerry and Martin seem to have been in situ forever.

There may have been good strategic reasons to oversee that long journey from a paramilitary organisation with an attached political wing, to a modern day political party (albeit one that operates under a distinct military discipline).

The price has been to stifle, discourage and sometimes undermine a new generation of leadership. In the Republic there seem to be handful who are happy to wait their turn. In Northern Ireland (apologies The Six Counties), Martin McGuinness’ absence is likely to create a huge vacuum.

This would be a pity. As unnecessary as these elections are, they do at least offer a window opening on normal politics operating there. Away from the usual sectarian fault lines, the possibility exists of debates on standard political fayre.

Talking issues like corruption rather than head counts; accounting for being in government rather than seeking ranking in tribal groupings; having the prospect of an alternative government could all be to Northern Ireland’s advantage.

In last May’s Assembly elections some slivers of light were appearing. Sinn Féin were dealing with being seen as a party of the establishment, being got at by People Before Profit in West Belfast and Foyle (with the welcome election of Eamon McCann). The Greens doubled our representation coming very close to winning a third seat in East Belfast.

The reduction of constituency size from six to five seats, will make it harder for the smaller parties to continue this breakthrough, but it is important they can.

The smaller Assembly may limit the impact felt by the DUP and Sinn Féin for the decisions they have made collectively in government. The campaign will show us the extent to which voters will engage differently, think differently, act differently, away from the traditional, sectarian electoral ghettos.

I’m looking forward to knocking on a few doors up there. Given the madness of much of World politics these days, Northern Ireland may yet turn out to be a surprise beacon of hope.

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