Author Archives: Derek Mooney

Derek Mooney (above) overhears Trump and anti-Trump voices in Washington DC this week (top pic by Derek)

I write this week’s column while sitting in my hotel room, very late on Monday night/Tuesday morning. I am about 800m from the Pentagon, just outside Washington DC.

I am mainly here on business, though I should make it clear that my proximity to the Pentagon is completely unrelated to my work. I am at Pentagon City because hotels here cost a lot less than those downtown.

It is a trip that I usually make around this time of this year, though this time I decided to take a few ‘personal days’ beforehand rather than afterwards.

I only mention this as a way of explaining that this is my first time being in the US for Veterans Day. Veterans’ Day in the U.S. corresponds with WWI Armistice day – the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Though it was officially on Sunday, yesterday (Monday) is the public holiday in lieu.

It is why this hotel, indeed most of the local bars and restaurants, have been thronged for the past few days with military veterans of all ages, along with their families, coming to visit the nearby Arlington military cemetery.

Strolling to a local mall on Sunday, I was struck by the number of times I heard young locals say “thank you for your service” to ex-servicemen and women they passed on the street.

While this is perhaps not so unexpected in an area so filled with people who either work in the Pentagon or are associated somehow with the military, it is still unusual to hear it and – notwithstanding the legitimate concerns about US military actions in various parts of the world – even a bit moving.

If only our government held the service of those currently serving in Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Defence Forces in such a high regard, but that is an article for another day.

Given the number of out of town veterans about, I tried to channel my inner Maeve Binchy and began earwigging conversations in bars and restaurants to hear what, if anything, they were saying about President Trump.

It was mixed result.

It ranged from the 32-year-old barman, in a great neighbourhood bar about an hour’s drive south of Arlington, who talked about how he can only find bar work despite having a degree in economics, to the local baristas who have recently come to live in the US and build their futures here. These were not Trump voters.

I did overhear a few possible Trump voters, some even in the bright red “Make America Great Again” Maga baseball caps, but not that many. My heart started to lift on Sunday morning as I listened eagerly to a married couple, in their 60s, at a neighbouring table at breakfast, speak disapprovingly of Trump’s behaviour in Paris.

While both were genuinely irritated and even embarrassed by Trump’s failure to attend some events due to rain, it was still not a deal breaker to them. “At least he gets things done”, said the wife, as they discussed Trump’s counter balancing merits. Her husband agreed, citing the number of new jobs and record stock market highs since Trump took the White House.

Remember this is a conversation between them. I was just an eavesdropper. That said, I nearly had to be restrained from intervening, shouting: “So what? Mussolini made the trains to run on time… was that worth the brutal fascism?”.

Fortunately, I didn’t. Partially because this old Mussolini trope is false – Fake News so to speak – but mainly because they were just a nice couple having a private chat as they watched the news reports from the Paris Armistice day commemorations.

They were not festooned with Trump hats or National Rifle Association t-shirts. They were a courteous, well-spoken, decent, middle-of-the-road couple in Washington for Veterans’ Day.

They did not match the mental image we have of Trump supporters, but could it possibly be that our mental picture of Trump voters is warped and that they represent most Trump voters?

Yes, they were both white. Yes, they were both in their sixties. But they were also something else – (a) they were not from a big city – from what I could glean in their chat with the waitress, they came from rural Carolina and (b) neither were college-educated – though this is more a hunch than a statement of unimpeachable fact.

What they were was an illustration of the reality that the big political divide in the U.S. today is between those who live in the large urban sprawls and those who live in rural, small town America. It is also between those with a third level education and those without one.

The divide is about a large part of America that feels passed over.

This is the America that has not felt the economic benefits of the success of the tech giants or globalisation. It is also a big chunk of America, especially in the old industrial heartlands of small-town Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan that once solidly voted Democrat.

Like it or not, there is a sizeable section of this non-urban, non-college population who perceive Trump as delivering on the things he promised. It is not a majority view – indeed the results of the midterms point to Trump having a major battle on his hands for re-election in 2020 – but it is still a sizeable and consistent minority.

Back in 2016, Trump won the Presidency with 46% of the national vote. Last week he secured a 45% approval rating. True, it was lower a few months back, but while some supporters may abandon him briefly, he still has a solid wall of support that will not desert just because the “big city” newspapers and national TV pundits don’t like him.

If anything, this “urban” disapproval may be one of his biggest plusses – though the biggest factor in his 2016 win still remains the fact that he was running against the second least liked major-party nominee of all time: Hilary Clinton. By the way, Trump was the first.

Where the Democrats won last week, their margins of victory (in the House of Representatives contests it was about +7%) were roughly in line with Trump’s net margin of disapproval (over approval) which has lately been around -9%. The health warning which accompanies this is, of course, the fact that Hilary Clinton (even with her historically high disapproval rating) won the popular vote in 2016 and got 2.9 million more votes than Trump.

What seems to have changed since 2016 is not that the Democrats have gotten their act together, but rather than the increasing number of self-identifying independent voters, especial ly those in suburban America, are backing Democrats.

The strong showing of Beto O’Rourke in once solidly Republican Texas may be a pointer to where the Democrats need to go. In 2016 Trump beat Clinton by a margin of around 800k votes (4.7million to 3.9 million). Last week O’Rourke slashed it back to just 200k votes.

To be fair, I know I am reading far too much into a few overheard conversations from a three-day stay in an area whose local voters, most of whom are on the Federal Government payroll, overwhelmingly voted Democrat, but hey, if you can’t trust the opinion of the guy serving you a few pints of Yeungling, who the hell can you trust?

Not the President of the USA if it is raining, it seems.

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

From top: . Sinn Fein Presidential candidate Liadh Ni Riadh (right) with Party President Mary Lou McDonald (centre) , Michelle O Neill and Pearse Doherty speaking to the media at the Presidential election centre at Dublin Castle last month; Derek Mooney

Some of you may have noticed that, apart from one piece back in mid-July, I had avoided writing anything here about the Presidential election.

This was not due to any lack of interest or me not having any views on it. I had many views on it but, as I had worked with one of the candidates in the council nomination phase, I felt it would be unfair to comment until the election was over and the results were in.

The strange thing however, is now that it is over I don’t really feel the need to opine on the election or any of the individual campaigns, as such.

I understand much of the online and media hoopla over Peter Casey’s second place showing, especially as it seemed, for much of the campaign that he was going to struggle to even finish last. But, it is far too big a stretch to ascribe his second place showing to his nasty dog whistles alone.

Yes, the comments were appalling and appealed to a small cohort of voters, but is that cohort equal to 23% of all voters or even just those who voted? I think not.

On the eve of polling I thought Casey would come second, but I also thought he would just be a little ahead of both Gallagher and Ní Ríada. I had not imagined that he would pull so far ahead.

It was evident over the last few days of the campaign, especially in the final debates, that Casey’s plan was to attack Gallagher in a bid to peel away his voters. It worked. What I hadn’t realised though was the degree to which Casey would manage to do the same to the Shinners.

I thought their core vote would stick with the candidate that Mary Lou had picked. So, it seems, did Mary Lou. Indeed, it was hard at times not to think that Liadh Ní Ríada was running on a joint ticket with Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill.

Mary Lou’s strategy backfired dramatically. The media focus on Casey since has helped Mary Lou to tend her wounds in the shadows, but she emerges from the campaign sustaining more lasting political damage even than the other Aras18 candidates.

Returning to make-up of the Casey 23%, it is more complex that some commentary would have us believe. It comprised a cross section of voters who saw Casey as a handy way to express their anger and rage on range of issues.

If you disliked the whole #aras18 campaign, you possibly voted Casey.

If you were fed up of Gallagher and Higgins, you likely voted Casey.

If you hated political correctness, you possibly voted Casey.

If you really disliked Varadkar telling you what to do, you probably voted Casey

And, as I was advised on Twitter, there was another motivation: if you hated the Irish Times and RTÉ, you almost certainly voted Casey.

Like it or not, there were many reasons why people voted Casey. Reasons that do not make those voters racist, deplorable or Alt-Right.

Recognising this simple truth also debunks the idea that Casey is some cynical political genius who possesses a deep understanding of the political psyche of a newly emerged Irish “flyover” class of voters. He isn’t.

He is a smart marketing guy. His ‘genius’ was to manage to get all that publicity and not have it cost him a cent. Having reached the support threshold (a quarter of a quota) he qualifies for a state refund of his election expenditure, up to €200k. On Oct 24th he announced that he was spending just under €80k – which he will now recoup.

It is this point which brings me to what is, in my view, the real political lesson from Aras2018. It does not, bizarrely, have anything to do with presidential races, but rather concerns my pet peeve, the promised 2024 Dublin mayoral election.

If you think the Aras18 race was awful, then prepare yourself for the horror show that will be a Dublin mayoral race. It will look, sound, feel and grate the nerves like Aras18 – only worse.

The Aras18 contest was what you get when you have a knockdown, drag-out, ego fuelled electoral contest with a multiplicity of candidates for an office with no power or policy role, especially where the two main parties refuse to tog out.

Though Aras18 had, at least, the saving grace of a politically astute and shrew incumbent who always seemed set to hold on. If and when we have a Dublin mayoral election it will have all the negatives of Aras 18 and none of the positives.

It too will be for a powerless, largely symbolic office whose role only a handful of people will grasp. Only this one will be newly created, without the record, example or gravitas of previous incumbents to guide any of the debate. Recall how often candidates at Aras18 attempted, regardless of gender, to channel the legacies of Presidents Robinson and McAleese.

Dublin Mayor is an office for which many maverick and non-traditional candidates will consider running. They will take their inspiration from Casey, not (hopefully) in their messaging, but in the fact that he has shown how relatively easy it is to run a low budget, low content campaign that talks about things that have nothing to do with office you are seeking and get a damn big bang for your buck.

They will be lured by the prospect of all the media coverage at a relatively low cost. Remember, Casey budgeted €80k for his national campaign. A pro-rata one (based on population alone) means a Dublin mayoral candidate, following Casey’s path, would just need around €32k for a campaign that could see them possibly come in second and maybe even land a slot on the Late Late?

And, if the antics at the Sept 13th Dublin City Council meeting that consider possible Presidential nominations are anything to go by, then we will have some delightful minor fringe candidatures awaiting us.

Whoever makes the podiums for candidates’ debates will have to start working overtime now to fill the demand.

Meanwhile the ballot paper will look be like a dilated Lidl till receipt with all of the above plus the two big political parties and Sinn Féin, whatever remains of Labour party, the Greens, the alphabet socialists/PBP, and Social Democrats all likely fielding candidates.

But even the presence of all the established parties is no guarantee of ensuring that they will dominate, especially when you will also have candidates from the Worker’s Party, Renua, Éirigí, Direct Democracy, the National Party etc.

You also need to factor in the likelihood that the candidate[s] of whichever of the main parties are in government at the time are going to find themselves polling badly as the take the mid-term political backlash for national policies unrelated to the powerless and empty office for which they are running.

#Aras2018 was a horrible and unseemly contest for a fine office. #DubMayor2014 will be a mass car crash race for a futile one.

Can we now please face up to the reality that having a directly elected mayor for Dublin is a bad idea and focus instead on finding a scaled system of city government that has authority, responsibility and can actually work.

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

From top: DUP leader Arlene Foster with  DUP MP Sammy Wilson (on crutches) after a meeting with Taoiseach leo Varadkar in 2017; Derek Mooney

Many, many years ago I went to see the great Billy Connolly perform live at the Gaiety theatre. He talked about his brief time working as a riveter in the Clyde side shipyards.

At one point he asked the audience if we recalled those old British Pathé newsreels of jaunty, merry Glasgow shipbuilders waving their hats and cheering loudly as the ship, on they had been working, was launched and slid into the Clyde.

As Connolly reminded us, though the newsreels portrayed these workers as delighting in the completion of another fine ship, the simple reality what they were actually waving goodbye to their jobs as most of them would be laid off the next day.

Today’s DUP is very much like those shipbuilders. In happily cheering-on the prospect of a hard Brexit they are celebrating the end of any economic future for Northern Ireland.

In going for hard Brexit, Arlene Foster, Sammy Wilson and most – though notably, not all – of the DUP leadership team are opting for the worst of all possible worlds.

They stand on the periphery of the UK, as currently constituted, and demand all the disadvantages of a full-on Brexit with its promise of unspecified future international trade deals, without any attempt to hold on to the advantages that the EU has brought.

What has been an offer from Michel Barnier and the EU in the withdrawal talks is a form of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for Northern Ireland. Several months ago a colleague of mine, Tom Hayes and I, put together a short paper setting out how special economic zone for Northern Ireland might operate.

Becoming a SEZ would give the North, an economy that remains way over dependent on the public sector, the potential to become a gateway to the European Union not just for the UK, but for those with whom the UK believes it will soon be able to do great trade deals.

The advantages of a NI SEZ were not necessarily a long way down the road. Making Northern Ireland a special economic zone would make Belfast, Derry and Newry attractive locations for those small and medium companies who will need to move their operations from a-post-Brexit-GB but are finding Dublin too costly

In rejecting this proposal Arlene Foster has shattered not just the illusion that the DUP is Northern Ireland’s business-friendly political party, but also the idea that it is a party of hard political pragmatists wanting the best for their community.

It is now neither.

As its approach to Brexit has shown, the DUP is prepared to sacrifice businesses large and small, national and international and they 1000s of jobs they bring in favour of political point scoring on its artificially constructed constitutional question.

I say “artificially constructed” because the Joint EU/UK Report from December last year, as signed and agreed by the British government. writes the Good Friday Agreement into the Brexit deal, and does it several times (see articles 42 – 56).

The Good Friday Agreement underpins Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, reaffirms the principle of consent and states that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK cannot change without the support a majority. Note: this means a simple majority, not a weighted one as some try to pretend.

The EU acknowledges all of this, so what is the DUP’s problem?

Using Sammy Wilson’s arguments, surely the inability to use Northern Ireland sterling banknotes in shops, pubs or stores in London or Manchester is a threat to the Union?

Of course, it isn’t. The problem here is that the few remaining backwoodsmen who still baulk at the consent principle and the Good Friday Agreement see Brexit as a sly way to weaken that Agreement and are being facilitated by a weakened DUP leader who tries to mask her weakness by talking tough.

The DUP’s much vaunted Westminster deal which kept Theresa May in office after the last British general election is all but over, though it may take a few weeks for the formal acknowledgement of this.

The one-time party of “no surrender” has managed by political petulance and stridency to surrender any leverage it had over May and chosen instead to become fellow travellers of the Johnson and Rees-Mogg Tory rump.

Foster, who had shown signs of wanting a better relationship with the South, now seems content to now sacrifice Northern Ireland’s viability in a desperate attempt to save herself.

But, her time as DUP leader is limited. It is quite likely that she will not still be leader by the start of the second quarter of 2019.

Though Arlene’s leadership is doomed, it is not because of Brexit. It is due to her inattentiveness as First Minister as recently exposed during the RHI “Cash for Ash” inquiry.

That inquiry is due to report sometime after Easter next year. Most expect the report to be highly critical of Foster as both Minister First Minister and her stewardship of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Neither the moderate or hard-line wings of the DUP will be happy to keep a damaged and discredited Foster as leader after the report. Especially in the aftermath of Brexit with the possibility of either a Westminster election or a Second Referendum, not to mention the possible return of an Executive and Assembly in the North.

It is more than likely that Foster will – just before the report is published – be persuaded to stand aside for the good of the party and make way for new leader.

But who will that leader be?

If the DUP is wise – and there is little evidence around just now to suggest that it is – it will pick somebody from the next generation.

The months following the UK’s formal exit from the EU at the end of March are going to be very tricky, even if there is an extended transition period.

The political spotlight that now focuses on Northern Ireland will likely move to Scotland, post Brexit, as it once again looks to independence within the EU, rather than dependence within the UK.

As the UK slowly comes apart and its current intransigence is seen by Unionists, in hindsight, to have contributed to its dismantling.

While the binary nature of Northern Ireland politics means that the DUP will not disappear within the next few electoral cycles, its long-term future cannot be guaranteed.

As I have said here many times Brexit will change politics in Northern Ireland. This will have major implications, many positive, for parties on this side of the border, but hanging around and waiting to see how that works out, rather than trying to shape it now, is a strategic error.

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

Pic: AFP

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announcing Denis Naughten’s resignation as Minister for Communications in the Dáil last week; Derek Mooney

This time last week things were not looking bad for the Taoiseach.

He was getting ready to see his Finance Minister deliver this government’s third budget. He could look forward to it keeping his TDs and support base fairly happy.

He knew it was not a great budget, some would say boring. He also knew that it was not what he would have delivered if he hadn’t to depend on those pesky Fianna Fáil-ers but, even so, he probably felt that he could look forward to good coverage in the media – and we all know how important a positive body-politic image is to the Fine Gael leader.

The Budget was just the start. There was a lot more for Leo to look forward to in what should have been a strong week for him and his party.

It was a week that should have taken the Taoiseach from passing Budget2019, through to increasing pressure on Fianna Fáil to deliver a Summer 2020 extension to Confidence and Supply and then to basking in the pleasure of seeing Mr Justice Peter Charleton’s tribunal of inquiry report clear his former Tánaiste of knowing of any attempt to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

That’s how the week should have gone, but it didn’t.

Welcome to politics and to the power of Harold Macmillan’s “events” (When asked what brings down a government, British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan is supposed to have replied, ‘Events, dear boy, events’, though the story is probably apocryphal).

So, fast forward to today and instead entering the Dáil as the true master of the House after a weekend of positive headlines telling of his political prowess, Varadkar will have to slink in and hope to dispel the notion that his government is weakening and in decline.

It’s a task not made any easier by having to both defend Fine Gael junior minister, Pat Breen, and then ask the Dáil to (re)appoint of independent TD, Seán Canny, as minister of state, to secure his vote for the coming weeks and months.

It cannot be how the Taoiseach thought he would be starting this political week.

Over the past two weeks Varadkar has lost the guaranteed backing of one Fine Gael TD, Peter Fitzpatrick and now two independent TDs, Clare’s Dr Michael Harty, who voted against the budget, and former Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

Hardly achievement for a government elected almost three years with an overwhelming minority.

Two weeks ago, in the wake of the Fitzpatrick defection, I asked, albeit rhetorically,

“If long(ish) serving members of the Leo Varadkar’s own parliamentary party are having public misgivings about this government’s future, then why would Varadkar seriously expect the main opposition party to rush to commit to extend its Confidence and Supply (C&S) agreement for another year, once the Budget speech is done?”

Two more TDs down and the question is even more relevant.

The Taoiseach has known from the moment he took the leadership of his party that he needed to be ready for what would happen once the third budget of Fine Gael’s three-budget deal with Fianna Fáil was passed.

Indeed, he needed to be more than just ready for it, he needed to be the one to shape and determine it. Most of his parliamentary colleagues presumed that he had worked all this out before he went for the leadership.

It is entirely possible, if not likely, that he had – but what he appears to have neglected is the reality that no battleplan survives the first engagement.

Having the ability to adapt and correct a plan mid-skirmish is a more important political skill than being able to dream one up in the first place. His handling of the relatively minor events of the second half of last week suggests, once again, that this is not a skill that the Taoiseach possesses.

Even before the mini-drama of Denis Naughten’s resignation and the news that Minister Pat Breen had similar questions to answer, Micheál Martin managed to throw Varadkar’s short term timeline off course.

He did this by taking the initiative and eschewing the passive role that Fine Gael assumed he would adopt.

But Martin did more than throw the timeline off, he did something else which Varadkar did not expect. Martin opted to discard the political leverage that the current situation gives him and offered Fine Gael a non-conditional arrangement up to early 2019.

This would enable the government to focus on Brexit between now and December/January. It would also allow the Dáil to pass the Finance and Social Welfare Bills that enact the Budget and progress the abortion legislation consequent on the referendum.

In one move Martin may have managed to put national interests ahead of party partisan interests and still get some kudos for himself and his party into the bargain.

I have been saying here for months that there is no good reason whatsoever to continue the Confidence and Supply arrangement. This government has run its course.

While both main parties can take some pride in fact that the arrangement has brought stability and delivered three budgets, as promised, the reality is that this weakening administration is still failing to address the twin crises in housing and health.

Whatever Ministers Murphy and Harris may think, or hope, the market is not going to sort out either – especially when that market may be faced with the calamity of a no-deal Brexit from the end of March 2019 onwards.

As bad as we know a hard deal Brexit would be, with customs and regulatory checks it would at least have the benefit of a legal and logistical framework. A no deal Brexit where the UK crashes out with no agreement and no transition period would devastating.

The last few bits of service that this government can do the country over the coming 3 – 4 months is to continue to defend Irish interests at the Brexit discussions, in the hope that there can be a withdrawal agreement with the backstop (or better) and a two-year (minimum) transition.

Once that is done, the government’s final act should be an orderly and calm progress to a February election.

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

From top: Minister for Finance Pascahl Donohue this morning; Derek Mooney

If you really, really want to know what is in today’s Budget and don’t want to wait until Paschal Donohue’s lunchtime statement, then I have great news for you.

You don’t have to wait.

About 70% of what the Finance Minister will say appeared on Martina Fitzgerald’s RTÉ #Budget2019 blog just before 10pm last night. This was updated just after 8.40am today, bringing the figure closer to 80%.

Between what appears on the RTE site and the various daily and Sunday newspapers most punters could predict with a fair degree of certainty about 90% of what Minister Donohue will announce today.

We already know that the hotel and restaurant sector have lost their fight to retain the special 9% VAT rate and will see it go up to 13.5%, indeed this new higher rate will also applied to hairdressers – if only I had not postponed my barber’s haircut until tomorrow.

We also know that Willie O’Dea’s campaign to get a €5 a week increase for pensioners, carers and other welfare recipients will have paid off and that the bands for the 2% rate of USC will be widened by €500 and the threshold at which you pay the higher rate of income tax will be increased by €750 and that cigarettes will go up by 50c a packet.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

For most of us today’s statement will contain nothing new, but thanks to almost a week of “informed” and “well sourced” speculation we are already familiar with what the government plans to do and how we each will benefit from it.

The closest thing to a budget drinking game we could devise today is to take a swig of the beverage of your choice any time you hear the Minister announce something that hasn’t appeared in at least two newspapers and one TV news report since last Friday.

The things we know are not due to “leaks”. Leaks are, by definition, the unauthorised revelation of confidential information and the reason they are unauthorised is because they are invariably negative by their nature.

Leaks involve the things that ministers prefer that you not know, or at least not yet know until they have had the time to either prepare you for the news or take some action that lessens the impact.

The things that get “leaked” are the real number of housing starts or the real numbers on hospital waiting lists, if those figures were ever to turn positive they would not be leaked, they would be briefed.

The difference is authorisation and approval.

Governments toady do not “leak” good news, they brief it. As the private secretary character, Bernard Woolley, explains in “Yes Minister”:

“That’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential briefings. You leak. He has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act.”

How very different from the situation back in 1995 when the then Junior Finance Minister, Phil Hogan, had to resign as a minister for revealing budget information.

Or is it?

The opposition was enraged and complained at the revelation of key elements of the budget to the media in the days leading up to the 1995 budget.

For context, recall that this was the first budget of the newly formed Fine Gael, Labour, Democratic Left administration – a government that came to office after the November 1994 collapse of Albert Reynolds short lived Fianna Fáil/Labour government.

Hogan’s boss as Finance Minister was Labour’s Ruairí Quinn. This was going to be Quinn’s first budget and Labour was determined that the credit for the goodies they were about to give away would be theirs alone, not Fine Gael’s. (Spoiler alert, it didn’t work out that way in 1997, but hey ho)

Shortly after the Budget was announced it emerged that one of the staff in Hogan’s office had faxed some of the details concerning planned changes to stamp duty to the media about four hours before Quinn went in to the Dáil.

The opposition went into a frenzy, with both Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern, who had been Finance minister up to few months before the ’95 budget and was himself responsible for some of what it contained, demanding satisfaction.

But the real pressure came from within the government where Labour ministers were furious that Fine Gael was trying to steal their thunder.

For days before hand the two parties are been outdoing each other with their briefings of not just what was to be announced, but how their party was solely responsible for it.

Hogan was just the one to get nabbed – sending it by fax with a cover sheet showing the time and the sender was not a good move.

The Taoiseach attempted to standby Hogan and sought to diffuse the situation with a profuse apology to the Dáil, but that was not enough. A few hours later Hogan decided that his position was untenable and resigned.

While the information that Hogan’s office had revealed was market sensitive and its early disclosure might commercially benefit people who learned of the change before it was officially announced, the reality is that it was the politics of the situation that necessitated his resignation.

Hogan’s office was revealing something to the media that it clearly did not have the authority to reveal.

It is not a situation we should expect to see repeated today. Times have changed considerably since then. While we retain the all the theatre and drama of the day, the performance itself is nowhere near as impactful as it once was.

Some theatrical productions simply run their course. Even record-breaking ones close.

The way budgetary decisions are made and the external factors against which they play out have all changed enormously, so is it not time that the way in which they are announced change too?

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

Top pic via Paschal Donohue



From top: Fine Gael Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick, canvassing in Dundalk with Enda Kenny in 2011,  has resigned from the party and intends to run in the next General Election as an independent candidate; Derek Mooney

The news last night that one of the two Fine Gael T.D.s for Louth will henceforth be the Independent TD for Louth will gladden the hearts of very few in Fine Gael, not even the Dundalk Cllr selected only a few nights ago to replace him.

While Peter Fitzpatrick may not have been of much strategic importance to the Taoiseach while he was an FG backbencher, he has improved his status now as an Independent – especially one whose support for the budget seems to be conditional.

Fitzpatrick’s withdrawal of support for Varadkar’s minority government comes barely a week after another old school Fine Gael TD and Junior Minister, Catherine Byrne TD, put a shot across the bows of both the Taoiseach and his beleaguered Housing Minister.

If long(ish) serving members of the Leo Varadkar’s own parliamentary party are having public misgivings about this government’s future, then why would Varadkar seriously expect the main opposition party to rush to commit to extend its Confidence and Supply (C&S) agreement for another year, once the Budget speech is done?

The question is rhetorical as that probably is what he does expect. It is what he has been preparing himself and us. Over the summer we saw Varadkar writing lengthy homilies, in the guise of letters, at the Leader of Fianna Fáil like a latter-day St Paul writing to the Ephesians.

Ostensibly, the purpose of these letters from St Leo to the Corkonian was to pressure the Fianna Fáil leader into an early start, ahead of the Budget, on talks on a C&S extension.

In reality, many in Fianna Fáil, especially its Justice spokesperson, Jim O’Callaghan, saw it as the Taoiseach orchestrating a mechanism to get out of the C&S deal by pulling the plug, going for a snap election in October or November and blaming Martin for causing uncertainty in the process.

Unlike the Ephesians who – according to the old Frank Cluskey anecdote – never effin’ wrote back, Martin did write back.

He made it clear that he was not going to bring the C&S review date forward and that nothing could or would happen before the Budget.

He was right. He knew, as does Varadkar, that the existing Confidence and Supply agreement addresses the issue of its own renewal/review. On page 2 it clearly states:

It is agreed that both parties to this agreement will review this Framework Arrangement at the end of 2018.

October is clearly not the end of 2018.

To be fair, no one expects the process to wait until St Stephen’s Day or even New Year’s Eve, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that the review and any talks commence sometime in the middle of November… unless of course that is too late in the calendar to allow the Taoiseach to have the election that some of his Ministers are apparently urging him to have?

Which brings us back to yesterday’s Fine Gael defection. Does the loss of Peter Fitzpatrick change the Taoiseach’s calculations?

The next few weeks were already going to be very interesting, even before Fitzpatrick left. It is possible that his departure may have no effect. But it is also possible that this unforeseen event causes the calmer and less capricious of the Taoiseach’s consiglieri to urge him to think again.

So, let me posit the following scenario. I do not offer just as a Euro-store Nostradamus, but rather an exercise in walking my political wits and seeing where that might lead us.

Here goes…

Let’s assume that Varadkar and his advisers take 4 or 5 days to assess reaction to the Budget. Barring a big controversy, on Sunday Oct 14th Varadkar gets out his big quill pen and writes another very public missive to Martin.

This one states that Fine Gael is not willing to wait until November to start talks on a possible extension to the C&S deal and that they want to start talks immediately, within the week.

It recycles the line from the September 4th letter which asserts that: “the government cannot function properly if it does not know if it will last from week to week, month to month”. He invites Martin to respond ASAP.

Martin doesn’t waste any time. He gets out his Bic biro and reminds Leo of the C&S agreement timeline which also states that the two “parties to this agreement will review this Framework Arrangement”, but that this does not mean that they need necessarily do it together or right now.

He then suggests that each party needs to do an audit of progress on the 42 policy specifics in the old C&S agreement and that they each need to prepare material on that before sitting down together.

He again commits Fianna Fáil to honouring the spirit of the C&S agreement in the interim and assures the Taoiseach that Fianna Fáil will facilitate the passage of the Finance and Social Welfare Bills.

He adds an important codicil however, saying that this presumes that Leo can still get the Fine Gael and Independent votes needed to pass them without Fianna Fail’s help. As with Varadkar, he sends his reply back via Social Media, rather than by a Courier or An Post.

This leaves Varadkar with a dilemma.

If Leo’s goal is really to break free from Fianna Fáil and C&S, he then needs to fire back that he has already waited a month since September 4th.

He plays the Brexit card, insisting that he needs an answer now, not in November, and says that he will have no alternative but to call an election which the public will, he asserts, blame entirely on Martin.

This, however, is a big if. What if Varadkar is not so sure? What if his inner Gordon Brown (something I written about here before) comes to the fore and indecision and an excess of cautiousness causes him to delay the election?

If that happens and Varadkar agrees to Martin’s timeline, which is also the one specified in the C&S agreement, then the final decision on whether there is a C&S extension might not be resolved until next January.

At that point Fianna Fáil could conclude that the conditions (particularly a weakened FG leader who was ready to agree to a range of FF proposals) which helped lead to the first C&S agreement, no longer prevail.

They may further reckon that the public could quickly adjust to the idea of an election, especially one that is held well before the UK leaves the EU at the end of March and is fought on housing, healthcare and law and order.

This could be a good time to go and check the odds on a February 2019 general election.

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

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (front left) and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (front centre) and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May ( background second left)) during the EU Informal Summit of Heads of State or Government in Salzburg, Austria,last week; Derek Mooney

Just when you thought Brexit could not get worse… guess what happens… it gets worse.

I am not talking about the last week’s Salzburg debacle (though I will later), rather I am referring to the news coming from the UK’s Brexit ministry yesterday that post Brexit an English person will not be able to travel to the EU with their ferret.

Was it for this that Margaret Thatcher hand-bagged Mitterrand and Kohl?

According to the latest guidance from Her Majesty’s Government on what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit, British pet owners who want to take their dogs, cats or ferrets on holidays with them to the EU post Brexit will have to prepare for travel “at least four months ahead in advance of the date they wish to travel”.

No longer will they be able to just pop a ferret down their trousers and head away for a day trip to Bruges. It gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase ‘compo-culture’ (apologies for that appallingly belaboured Last of the Summer Wine gag. Watching all those repeats on UK Gold has melted my brain).

This ‘travelling with pets’ advisory is the latest of about 75 pieces of specific guidance which the British government has published on what might happen if the UK leaves the EU next March without a deal or two-year transitional period.

This is not a theoretical exercise.

As we head towards the end of September, a No Deal Brexit is not just a strong possibility it is now a high probability. This situation did not change at Salzburg, it just became clearer.

As Bobby McDonagh, Ireland’s former Ambassador to the EU, UK and Italy set out in his Irish Times article last Friday, Prime Minister May was neither ‘ambushed’ nor ‘disrespected’ in Salzburg.

She went there with the goal of going over the head of the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier by appealing directly to the 27 heads of government and her plan back fired badly.

The problem with her plan was that it was never going to work. It was just the latest in a long series of events that shows that the British government, particularly the team of Tory ministers that May has assembled, do not understand the EU or Brussels dynamics.

One of the biggest misunderstandings, but one that is not limited to Theresa May or even Jeremy Corbyn, is the notion that the talks between this beleaguered British Government the EU are a classic negotiation. They are not.

This is a topic which my old friend and BEERG colleague Tom Hayes has explored many times in his excellent (declaration of interests, I am also involved in this blog).

Tom is an experienced negotiator from the world of labour relations. He has been involved in many complex employee/employer negotiations across the EU over the past two decades and has written extensively about the key elements required for a good outcome, including here.

In a classic negotiation you have two sides who enter the talks in the belief that they can find a deal that will be better than their current situation.

They work to find mutually beneficial outcomes. One of the ways they do this is by managing both the expectations of their own stakeholders and those of the other party.

This is not what we have with Brexit.

The EU side – and this obviously includes Ireland – believes, indeed it knows, that Brexit will damage both sides. It knows that Brexit increases costs and does not deliver benefits.

The EU’s goal at the talks is not to find some mythical half way compromise between the UK being in or out of the EU: it is damage limitation, pure and simple.

Barnier’s clear aim in the talks is to limit the damage that Brexit will do to the EU and its 27 continuing member states.

What Theresa May attempted to do at Salzburg was to go over Barnier’s head and ask the individual EU heads of government to pay more for the damage that Britain was causing. How could she have ever imagined that any of them would agree to this? Especially when those heads of government know how isolated and weakened she is.

What the British political system and the British media and commentariat continually fails to grasp is that what it describes as EU “intransigence” or the EU “punishing” the UK, is simply the EU limiting the damage that Brexit will do to the interests of the 27 member-states.

Brexit is an UK demand. Britain has every right to leave the EU, even if it costs it 1000s of jobs and reputational damage – that is a hole of the UK’s own making.

What Britain does not have a right to expect however, is for the EU 27 – and in particularly Ireland – to happily and contentedly pick up the tab, economic and political, for the Tory party’s political folly.

The continuing failure of the British political establishment, both red and blue, to heed, never mind acknowledge, the impact of Brexit on its closest neighbours is indicative of a political system that is in continuing decline.

But it is hardly surprising. Should we be shocked that ministers in London pay little attention to what their counterparts in Dublin or the Hague think when they ignore their own devolved colleagues in Edinburgh or Cardiff?

The leadership vacuum at the top of Britain’s two main parties makes our own party system look inspiring – and its not often you find that sentiment on this website.

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

Pic: AFP/Getty

Derek Mooney (above) and his Summer 2018 political reading list (top)

If you are thinking of taking a few political books away with you as you wind down in August, this list may be of help.

As with last year’s list, the books here appear in no particular order. These are the books that caught my attention over the past few months, including some from the second half of 2017 and one that I wanted to like, but couldn’t.

As this list broadly reflects my personal biases, feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments section below. Enjoy the Summer and see you back here towards the end of August.

Beyond The Border, The Good Friday Agreement And Irish Unity After Brexit by Richard Humphreys

A timely read, this book by High Court judge and former Irish Labour Party Sp/Ad, Richard Humphreys examines how the structures and principles that underpin the 1998 Good Friday Agreement could work in a post Brexit, United Ireland.

As Humphreys states clearly in the preface, the book is not intended as a political work, but rather as a personal, but academic, explanation of the Agreement and its implications. This he does expertly, with minimal jargon or rhetoric, across seven distinct sections that go from understanding the evolution and architecture of the agreement to getting beyond just working the institutions and arriving at removing the obstacles to unification. Not a light read, it is still a very worthwhile one.

Witness to War Crimes: The Memoirs of an Irish Peacekeeper in Bosnia by Col Colm Doyle

This is no ordinary military memoir, not least because Col Doyle is no ordinary Irish soldier. As defence analyst and fellow army officer, Declan Power, said in his Irish Independent profile of Doyle, “[he] …has gone head to head with presidents, warlords and war criminals in the pursuit of peace.”

Doyle’s memoir is a first-hand chronicle of Yugoslavia’s break-up and descent into mayhem and barbarity. He recounts his role in brokering ceasefires, both local and across the conflict, and in providing much of the expert testimony that helped convict key Bosnian-Serb leaders at the Hague war crimes tribunal.

Doyle’s account shows how little it takes to slip from peace to war, even in the heart of Europe, and how well trained and skilled Irish troops on UN mandated peace support operations can – and do – make a difference.

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence by Ronan Farrow

Published months before President Trump’s eh… shall we say colourful… NATO and Helsinki summit performances, Ronan Farrow’s book laments what he sees as the two-decade long decline in America’s civilian diplomacy and cautions against America’s increasing reliance on military and intelligence solutions.

Though now a journalist and writer, over a decade ago Farrow was a lowly State Department official, and so offers more of an “insider” perspective, especially given his early position as an aide to Richard Holbrooke the chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the civil war in Bosnia.

While Farrow’s writing style may be light, his treatment of the topic is anything but. He does not skimp on detail or research, so put aside time to read his thoughtful and considered account.

Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump by Dan Pfeiffer

If you like President Trump and the way he does business, then this definitely is not the book for you, try either Alan Dershowitz’s latest offering “The Case Against Impeaching Trump” or his 2017 book: “Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy” instead.

However, if you are not a fan and want a chatty, pacey, funny and ultimately optimistic view of how Trumpism can be defeated, then this book by a key Obama adviser and host of the political podcast: Pod Save America, is for you. Pfeiffer explores how America got to where it is today by looking back over the successes and failures of the Obama era. The result is both a highly entertaining read and a roadmap to defeating Trump in 2020.

Ctrl Alt Delete by Tom Baldwin

According to the blurb: “Ctrl Alt Delete is a brutally honest and sometimes funny account of how our democracy was crashed — and whether we can still re-boot it.”

It is one of several books looking at the fraught and difficult relationship between politics, the media, and the new information age, but has the benefit of being written by an experienced practitioner. Baldwin has, at various points in his career, been the UK Labour Party’s communications director and political editor of The Sunday Telegraph.

He is now the communications director of the People’s Vote campaign for a second vote on Brexit. The book is a well-written, sometimes funny, often angry examination of how the vicious battle for control of the news agenda has changed both politics and the media for the worse. Like some other books on this list, it culminates in a warning that democracy itself may be in peril.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century By Timothy Snyder

Continuing the slightly dystopian theme, this short book from 2017 by noted historian Tim Snyder opens with a telling quote from Polish philosopher, Leszek Kolokowski: “In politics, being deceived is no excuse”.

Snyder identifies 20 important and practical lessons from the Nazi and Soviet eras to show how people can be brought to conspire in their own deception, accepting political lies without critical examination when the lie feels right. A handy book to dip in and out of, it is perhaps one to keep to hand rather than reading from cover to cover.

Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response by Tony Connelly

Without a doubt the “go to” book on Brexit and its impact on Ireland. Well written, thoroughly researched, yet concise it offers a dispassionate analysis and real insight into what Britain’s Brexit folly means for Ireland’s economy and how it will affect British/Irish relations.

While the process has moved on, or should I say stumbled on, since it was first published late last year, Tony’s book is still a vital source and should be read alongside Tony’s excellent RTE Brexit Blog and Podcasts.

Two other Brexit related tomes to consider alongside Tony’s book are Ian Dunt’s 2018 update of his book: Brexit, What The Hell Happens Now? and Dr Denis McShane’s Brexit, No Exit: Why in the End Britain Won’t Leave Europe.

[There are several pro Brexit books from 2017 still knocking around, probably in some bargain buckets by now, including ones by Dan Hannon and Liam Halligan, but you won’t catch me plugging them here.]

Revolution Française Emmanuel Macron and the Quest to Reinvent a Nation by Sophie Pedder

Where several other books on this list have pessimistic undertones, this biography of Macron by The Economist’s Paris Bureau Chief borders on the optimistic, but only just.
The Macron emerging from Pedder’s profile is intelligent, astute, warm – though a bit geeky – and capable of self-criticism. Pedder writes from the vantage point of having interviewed Macron many times since 2012.

This was long before his meteoric rise to the presidency or even his emergence as a political figure of note. She charts the progress of a progressive reformer who broke the old French party system, not just by luck but by having the political foresight to see the opening gap and positioning himself and his En Marche movement to fill it.

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism by Yanis Varoufakis

This book comes with the unusual distinction of being reviewed by our very own Varoufakis, Finance Minister, Paschal Donohue. Though Donohue is dismissive of Varoufakis, describing him as hopelessly out of his depth as a finance minister and fleeing for the Greek islands when the going got tough, Paschal still liked the book, calling it “lucid but flawed”. It’s a fair critique as the book does precisely what it says in the title, namely explaining modern economics to a teenager.

Varoufakis is a skilled communicator and engaging writer. He succeeds in finding terminology and cultural references that allow economics be discussed in a way that almost everyone can understand. These range from Greek mythology to The Matrix via an explanation of money supply by looking at how Red Cross packages were used in German prisoner-of-war camps. A welcome read for anyone who had to repeat economics in college, including yours truly.

Things Can Only Get Worse?: Twenty confusing years in the life of a Labour supporter by John O’Farrell

This laugh-out-loud sequel to the equally hilarious “Things can only get better” is, according to the introduction, for those who “could use a good laugh after Brexit, Trump and finding they were governed by the DUP”. It’s a claim the book delivers on, in bucket loads.

Where O’Farrell’s 1998 memoir looked at eighteen miserable years of being a British Labour Party supporter under a Tory government, this one deals with the highs and lows of the two decades since Blair’s 1997 landslide.

He robustly defends both Blair and Brown’s record in office, while acknowledging their many failings, and likens the rise of Corbyn to discovering that “your student daughter had just married a very unsuitable older man”.

O’Farrell proves that you can write sincerely about politics and still be funny. It is a genuine belter and – who knows – possibly an inspiration for an Irish version?

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton with James Patterson

Ok. This one is a stretch. Looking at the list above I saw that I hadn’t included any decent fiction. So, I added this thriller co-authored by Clinton and Patterson and then realised that the list still doesn’t feature any.

As a Bill Clinton fan I was ready, willing and able to like this book. I looked forward to reading the RTÉ’s exclusive extract online, along with the two “look inside” preview chapters on Amazon.
Sadly, they all failed to impress.

It is not bad, it is just sluggish and heavy going. The book has been hyped as benefiting from President Clinton’s detail knowledge of the inside workings of the presidency, but it is this detail that slows it down.

The thoughts of wading through 500+ more pages of it defeated me, so use my defeat as a warning and avoid it too.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column, which appears here every Tuesday, will return at the end of August. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Last Year: Summer Political Reading List

Possible Presidential hopefuls, clockwise from left at top panel: Joan Freeman, Gavin Duffy and Noel Whelan; above: Derek Mooney

Though the 2018 Áras race has not officially started, it is already producing some political myths. Doubtless there will be many more before October, so no harm in putting an end to a few of the more tedious ones now.

Myth No 1. The main parties – or the Elites as the elite myth spreaders call them – want to deny us the right to vote.

This one is exposed by simple arithmetic. There are two routes to getting a nomination. The first is the Oireachtas one, where you need the backing of 20 members of the Dáil and/or Seanad. The second is the Council path, which means getting four city or county councils to propose you.

The Oireachtas route had been the preserve of the two big parties, but as their dominance started to wane in the early 90s, so too did their grip on the Presidential nomination process.

Actually, it slipped as early as 1945 when Patrick McCartan ran as an Independent, with the backing of 20 Oireachtas members getting 20% of the vote, but the two parties subsequently regained their grip on the process.

That grip slipped in 1990 with the joint Labour Party and the Workers’ Party nomination of Mary Robinson. This was repeated in 1997 when Labour, Democratic Left and the Greens got together to run Adi Roache.

But it was in 1997 on the Council route that the FF/FG presidential duopoly finished for good. That election saw the entry into the race of not one, but two independent candidates: Dana and Derek Nally, both of whom were nominated by the Councils. Fourteen years later, in 2011 the trend progressed with four independent candidates getting in to the race.

Oireachtas arithmetic shows that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil & Labour have neither the numbers nor the power to stop at least one, if not two independents emerging from the Oireachtas route.

Even with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour backing President Higgins and Sinn Féin running its own candidate, there are still up to 50 other Oireachtas members who have the scope to facilitate one, or even two more, candidates entering the race. That power lies with them, not with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael

Meanwhile, the traditional path for independents to enter the race, the 31 Councils, could theoretically nominate up to seven more. Do not be surprised to see councillors from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael finding ingenious ways to facilitate other candidates entering the race, while professing firm personal support for MDH.

Though Councils have always had the power to nominate, it wasn’t exercised before 1997. But now they have found that power, they are not going to deny it to themselves, even if that does mean having to duck and dive and put up with irate emails and texts from party HQ.

This brings us to Myth 2.

Myth 2. Only for Sinn Féin there would be no contest

While Sinn Féin has every right to nominate someone and to enjoy its time in the media spotlight while it goes about the process of picking that someone, it does not have the right to pretend that this is a privilege that it enjoys alone. There are 50 Oireachtas members and 31 councils who also have the power to nominate, and they will.

Mary Lou McDonald’s Twitter tirade that “Fine Gael Fianna Fáil & Labour don’t want to give people a say in Presidential election” has little to do with voter choice in the Aras 18 race and has all to do with the next election.

While it does contain dig at the President, hinting that he, as the preferred candidate of the three parties didn’t want to give the people a say, Sinn Féin’s Aras run is no more about winning the Áras than it is about winning Eurovision.

Sinn Féin’s focus is every bit as much on the next general as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s. While the two big parties have decided that the best way to help their next general election prospects is by not contesting the presidential, Sinn Féin have concluded that theirs, is.

It’s a matter of relative positioning. As both are ahead of Sinn Fein in the polls, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would have to win outright to justify entering the Aras race.

Sinn Féin merely has to get a few points above its latest opinion poll rating to vindicate its strategy.

So why is Sinn Féin bleating about FF, FG and Labour backing the candidate they are backing? Will we see Sinn Féin HQ follow through on the logic of Mary Lou’s position and allow, nay instruct, Sinn Féin councillors use their position as the third biggest party in local government to facilitate others to enter the race and compete with their nominee?

In the memorable words of James Gogarty at the Mahon Tribunal: “will we fuck” – and he didn’t mean it as an invite either.

Myth 3 – There is no way Michael D can lose

This is the most dangerous of the myths thus far, and it is the one that the electorate may ultimately debunk.

While Michael D is odds-on to win, an unpublished poll (from April) by Dr Kevin Cunningham showed Michael D Higgins getting up to 70%, Irish presidential campaigns are curious things.

Early front runners end up trailing the field. Senator David Norris, who finished up with 6.2%, started out at 21% in the first national opinion poll (Red C).

Though I expect President Higgins to win, most likely on the first count, I also expect much of the campaign coverage will be about his gradual slide in the polls from the mid to upper 60s at the start, to the low 50s by polling day. Enough to win easily, but not enough not to suffer some damage.

The history of recent Irish Presidential elections is that your campaign matters. While MDH is the most tested of all the likely runners, having been through countless elections, he did still manage to slip through the middle of the 2011 Aras race without much negative focus landing on him.

That won’t be the case now. Other candidates are not going to see themselves as running against each other, they will see themselves as each running against the incumbent. Michael D’s high poll ratings make him the one to beat and thus the one to attack.

We see it already. Mary Lou McDonald’s oblique attempt to taint MDH as the elitist candidate, the one who wanted the big parties to give him a clear run, was a smart early move, made even smarter by doing it while she does not have a named candidate to suffer the backlash of attacking a popular President.

But there is another factor, the Enoch Powell one. Powell famously observed that All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure. It is the caveat here that matters.

The risk for the popular and well politician lies in staying on too long. In running in one election too many and not seeing the right time to exit the stage.

Michael D has been through many rough and tough campaigns before. The voters know him – but that lengthy familiarity may be his vulnerability.

Asking people to put you back in office for seven more years is a big ask, even if that does come with the bonus of keeping Bród and Síoda in the public eye.

People have known Michael D as President and as a major political figure for a long time. There is a risk that when confronted with a panel of alternatives, some voters who still like him will nonetheless feel that a new person may shake things up, as he once did, so it is time for him to go.

The race is his to lose. Dev came within 10700 votes of doing precisely that in 1966. Ultimately, it depends on who the independent Oireachtas members and the city and county councillors back.

Áras 18 will be interesting enough in itself, we won’t need the myths to make it so.

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

Montage: Irish AmericaRollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) launching Ireland’s Security Council campaign at UN headquarters in New York with from left: Bono, Tánaiste Simon Coveney and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson; Derek Mooney

Last week the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister of State for Defence and the Minister of State for the Diaspora went on manoeuvres in New York.

While their jaunt was ostensibly to “launch” Ireland’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, their real purpose was more domestic.

It was an impressive display.

In addition to these four government members, curiously all of them from Fine Gael, were a former Irish President, the Defence Forces’ Chief of Staff, Bono, U2, a contingent of uniformed Defence Force members and an even bigger contingent of Irish political correspondents.

If UN Security Council (UNSC) seats are allocated on the basis of display, then Ireland should be a shoo-in.

But, UNSC seats are not won by those who just put on the best display.

They are won by years of horse trading and deal making.

Ireland’s fortunes will owe more to who we have backed in past rounds than it will on enabling UN Ambassadors to see U2 live or even getting to meet Paul Kehoe or Ciaran Cannon and shake their hands.

Last week’s New York escapade was not for the benefit of the UN Ambassadors, it was for ours. It was, as I have discussed here previously, an example of the glitzy stage production that the Varadkar Production Co., T/A Fine Gael and the Irish Government Inc., likes to mount.

The real audience was not in New York, it was here. The campaign launched was not Ireland’s bid for the Security Council, it was Fine Gael’s bid to increase its Dáil representation.

Don’t kid yourself, whether the general election is held later this year, in 2019, 2020 or even 2021 (the latest possible date is April 9th 2021), the campaign has already started.

So, how galling must it have been for the media pack, who obligingly helped bring the message to the good folks back home, to later hear that the Taoiseach was speaking so disobligingly about them behind their backs, channelling his inner Trump.

But the media will get over their indignation. They know that revenge is a dish best served cold and can pack their displeasure away on ice, to be served another day.

Meanwhile, Ireland is right to seek a seat on the Security Council for the two-year session commencing on Jan 1st 2021.

We are right to fight hard to win that place but, though you wouldn’t know it from last week’s hoopla, the decision to seek a UNSC seat was not made last week, or even last year it was made a decade or more ago.

The former secretary-general at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Irish ambassador to the United Nations, Noel Dorr, said so much during an interview on the RTÉ Six-One news. He thought the decision might date back to 2005 – two years before Varadkar even became a TD.

Ireland has a strong record in winning UNSC seats. We have sought and won a place on the Security Council approximately once every 20 years, since we joined the UN in 1955.

Our first UNSC stint was for one year, in 1962. We were back on it again, 20 years later for the 1981-1982 two-year term and again in 2001 – 2002. The Irish pattern is clear: one two-year UNSC term every two decades.

If successful this time, we would be on the UNSC in 2021-2022.

But that “if” is important. This is not the Late, Late Show, there isn’t one for everyone in the audience. More than 60 UN member states have never served on the Security Council.

The destination of the five UNSC seats for the 2021-2022 session, will be decided when the UN General assembly votes next June. They will be filled as follows:

• One for Africa

• One for the Asia-Pacific Group

• One for Latin America and the Caribbean

• Two for the Western European and Others Group

The UNSC’s rotation rules determine that the non-permanent seats rotate among the various regional blocs into which UN member states are divided for voting and representation purposes.

Thus, Ireland is one of three countries competing for the two Western Europe and Others seats: the other two are Canada and Norway.

All three bidders are widely viewed as model UN members. Even so, Ireland is a strong contender. Just as we were in 2000 and 1980,

Back in 2000, we were against Norway and Italy. We emerged the clear winner, getting 130 votes. But Norway did well too, getting 114 votes compared to Italy’s 94.

In the earlier 1980 rotation the voting was tighter with Ireland coming second (with 107 votes) just behind Spain on 109 votes.

The current view of the UN watchers is that Ireland should make it this time.

Norway’s election is seen as a fait accompli not least because it “has a huge aid budget – probably the biggest in the world,” according to one official. So, the fight will be between Ireland and Canada – with Ireland having an advantage.

Many in the Canadian media view their own bid as the weakest of the three. They attribute this to their being the last candidate country out of the traps with Canada not commencing a bid process until after Trudeau became Premier in 2015.

So how do we extend our advantage?

Though some of the Merrion Street FG spin masters may believe that there is no better way of improving Ireland’s UNSC chances than having more photo-ops with the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan has come up with one.

O’Callaghan points to Ireland’s hard sell in reminding others that we are a country that complies with the highest standards of human rights as set down by United Nations conventions.

But, as O’Callaghan has noted, there is a flaw in that argument, as we have yet to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). Though we signed it over a decade ago, in October 2007, we have yet to ratify it by introducing the necessary legislation.

Back in November 2012 former Tánaiste, Éamon Gilmore told the Dáil that the Government would publish the legislation required to ratify OPCAT, namely the Inspection of Places of Detention, Bill the following year, ie., 2013.

Almost five years later there is no sign of it, though Justice Minister, Charlie Flanagan now says he will be ready to publish it later this year.

Hopefully he will, and we can tick another box in our UNSC campaign.

If not, then just imagine the size of the show that Varadkar & Co., will have to put on to distract from it.

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

Pic: Merrion Street