Author Archives: Derek Mooney


From top: President Michael D Higgins TD at the National Ploughing Championships  in Screggan, Tullamore, Co.Offally last week; Derek Mooney

To have voted in just one presidential election you would need to be at least 24 years of age now. To have voted in at least two of them; you would now be 38, at minimum.

If you voted in three presidential elections you are at least 45 and if you voted in four, then the very youngest of you will be 60 before the next one.

That, of course, is if there is a next one. Though I personally think there will.

If today’s Ireland Thinks/Irish Daily Mail poll is correct, and there is no real reason to assume it isn’t, then 76% of us would like President Higgins to continue on after his first term expires in late 2018.

That is fair enough. I, like most people, like our President. I think he is doing a good job and that he projects a positive image of Ireland as a caring, cultured and outward looking country.

I didn’t vote for him in 2011 (either first or second preference), but that does not matter. If the poll is correct then just under half of those just polled did not vote for him either.

As a candidate in the 2011 election, when we had a selection of people pick from, Michael D Higgins was the first-choice pick of just under 40% of voters.

So, it would be a bit of a stretch to read today’s poll as saying that he would automatically be the first-choice pick of 76% of voters, without knowing who those other potential candidates might be.

In the same vein, it is also a major stretch to interpret today’s result as saying that 76% of us believe that President Higgins should have a second term without an election.

That said, today’s poll will doubtless come as a bit of welcome news to those hoping that the President will run again.

They were due some good news after the recent opinions pieces in the Sunday Business Post, Irish Examiner and the Sunday Times (Ireland) urging the President to think carefully about going for a second term and to keep good to his word, as given during the 2011 elections, and only serve a single seven-year term.

While there have been other pieces written along on the same lines over the past few years, including this from Brendan Morley in June 2016, these three particular pieces from Elaine Byrne, Alison O’Connor and Justine McCarthy will hit home, as none will be seen as coming from opponents or those with political axes to grind.

Of the three, Alison O’Connor’s will have been the least well received, choosing, as she did, to go with the issue of age.

It is a tricky personal subject, but as the few of us who have experienced two or more presidential election campaign can attest: presidential elections are all about the tricky personal subjects.

There clearly is precedent, via President de Valera, of having an octogenarian as head of State, though in the case of Éamon de Valera, the voters got to have their say when he sought re-election in 1966 at the age of 83.

In contrast, Justine McCarthy’s analysis and observations may have the most impact. In essence, she warns those supporting Higgins not to play politics with this, specifically not to be cute-hoors and continually delay the announcement of the decision whether or not Michael D is running again.

The perceived wisdom is that those supporting a second term for Michael D – let us call them Team Higgins – believe their best tactic is to have a second term by acclamation.

From their viewpoint, there is no overwhelming appetite among the main parties for another election next year, especially with a likely general election and referendum on the Eight Amendment already on the cards for 2018.

They assume that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would be happy to see the presidency go uncontested, leaving both to focus on fighting each other. They also know that they need the two main parties to keep out if they are to coast through.

There may be some basis to this belief, but it does not factor-in the wishes of others. Presidential nominations are not the gift of the big parties that they once were.

To run you need to be nominated by 20 members of the Oireachtas (TDs/ Senators) or 4 county/city councils. This makes the independents serious players as it does Sinn Féin.

Various independent TDs and Senators have already indicated that they are determined to field a candidate and, while the candidacy of the ebullient Senator Gerry Craughwell will not be much of a worry to man nor beast, there are rumours that other independents are already talking to more substantial figures as possible contenders.

But there is a problem, it is one of timing. National presidential campaigns are complex things to design, staff and build and can take 6, 9 or even 12 months to get right.

This is probably why Team Higgins is so keen to delay its announcement for as long as it possibly can.

It knows the amount of work and resources required to mount a credible national campaign and it knows that anyone from outside the big political parties wanting to take a serious run at the park in the autumn of 2018 needs to start planning now.

If you are an aspiring non-party candidate then the next three or four months are crucial.

What seems not yet to have dawned on Team Higgins however, is that the issue of whether there is a challenger or not has already slipped out of their hands.

The best they can do now is to try to nobble a contender before their get to the starting gate – hardly the actions of a principled campaign, but this is presidential politics.

Even then, once the main parties see that there will likely be an election the internal pressure will mount to run their own candidates, at which point all bets are off and Team Higgins is in a bitter race for a second term, a second term it said clearly and repeatedly back in 2011 that it did not seek or desire.

While some in Team Higgins may still hope that they can delay an announcement well into 2018, I strongly suspect that common sense will prevail over the coming weeks and that the position will be clarified before Christmas.

If I were a betting man, I’d be putting a few euros on the President reaffirming what he originally said in 2011 and announcing that he will not be seeking a second term.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar; Derek Mooney

 

The late Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was on a trip to China to meet  Mao Tse-tung. His officials warned Whitlam that Chairman Mao disliked small talk intensely and advised that he come up with a couple of substantive questions if he wanted to keep the conversation going.

Whitlam decided, given that the visit was coming around the tenth anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, that he would ask Mao to speculate on what might have happened to the world order if Nikita Kruschev had been shot that day instead of Kennedy.

He sat down with Mao and, after the usual formal introductions, he proceeding to ask his question. The Chairman seemed pensive and intrigued. Then, after a few moments thought, he replied, ‘I don’t think Mr Onassis would have married Mrs Kruschev’.

These what ifs and hypotheticals of modern history are interesting – and occasionally useful – exercises. They give pundits and commentators an opportunity to  do what they like most, speculate on what might have been, but they can also be handy ways of exploring the event in question and understanding its wider effects.

We don’t just have to go back to the 1960s for what ifs. There is a more recent one closer to us: what would have happened if Gordon Brown had become Labor leader after the death of John Smith MP, instead of Tony Blair.

We do not even have to speculate too hard on this particular alternative history as it seems that we are watching it being played out in front of us today in Fine Gael. For Gordon Brown, read Leo Varadkar, for Tony Blair, read Simon Coveney.

While you may need to squint a bit to see the comparisons from certain angles, from others it is quite clear.

Two politicians, long pitted against each other with their own inner circle of loyalists. Both having very different leadership and presentational styles. Each holding quite contrasting views as to the direction in which to take their party and both men seeing the other as the obstacle to the other’s ambitions.

And if that wasn’t enough, Coveney and Blair even share a nickname: Bambi.

But while Tony Bambi made it to the top, Simon Bambi didn’t. Leo Brown took the top job, instead, giving us a potential insight into what a Brown premiership might have looked like back in 1997.

Just as with Brown and Blair, the differences between Coveney and Varadkar are as much tribal as they are ideological.

There are clear ideological differences, many of which were well rehearsed in the media and at the regional hustings during the leadership election.

Coveney said then that Varadkar would push policies that would leave behind portions of Irish society, asserting that he and Varadkar had: “two very different viewpoints and two very different journeys”.

On the other side, Varadkar blithely dismissed Coveney as a lightweight and his platform as a catch all rehash of the social justice reforms outlined by Declan Costello decades before in his ‘Just Society’ document.

As the hustings demonstrated and their loyal surrogates repeatedly reminded us, the two men think and behave differently when it comes to practical politics.

More than any previous set of rivals for the Fine Gael leadership, they represent the two competing tribes within Fine Gael: the old style Cosgrave-ite christian democrats versus the Fitzgerald-ista social democrats.

Like Brown, Varadkar’s political outlook, temperament and vision is in the more traditionalist mould. In Brown’s case, this found its expression in cherishing the links to the union movement and espousing old fashioned left values.

For Varadkar, it is his core belief in power of the market and making Fine Gael the party for ‘people who get up early in the morning’.

On the other side Coveney, like Blair, is less doctrinaire, less tetchy and a lot more touchy-feely. He is into reaching out beyond the traditional base, at the risk of becoming all things to all people.

The problem for Coveney is though the overwhelming bulk of ordinary Fine Gael members backed his vision for the party, the elected ones with the much weightier votes, did not. They went with Varadkar.

But, just because the other guy gets the job now, doesn’t mean you cannot still aspire to it.

Coveney has not given up his ambition to lead Fine Gael, a goal that will be soothed by today’s Examiner/ICMSA B&A political poll of farmers that finds that rural Ireland would still prefer Coveney as Fine Gael leader by a margin of 51% to 38%.

Whether he will have another opportunity to go for the leadership depends on how Varadkar performs over the coming months. Coveney knows that succeeding Varadkar in the distant future is not an option.

His own personal political future rests on Varadkar’s ideological gamble of taking Fine Gael to the right – at a time when voters are looking to government alone to tackle the big problems in housing and health – failing.

Or, put another way: Coveney is betting that Brown would not have brought the British Labour party the three in a row string of electoral victories that Blair did. History suggests he is probably correct.

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

From top: Dónall Ó Cualáin (left), who became Acting Commissioner of An Garda Siochana at midnight last night, following the resignation of Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan (right) pictured in 2014; Derek Mooney

It hasn’t been a good week for former Garda Commissioners.

It started with Fine Gael airbrushing a former Garda Commissioner, Blueshirt founder and first leader of Fine Gael, Gen Eoin O’Duffy out of its 84th anniversary video (BTW, since when was 84 a landmark occasion?) and it ended with the most recent Garda Commissioner, Nóirín O’Sullivan, retiring after months, if not years, of calls for her to go.

While the Commissioner has doubtless made the right decision and her going, as Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan put it, “…paves the way for a new chapter for An Garda Síochána”, it does not solve the problem of; “…confidence within the force itself and in the wider public arena” (again to quote Jim O’Callaghan).

The hapless Commissioner may be gone, but the problem remains.

The departure of former Commissioner O’Sullivan does, hopefully, allow us to move the focus from an individual responsibility to a broader one.

As many others have argued and explained, far better than I can here, there is a major issue with both the management structures and the management culture at Phoenix Park level.

There has been an emerging “them” and “us” culture that has reflected itself in a slowness to modernise and a resentment of civilian oversight and control.

Tackling these issues will be a huge task for the Garda Authority and its first test will come in its selection of the next Garda Commissioner, a task which is should and must undertake in as completely independent a manner as it possible.

That is not to say that politicians, as a body, should be excluded from the process. If anything, we should be looking to do the exact opposite. Policing, as we have learned the hard way over the past few years, is one of the most political of the State’s activities.

It is therefore important that politicians from all sides (not just the government side as it has traditionally been) should have a recognised and defined role in policing oversight, especially if we are to achieve the broadest possible public support and buy-in to policing.

At the MacGill summer school a few months back, the former Vice Chairman of the Northern Ireland Policing Board, Denis Bradley offered a some very valuable insights (start at 55m mark) into how we start to tackle the problems in An Garda Síochána. what was needed down here.

He spoke in practical terms of how appointing politicians, from across the political spectrum, to the Policing Board in the North (10 out of the 19 members are elected public representatives) worked and advocated that the Policing Authority here do likewise.

He made the point, forcefully, that the transformation of policing in the North was a cornerstone of the peace process and that having politicians on the board meant that its achievement was in the hands of the elected representatives of the people.

He also makes the point that the genius of the Patten Report on policing in Northern Ireland was that it simplified who was responsible for what and it made it clear that the NI Policing Board was responsible for bringing about change, but that this clarity does not exist in the Republic.

That reform, unfortunately, is not likely to happen in the short-term. Our current Justice Minister has not demonstrated that level of vision in any of his previous ministries and is unlikely to undergo a Pauline conversion in this one.

So, pending such a major reform, it is vital for the Garda Authority to exert its control. The Gardaí needs to grasp that ultimate civilian control is vital.

This brings me to the issue of defining what we want from our next Commissioner. Over the past 24 hours there has been an avalanche of calls for the appointment of an outsider.

The point is continually made that Commissioner O’Sullivan was appointed after an open contest – and that is unquestionably and undoubtedly true.

But what is also true is that the world, its mother and its dog knew that she was the most likely choice. Not many serious contenders outside the jurisdiction were ready to invest a great deal of time or energy in applying for a job where they saw that there was a clear, suitably qualified front runner in situ.

So, will outside candidates think it is worth applying this time?

Possibly. They will be reassured that the process is being overseen by a body (the Garda Authority) whose structure and operation they will understand from their own jurisdictions, but that does not mean we should be expecting a rush of applications.

The pay is not especially high however, the scale of the challenge is. There are only a few similar jurisdictions from which we can reasonably recruit candidates of a suitable calibre and experience: such as the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – English speaking, common law systems.

But, if we are serious about bringing in an outsider we should we not be looking to recruit not just an individual as Commissioner, but rather a new Commissioner with their own core management team: a full Commissioner’s office, not a single person?

But recruiting a new Commissioner from outside does raise another issue, though it is not one that is insurmountable.

The Garda Commissioner is not just responsible for policing in this state they are also, almost uniquely, also responsible for state security. Are we yet ready to have someone from outside this jurisdiction responsible for national and state security?

I suppose it depends on the person involved, but the more sensible position is that we need to now start preparing to take the national security role from An Garda and set up a stand-alone and dedicated national security and intelligence agency, staffed with the many existing experts within both the Defence Forces and Garda. This will leave the Gardaí to focus solely on policing, which is its core activity.

There are very many real and practical reforms yet to be made, so let me make a prediction – the next Commissioner will be probably end up being more of an interim appointment, whose role will be to hold the organisation together while this government – and the next one – grapples with making the changes needed to bring Garda management systems and structures into the first half of the 21st century.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Gerry Adams; Derek Mooney

Much to his own delight Gerry Adams was once again grabbing the headlines last week. Ignore the fact that they were not the headlines that other political leaders would relish – for Adams, a headline is a headline, even if it contains more than a whiff of cordite.

It came on foot of the furore following Adams telling his local LMFM local radio station that jailing the provo murderers of the innocent County Louth farmer, Tom Oliver, would be “totally and absolutely counterproductive”.

It was an outrageous statement to make, only made worse by Adams added assertion that the 1991 crime was “politically motivated killing”. It was not.

It is well accepted and acknowledged that Mr Oliver was brutally tortured and then shot as a warning to other families in the Cooley peninsula not to talk to the authorities and to allow the provos to operate there unhindered.

It was brutal intimidation, plain and simple.

The idea that those who intimidated and threatening innocent men and women should now deserve an amnesty is affront to the principles of basic justice and a denial of the specific provisions made for this situation when the Good Friday agreement was negotiated.

The Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 provides that anyone later convicted of a scheduled offence committed before April 1998 will serve a maximum of two years in prison, after which they would be released to serve out the remainder of their sentence “under licence”.

There is no case for amnesty.

Two years is a painfully short penalty for such a callous act, but it does offer some justice and some truth to those left behind. It is what we all agreed in the context of bringing peace and it is the minimum that we can expect.

Tom Oliver is just one of the provos’ many innocent victims whose killers have not yet been brought to justice. Though thePprovos did, in 2002, apologise to the innocent victims of its campaign of violence, Adams words last week make that apology ring hollow.

The provos were not alone in their cruelty and inhumanity. There are as many victims of loyalist terrorism too – in some cases facilitated by some in the British security forces.

The whataboutery of apologists on either side gets us no-where in confronting our shared past. Neither should it prevent us from calling out the provos for their crimes.

There is an onus on us to do this; as the provos asserted that they committed their atrocities in our name and in pursuit of a legitimate aim to which most of us still aspire.

They purloined our history and abused its iconography to justify their campaign of violence, all the while ignoring the line in the 1916 Proclamation urging that no one dishonour the cause of freedom “…by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine.”

They only succeeded in driving the divisions deeper and setting back the aim of Irish Unity. They were the enemies of unity, not its champion.

We have a responsibility to not just disavow these acts, but to pursue the perpetrators just as the British government has a duty to stop hiding behind the excuse of national security and cooperate more fully and openly with the Irish government in pursuing loyalist killers, including those behind the Dublin and Monaghan bombings by releasing all the files and papers pertaining to the case.

I mention the Dublin and Monaghan bombings here as they were erroneously cited by Fine Gael’s Junior Minister, Patrick O’Donovan, last Monday.

So over enthused and excited was he to score political points off Fianna Fáil, by linking them to Sinn Féin, that he omitted to check his facts, or possibly double check the talking points sent to him.

There are sufficient grounds for criticising the provos and its apologists, that you do not need to make up your own and then double down on them when you are caught out.

He should try reading some of the Parliamentary Replies issued to TDs from across the Dáil, over the past few years, on the Dublin Monaghan bombings to see that his government fully supports the all-party Dáil motions of July 2008 and May 2011 urging the British Government to allow access by an independent international judicial figure to all original documents in their possession relating to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.

O’Donovan will also see, if he reads the May 2016 reply from the then Fine Gael Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, to the Fianna Fáil Party Chairperson, Deputy Brendan Smith, that his government is unhappy with the continued foot dragging by the British government, saying (diplomatically):

“I am disappointed to report that despite our urging, the British Government is still considering how to respond to the Dáil motions.”

In so very many ways the arguments put forward by Adams in protecting from justice the killers of Tom Oliver, Columba McVeigh, Seamus Quaid, Jean McConville, Michael Clerkin and so many others right up to the 2007 murder of Paul Quinn, mirror the arguments that the British security establishment proffers when seeking to cover up its own murky and dark past.

Neither are they a thousand miles away from the infamous ruling by Lord Denning that it ‘is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say, “It cannot be right these actions should go any further.”‘

Contrary to Adams view, truth and justice cannot be totally and absolutely counterproductive. This an establishment/elitist argument – something you would not expect to hear from the leader of a party that claims to stand up for equality and the rights of the little guy?

But that presumes that Sinn Féin is yet a political party. It is still more of a cult than a party: devoted to the double speak and double standards of Adams. Where some leaders drink deep from the well of compassion and decency: Gerry Adams merely gargles.

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

From top: Theresa May; Derek Mooney

At around 4pm (Irish time) today, British and EU negotiators will meet again in Brussels for the latest round of Brexit talks.

The first item on this week’s agenda, we are told, will be Britain’s exit bill, with the Brits expected to set out their thinking behind how they will for calculating how much is owed to the EU when Britain leaves.

The teams with then go on, over the following days, to discuss the two other key issues which need to be resolved during this first phase of talks: citizens’ rights and ensuring the Northern Ireland peace process is not jeopardised.

While the EU (by which I mean “we”) set out its position on the British financial settlement back in May, British ministers have been extremely reluctant to attempt to put a figure on it.

While some, like Boris Johnson, have huffed and puffed about making the EU go whistle for it, the UK’s Brexit Minister, David Davis, has sufficient political nous to see that putting a realistic figure on the divorce settlement will just throw raw meat to the Tory right, who imagine they can use their debt as a bargaining chip for better terms for the future relationship.

How the British government manoeuvres its way through this round of crucial talks will be an important indicator of its future plans. The hope is that the British with arrive with a specific set of proposals for calculating the bill. The expectation is that they won’t – it is an expectation informed by past performance.

Up to now the British have attempted to keep things as vague, even confused, as possible. Their recent position papers have been aspirational at best, and contradictory at worst: a matter I addressed in last week’s Broadsheet column when I opined that Britain’s road to Brexit was: “paved with bad intentions“.

That is not to say, however, that the British negotiators strategy is merely disruptive. While their strategy may be confused and their tactics appear erratic, it would be foolish to imagine that the British, at least at a political level, do not have a game-plan – even if it is not a realistic one.

Look back at the recent series of position papers and it is just possible to discern the shape and outline of the post Brexit arrangement that the British – though it may be more correct to say, the Tories – desire.

While they obviously see the UK as being outside the Single market and the Customs Union, it is not just that they will be ‘outside’ EU institutions such as the European Court of Justice and the EU Commission, the EU Council and Parliament, they believe that they will be out from being ‘underneath’ them.

They see themselves post Brexit as not merely leaving a partnership with others, but rather as breaking free from being under an EU bureaucracy which they monstrously and wrongly caricature as entirely undemocratic.

But, as you read their position papers you see that while they see themselves as being out from underneath these institutions, they still see the need to have workable post Brexit relationships with them.

They want out from the Customs Union, but they still want a customs and border free relationship with the EU. They want to be out from under EU Data rules, but want to have a British seat at the EU data protection committee table even after they leave. The list goes on.

Add all these contradictions, aspirations and demands together and you reach a simple conclusion: the Tories want a new arrangement where the UK is the equal of the rest of EU 27-member states put together.

The Tories ideal post Brexit outcome is an open marriage between the UK groom, presumably in Edwardian frock coat and top hat, and a not so virginal EU27 bride, dressed in a blue and gold. They want it to be an open marriage so the groom can have a few external relationships with former conquests such as India and Malaysia.

This generation of post Major Tories have never ben happy with the UK as just a part of the EU, they see the UK, at the very least, as being the equal of it.

Moving from an EU with 28-member states working in partnership into an umbrella union, of their own design, which comprises two partners: the UK on one side and the entire EU27 on the other, suits the public school, the sun never sets on the British empire mindset of those now running the Tory party.

It is their answer to the question, what is Great Britain’s role in the modern globalised world. This is a question that the British have struggled to answer since the end of WWII, one witheringly posed by the former US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, who observed in 1962 that: “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.

The problem for the Tories is that this answer is unacceptable to the rest of us.

Churchill, Heath, Major Blair, and even Thatcher had seen Britain’s role as an important leader in the EU. Thatcher had initially sought to bend the shape and composition of the EU to suit this role insisting that it expansion should be wider, including form eastern bloc countries, rather than deeper, but the legacy of the Tory party post Major has been a failure to grasp that the EU was the platform from which the UK continued to be an important player, not the obstacle to it.

If my analysis is correct, then this can only end badly for the Tories and, sadly, the UK. The one slight point of consolation as Micheál Martin pointed out overnight is the British Labour Party’s decision to commit itself to continued UK membership of the EU single market and customs union during a transition period from March 2019 onwards.

A hard Brexit that will hurt us economically, socially and politically may still be most likely outcome, but it is not yet inevitable.

The next few weeks will be telling.

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

From top: Ingram Pitt’s Brexit view in the Financial Times: Derek Mooney

 

According to its Brexit position papers issued last week, the British Government is absolutely determined to avoid a hard Brexit and is hell bent on making sure that there will be no changes to how the border between the two parts of this island operates.

If only it were true.

It isn’t. As many others have already pointed out, you have barely to scratch the surface of the British government’s argument to quickly realise that its glistening yet imprecise language masks a dark and base core.

Last week’s papers were not about the massive machinery of the British government and civil service setting out its key positions on crucial realities arising from Brexit, but rather they were a crude and infantile political attempt to prepare a platform from where current British Ministers can accuse the EU27 of imposing borders and costs when the inevitable hard Brexit happens.

The former Tory Chancellor, George Osbourne called it right a few months back in a tweet when he predicted that the EU/UK Article 50 negotiations will end in failure in 2019 and that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal and end up a transitional arrangement that resembles Norway’s.

The UK position papers were not about negotiations or ambitions. They were, almost literally, about positioning.

They were about the current crop of UK Tory Ministers positioning themselves for a hard Brexit – a hard Brexit that will impose a hard border across this island – and then being able to wring their hands afterwards, claiming that this wasn’t what they wanted, and that it is all the fault of the faceless, unelected, bloated bureaucrats in Brussels, aided and abetted by ungrateful Irish politicians

They know that the negotiations are on a collision course. The best deal for Britain is not the best deal for the Tory party. And so, the Tory party’s interests are about to trump the countries, helped along by the fact that the British Labour party is even more paralysed by its divisions on Europe than the Tories.

That is why the UK position papers on the Customs Union and Northern Ireland contradict each other.

It is why they want to confuse and upset the Article 50 negotiations timeline by dragging decisions on Northern Ireland out from the first phase of talks and dragging it into the customs and trade talks, thereby frustrating both.

There was nothing to welcome in last week’s position papers and diplomatic niceties should not prevent us from saying his openly and candidly.

Brexit in any shape or form will cost us, but a hard Brexit will hurt us economically and potentially cause political turmoil by undermining much of the progress made since the Good Friday Agreement; with its dismantling of the border structures and military architecture.

It took decades for us to convince the British that there were no security or military solutions to the political problems associated with partition.

It was a slow and painstaking process that involved the building up of strong personal relationships, most notably between Albert Reynolds and John Major and followed by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair.

Now Mrs May, and her ministers, are set to turn back the clock for Northern Ireland and this entire island, and all for reasons of Tory party unity.

This time around instead of talking about security solutions they talk about technological solutions – solutions to a problem that had all but disappeared but which their blind intransigence is determined to make reappear.

As I have said here for well over a year: Brexit changes everything on this island – and I do mean everything, not just economics.

Up to now, most of the Irish political talk has been on mitigating the economic damage and cost of Brexit and seeking the opportunities it offers – all that has been fine, if not a little understated at times, but the impact of Brexit goes beyond the economic.

The relationships between these two islands and between the two parts of this island are also about to change: economically, socially and politically… especially politically.

The hard Brexit that Gove, Johnson, Fox, Davis and Hammond are forging is about to make all-island approaches here the only viable ones.

The Brexit vote in the North has changed everything. Despite the consent principles contained within the Good Friday Agreement, the constitutional position of the people of the North, in this case as fully represented EU citizens, is about to change contrary to how a majority voted.

As the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood stated almost exactly one year ago:

“Northern nationalists are once more a restless people. The constitutional accommodation which we voted for by referendum in 1998 has been violated, not by a vote of the people of Northern Ireland, but rather by a vote of others in the UK 18 years later.

The blanket of that constitutional comfort has been abruptly removed. In particular, undermining our connection with the South achieved via common EU membership is not something which can be tolerated.”

It is regrettable that Irish politicians down here – of all hues – have not focussed sufficiently on this theme over the past year. While their attention to some of the finer detail is commendable, that cannot be allowed to come at the price of missing this bigger issue.

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

Illustration: Ingram Pitt (FT)

Derek Mooney

A few weeks back I offered you my suggested Summer political reading list, today I propose an accompanying political movie viewing list. The movies below all have the benefit of being available on the Irish Netflix service, but they can also be viewed elsewhere.

By the way, one of the authors featured in my political books list, Chris Patton, will be talking with John Bowman as part of Dublin City Council’s Dublin Festival of History on September 30th.

And now for the movies…

Best of Enemies: Buckley Vs Vidal

This is an absorbing account of the rivalry, if not visceral hatred, between US writers and commentators Gore Vidal and William F Buckley. Their stores are told through their participation in a series of televised appearance during the 1968 Democrat and Republican conventions.

Rather than just show the conventions live, the US TV network CBS had elected, mainly due to costs, to invite both men, Vidal the darling of the liberal set and Buckley the arch conservative, on to debate each other and comment on that night’s convention proceedings.

We see the personal tension slowly mount between the two erudite, cultured and witty men. The movie features lots of archival material, along with selections of both men’s political prose read by Kelsey Grammer as Buckley and John Lithgow as Vidal. Even if you have no interest in politics, let alone US politics of the 60s and 70s, the story of the two men will enthral.

 

American Anarchist

Sticking with the turmoil of 60s/70s America, if Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals was the political handbook of the radical left in the 60s/70s then William Powell’s Anarchist’s Cookbook was the instruction manual for militant anarchists with its recipes and directions on how to make homemade munitions and ordinance.

The documentary interviews Powell today and explores his motivations in producing the book aged 19 and how he has spent most of life since regretting it. Powell reveals how he found the information in a series of US Department of Defence manuals openly available in the New York public library.

The documentary explores the febrile atmosphere in America in the 60s (timely given the events of the past few days in Virginia) and how the Vietnam war and political scandal alienated many in that generation.

 

Get Me Roger Stone

From Powell on the left we now turn to another product of 60s American, but time from the right: Roger Stone. A bit like Rumsfeld’s Rules or the earlier Fog of War, the makers attempt to tell the story of Stone’s career via a series of cynical rules that Stone claims has guided his career as a political operator and lobbyist.

His “rules” are far from original, but it is a handy device to narrate his story and career trajectory from a minor walk-on role in Watergate, to a bi-sex scandal while advising Bob Dole’s presidential bid, to becoming a regular on the conspiracy lunacy that is Infowars.com, to serving as an adviser to Donald J Trump.

Stone comes across as a major league narcissist who was around when a lot of things happened, but was never really a mover and shaker in any of them. He is more than just a dirty tricks merchant, but not a lot more.

All that said, he does offer a worthwhile perspective on the American Alt-Right and the blurring of the lines between media and politics and the documentary is entertaining and colourful.

 

My Way: The Rise and Fall of Berlusconi

From narcissists in America we now turn to one of Europe’s great political narcissists: Silvio Berlusconi.

In this movie, the Italian Tycoon and politician tells his own story in a series of interviews with his biographer, former FT correspondent Alan Friedman. This is very much the film of the book, but offers an interesting insight into the man.

Emmanuel Macron – Behind the Rise.

From an Italian looking backwards we move to a French man looking forwards. Behind the Rise is, as it claims, an objective look at the 200 days leading up to the final round of voting in this year’s French presidential election.

The French film makers had virtually open access to the candidate and his campaign team, offering some fascinating insider footage of the campaign. The more fascinating thing is that the makers started making this movie before Macron emerged as a front runner.

The pace throughout is brisk. The production values are high. Macron emerges as a decent and driven guy who knows his own mind. We see him when he is relaxed and when he is stressed, even angry, but at all times he seems about eerily in control of himself.

Keep Quiet

With the recent Nazi protest in Charlottesville in mind, ever wonder how an anti-Semite would feel if they discovered that they are in fact, Jewish? Wonder no more. This absorbing and intriguing movie tells the story of a young ultra-far-right Hungarian politician, Csanad Szeged, who discovers via an even more anti-Semitic rival that he is, in fact, Jewish.

At first his Jobbik colleagues advise him to keep quiet, but that proves impossible. The movie chronicles his journey from that point onwards and invites you to wonder if he is sincere or just an ambitious man looking for a cause, any cause.

 

Democrats

Finally, moving away from US and European politics, this remarkable film about Zimbabwean politics tells the stories of the two lead negotiators from Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC-T as they struggle to work together to write a new constitution for the divided country.

While it focusses on these co-chairs of the constitutional committee CoPac, the real main character is President Mugabe, who has only agreed to a new constitution under duress and now fights to cling to office threatening and intimidating opposition leaders. Watch Mugabe’s practised disdain as he launches the consultative process for a new constitution.

——

As an antidote to the politics overload suggested above I suggest the following series on Netflix for some binge viewing: First is the hilarious Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It follows the increasingly manic adventures of the “gang” who own and ostensibly run a dive bar in South Philly, which never seems to have any customers.

The other is Rake, the story of a self-destructive Aussie barrister with w criminal practice – he likes cocaine – and the price of his habit is outstripping his earnings. There is an American remake, which is a bit sanitised, but enjoyable nonetheless.

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

From top: Leo Varadkar at Queen’s University, Belfast last week; Derek Mooney

By any measure, Taoiseach Varadkar’s Northern Ireland visit was a success. It combined style with a big dollop of substance.

You had the optics of his attendance at the Belfast Pride breakfast and the substance of his key note address at Queen’s University in which he set out a clear and thoughtful approach to Brexit, the Irish/Irish border and the future of Northern Ireland.

Most importantly it linked all three. I spoke with a few people who were in the room for his speech and they each said that the “buzz” was palpable. This, they each reported, was something new, different and exciting. Each liked the speech, feeling it hit the right buttons, while not sounding too preachy.

With one short visit Varadkar appears to have binned the Fianna Fáil leader’s narrative that the Irish government does not pay sufficient attention to Northern Ireland and gazumped Sinn Féin on its spurious claim to be the only one thinking about unity.

But appearances can be deceptive. Despite the visit, Micheál Martin is still right, it is just that he will find it tougher to make that claim stick after last week.

Silly and ill-considered solo-run interventions like last week’s one from Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson, Stephen Donnelly, do not help Martin. If Donnelly is going to grab the ball, then it is a good idea to plant it in the back of the other sides goal and not to dribble it towards your own goal line.

What the Taoiseach has said on the Border is not, contrary to what Deputy Donnelly may think, “reckless” nor “dangerous”, but neither is it grounds to canonise Leo – let us look at what has happened and try to decode some specific actions and see what is really going on.

First is Leo’s tough talk on Brexit and the border.

It started at An Taoiseach’s press briefing preceding his Belfast trip. His tough talk came in response to the front-page story in the previous day’s London Times quoting Coveney as saying that Ireland was not interested in a technological solution to the border.

The Times treated his remarks as something new, even though Coveney had said it all that two week earlier to journalists in Brussels. In fact, all Coveney was doing was repeating verbatim what Taoiseach Enda Kenny had said in a keynote speech to the IIEA in February.

Coveney made the running on this issue, not Varadkar. Indeed An Taoiseach was playing catch up hence his more robust language in restating what his erstwhile rival had said and what has been the Irish governments position for almost a year.

Phrases such as:

“What we’re not going to do is to design a border for the Brexiteers because they’re the ones who want a border”

“It’s up to them to say what it is, say how it would work and first of all convince their own people, their own voters that this is actually a good idea.

“As far as this Government is concerned there shouldn’t be an economic border. We don’t want one.”

They may not be the most diplomatic, but neither are they in the realms of gunboat diplomacy. Indeed, it can be argued that Dublin needed to remove some of the coding from its public language so that people could hear what it has been saying.

So, in attempting to catch up with his own Foreign Minister Varadkar has, inadvertently and accidentally, found a route to potentially steal a key issue away from Fianna Fáil and make it his own.

Suddenly, Varadkar is speaking to republicanism and nationalism, North and South in clear and ringing tones in a way that his predecessor failed to do.

The fact that he is not doing it out of conviction or out of some deep-seated belief is irrelevant, for now, but may come back to the surface in the coming months when the depth and heft of his newly found nationalism is tested.

In the meantime, the question can legitimately be asked, why didn’t we see this tough and bold Varadkar in Downing Street a few weeks earlier? Why wasn’t he saying this to Prime Minister May rather than whimpering on about Love Actually?

The other element to decode in this scenario is style.

The new Taoiseach used the Queen’s University speech and the Vincent Browe interview to underscore the major differences between him and Enda Kenny.

Not only did Varadkar give a speech at Queen’s, he also agreed to take questions from the audience, something that his predecessor was famously loathe to do.

As for the Vincent Browne interview, the only real news about it was that he had done it at all. Again, a gentle reminder that we are expected to see Leo as a stark contrast to his predecessor; who resolutely refused to appear with that man Browne.

But contrary to what the Taoiseach’s expanded cohort of convincers may have us believe, the style may not be so very different after all. As we all waxed lyrical about Varadkar’s triumph in Belfast the latest set of homeless stats that show how the government’s policy is failing badly were sneaked out late on the Friday night of a bank holiday.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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

Peruse Derek’s Summer political reads here.

Derek Mooney

With the Summer break in mind I decided to put together a summer reading list of titles to take away with you on holidays. Some of these I have already read, some I am planning to read. It includes recommendations from friends and suggestions made on Facebook and Twitter.

The list is in no particular order. If you disagree with any of my choices, then feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments section below.

Here goes:

Ruadhán MacCormaic’s The Supreme Court (Penguin Ireland) is a fascinating history and account of our top court. It is, in the words of Vincent Browne, “…not just for people interested in law; it tells you a lot about Ireland.”

It is no mere dry chronology of landmark ruling, but rather it tells the story of the court through its people, both on and before the bench, and the influence it has had on our society. A definite must read for anyone seriously interested in public policy.

 

At the risk of giving this list too much of a lawyer-y flavour, I am also including Joyce in Court by the late Supreme Court Judge, Adrian Hardiman, and published posthumously by Head of Zeus.

It is a very readable account about James Joyce (and there are not many of them), concentrating on his interest in the law and his fascination with court proceedings. Hardiman charts the many references to real trials in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake and looks at the legal battles to prevent Ulysses’s publication.

Though published two years ago, Chris Dooley’s partial biography of Redmond: A Life Undone (Gill and MacMillan) looks at the seven critical years of Redmond’s political life from 1910 – 1918. At the start of this period Redmond is at the peak of his powers. He is leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party in Westminster, a major player holding the balance of power.

By 1917 he is a reviled and near irrelevant figure, broken by events – not least the 1916 Rebellion – with one year of life left. Dooley’s book attempts successfully to chart Redmond’s gradual disconnection with his electorate and his resulting declining fortunes. A really good read.

My next suggestion is written by a good friend and former colleague, Dr Brian Murphy. It is: Forgotten Patriot: Douglas Hyde and the Foundation of the Irish Presidency (The Collins Press) This is not just a biography of our often neglected first President who worked to make his presidency as inclusive as he could, it is the expertly researched and well told story of how the office of the President was born and grew. More importantly, Brian dispels the lazy analysis that has portrayed the pre-1990 history of presidency as just “a retirement home” far removed from real life and politics.

While on the topic of Douglas Hyde I can also recommend Cormac Moore’s The GAA v Douglas Hyde: The Removal of Ireland’s First President as GAA Patron, also from The Collins Press. It’s an entertaining account of how the GAA dumped Hyde as its patron following the President’s attendance at a soccer match between Ireland and Poland – a breach of the GAA’s ban on foreign games. The book not only looks at the twists and turns of how Hyde was removed but looks at the ramifications

Crossing the Threshold: The Story of the Marriage Equality Movement (Irish Academic Press) is a collection of 23 essays, edited by Dr Grainne Healy, described as “the official history of the role played by the Marriage Equality organisation”. It is just that and does not try to a history of the wider campaign. The essays are thoughtful and highlight the importance of personal stories and individual activism.

It should be read alongside the other book on the topic which was co-authored by Grainne along with Brian Sheehan and Noel Whelan: Ireland Says Yes: The Inside Story of How the Vote for Marriage Equality Was Won. It looked just at the final 100 days of the campaign and highlighted the crucial importance of having allies outside the usual liberal circles and how the campaign strenuously avoided the traps of insularity – a lesson that other campaigns should learn if they wish to succeed.

Looking beyond the solely Irish context Chris Patten’s First Confession: A Sort of Memoir (Penguin Books) is not just an autobiography, but rather a well written and often funny examination of today’s big political themes, most particularly identity, seen through the author’s own history and experiences. Patten is an astute observer and still has a lot to say. Well worth a read.

As a fan of the writing Niccoló Machiavelli, I can heartily recommend Erica Benner’s excellent Be Like the Fox, Machiavelli’s Lifelong Quest for Freedom (Penguin Books). She dismisses the one-dimensional caricature of him as cynical henchman and paints him as a profound political thinker, even a champion of liberty. A non-machiavellian Machiavelli, so to speak.

If you like your histories with plenty of gore and intrigue that I also suggest you grab a copy of Guy de la Bedoyere’s Praetorian: The Rise and Fall of Rome’s Imperial Bodyguard (Yale Books). It is what they used to call a “rollicking good read” and charts the history of the Emperor’s elite guard and their role in the making and breaking of their political masters. A must-buy if you are looking to send a book to the Garda Commissioner?

Moving from the intrigues of the past today’s ones, JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (Harper Collins) has received a slew of awards.

Not only has it been named as one of “Six books to help understand Trump’s win” it also has the distinction of being praised in the Dáil by Leo Varadkar, Paschal Donohue and Fianna Fail’s James Lawless.

It tells the story of a family in a rust belt town that achieves some upward mobility but finds that this progress is partially illusory and learns how the American Dream is a nightmare for many.

My final suggestion is an almost old fashioned whodunnit, but a dark one with a strong Belfast accent. It is the Guardian Irish Editor Henry McDonald’s debut murder mystery: The Swinging Detective (Gibson Square Books).

Set in Belfast, Berlin and London, the main character is Martin Peters a detective with the Berlin police is investigating two gruesome killings, but he has a past as a British army soldier who served in Belfast that haunts him. It is the first of a trilogy of Martin Peter’s planned by McDonald.

This is a personal selection. Like me it has a heavy political leaning, but enjoy nonetheless.

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

From top: Yesterday’s Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown Poll l Derek Mooney

The results of yesterday’s Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown Poll would appear to confirm two things.

The first one is that the two main parties are evenly matched and are together edging their combined vote back up to the 60s. The second is that there is very little likelihood of there being a general election this year.

I have addressed both this points before, so I do not plan to dwell on either one now, except to say that having the two parties so evenly match just weeks after Fine Gael has placed its ace card and changed leader; is effectively a bonus for Fianna Fáil.

The elevation of Varadkar should have seen Fine Gael use the euphoria and novelty of having a new leader to put some clear blue water between it and its main rival. It hasn’t, and that signals a big problem for the party’s strategists over the coming months.

As I have observed here several times, the main political parties do not do their polling in the same way as the major newspapers. They do not base their analysis on national quantitative surveys, but rather they employ constituency polling to measure where their messages are working and where their candidates are performing.

They do not see the country as a single battlefield, but rather as a patchwork of individual political battlegrounds, both geographic and demographic.

This is the data that decides election strategies. It is also the data that the leaders guard most jealously. It is rarely, if ever, shared beyond a handful of people. It is rarely even shared with ministerial or front bench colleagues, unless the leader wants a particular snippet or factoid to make its way into the Sunday papers or on to Morning Ireland.

It is the political equivalent of the Coca-Cola recipe. A few people may know one or two of the ingredients or how some part of the process works, but only the ones at the very top know the whole thing.

However, while the newspaper opinion polls do not swing or impact a political party’s electoral strategy, they can and often do influence the morale of candidates and activists.

Given the number and regularity of these national polls – and one has to question their value beyond selling extra copies, when an election is probably a year or so away – one bad poll result is not likely to too dispirit the troops, but get two or three on the trot and it can start to impact negatively.

And it is not just activists and aspiring candidates. Outside of the Dorcas gazelle, there is no creature on this planet who is more easily startled or alarmed than the bank-bench TD.

Show them a sequence of two or three bad Red C poll results and they are climbing the walls or, more likely, heading surreptitiously to chat with the nearest pol-corr to tell them how the leader needs to act quickly or dramatically to do x, y or z… where z usually involves their promotion.

The paradox for the party leadership is how do they reassure their unnerved backbenchers without giving away proprietary information from their internal polling.

As with all paradoxes there is no answer and so, to quote Sister Gertrude from the 1977 satirical movie Nasty Habits (based on Muriel Spark’s the Abbess of Crewe), “a paradox is something you live with”.

To be fair, any TD who is regularly out knocking on doors and maintaining a solid connection with their constituency and constituents will know whether any given poll is in tune with what they are hearing. They also know that the vast bulk of their constituents are not thinking daily about who they plan to vote for at the next election.

Yes, voters have opinions on what the government is doing on a particular issue or how it is handling the latest crisis, but voting is an aggregated decision. It has many component parts, of which how the voter feels about the party leader is one of the lower ones.

Analysis of the 2016 general election exit poll shows that less than 10% of voters cited choice of Taoiseach as a factor when they decided how they would vote.

For a much greater number the suitability of the candidates in their constituency was a key deciding factor. If you thought that water charges was the key issue you were about 10% more likely to vote Sinn Féin and about 15% less likely to vote Fine Gael.

How can a newspaper poll, conducted mid-term when a general election looks like being at least a year away, be expected to pick up on such many and varied factors – especially when most voters are not in that frame of mind right now.

This is not to dismiss newspaper opinion polls out of hand, nor is it a plea to ban polls, though banning them for the duration of a whole campaign, or at least the final 10 days is worth considering.

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

Graphics via The Sunday Independent