Author Archives: Derek Mooney

From top:Taoiseach Leo Varadkar watches the South Africa Vs Ireland rugby international during a break at the Fine Gael annual conference last Saturday; Derek Mooney

What did the President know and when did he know it?‘ is possibly the most famous political question of the late 20th century. It was asked, in June/July 1973, by Senator Howard Baker during the US Senate’s Watergate Hearings.

Though we tend to forget it now, Baker framed the question in the hope of protecting his fellow Republican, President Nixon. But as the White House’s defence collapsed it came to sum up the depth and extent of Nixon’s personal involvement in the cover-up.

The Baker question popped back into my head last week watching the Taoiseach answering questions on the Irish policy on moving Brexit talks to phase two.

But, where Baker’s question highlighted how deeply Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate machinations, when it is applied to our own new Taoiseach it tends to expose how perilously unaware he often seems regarding what is happening in his own government.

So, what did our Taoiseach know last Wednesday about Ireland’s approach to moving UK/EU talks to phase two… well, according to the Taoiseach himself… not that much. Responding to parliamentary questions the Taoiseach said:

“I am now of the view that it is likely we will be able to say that sufficient progress has been made at the December meeting, allowing us to move on to discussions on transition and the future arrangements.”

A few minutes later he compounded the situation, adding:

“It will not be possible to resolve the Border question fully until we start to speak about the future relationship that the UK will have with the European Union”

Within hours the news agencies were carrying the story of the Taoiseach predicting a breakthrough in December, even though the next round of EU/UK talk were not due to start until the following day.

Early the following morning a colleague in Brussels sent me a terse email saying: “Only one of these statements can be right”. Attached were links to the following two news items:

Reutersirish-pm-sees-brexit-talks-moving-to-next-stage-in-dec

FT.comEU gives UK up to 3 weeks to make Brexit bill offer

He was right. Only one could be true and people behind the scenes in both Dublin and Brussels knew it was the second one.

Not for the first time our neophyte Taoiseach had misspoken and seemed less interested in the precise detail of his own government’s policies and more focussed on self-promotion.

I discussed another episode a few weeks back, but there are several other examples, including his crass comments on Irish homelessness rates and his tweeting of photos from a confidential national security committee.

While many of his errant remarks have caused confusion and disquiet, his comments on Brexit risked undermining Ireland’s strategic interest.

The real Irish position, as opposed to the Taoiseach’s briefly imagined one, has been both consistent and straight forward. It runs as follows:

The UK has not only created this problem, it has exacerbated it by coming up with an extreme Brexit definition that means leaving the single market and the customs union.

This creates enormous economic, political, security and social problems for us – so if the UK wants this Brexit process to move forward, it must make sufficient progress now in phase one of the talks and satisfy Ireland that it has genuine proposals to address our concerns.

The issue of Ireland and the Irish/Irish border is one of three key issues in the first phase of talks, the other two are the financial settlement and citizens’ rights. Sufficient progress must be made on all three before the EU/UK talks can move to phase two discussions on post Brexit UK trade arrangements.

The EU’s Guiding Principles on Ireland/Northern Ireland issues are clear:

Ensuring the avoidance of a hard border on the island of Ireland is central to protecting the gains of the Peace Process underpinned by the Good Friday Agreement. In view of the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland, flexible and imaginative solutions will be required to avoid a hard border, including any physical border infrastructure. This must be achieved in a way which ensures that Ireland’s place within the Internal Market and Customs Union is unaffected.

The previous Taoiseach and Irish diplomats worked hard to insert these words into the guiding principles. There is absolutely no tactical advantage for Ireland to row back on this hard-won leverage – so why did Taoiseach Varadkar even briefly raise the possibility that we might already be prepared to nod the UK through to phase two?

Well, luckily for him, the Taoiseach may have just about managed to avoid having to answer this embarrassing question, thanks to a most adroitly timed leak of a confidential Irish briefing document to the Daily Telegraph.

Instead of the UK and Brussels press speculating on why the Irish government was sending mixed signals and sounding unsure, the Telegraph leak turned the focus back on the paucity of proposals on the Irish/Irish border coming from the British.

It is a paucity confirmed by an extraordinarily lightweight article published by the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, on the Brexit Central website under the headline: “Creative thinking can provide solutions to Northern Ireland’s Brexit challenges”. Brokenshire closes his article, saying:

“…we have agreed that the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement should be protected in full, including its constitutional arrangements… We have proposed that the UK and the EU seek to agree text for the Withdrawal Agreement that recognises the ongoing status of the Common Travel Area… None of this was ever going to be easy but I believe, with a positive attitude on all sides, it is achievable.” (My emphasis)

The passivity of the language is terrifying: “should be protected”, “seek to agree text”, not to mention the Pollyanna-esque belief that a “positive attitude on all sides” can see this through.

The Daily Telegraph leak is being interpreted by some in the British media as a hardening of Ireland’s stance on the talks. It isn’t.

The Irish stance has – right up to the Taoiseach’s comments last Wednesday – been consistent and solid. Thanks to the leak, as well as strong diplomatic firefighting, it is again solid, but we came close to the edge.

Commenting here on the Taoiseach’s mid-August strong words on Brexit, I said:

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.

It resurfaced, dangerously, last Wednesday. We cannot afford another re-emergence of it anytime soon.

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 morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pic: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

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From top: Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill (left) and Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams during a press conference at Parliament Buildings, Belfast, this week; Derek Mooney

Amid all the analysis and commentary on Brexit, might I suggest you check out the Beerg Brexit Blog written by an old friend of mine, Tom Hayes.

Originally from Dublin, but now based in the North of France, Tom is one of the most experienced and skilled employer relations negotiators in Europe, something reflected in his Brexit Blog.

Whereas most look at the hard politics of Brexit, especially from the British side, and I tend to look at it solely through the prism of how it effects relations on this island, Tom looks at the process as a negotiator.

While you are never in any doubt, reading any of his blog posts, that Tom thinks that Brexit is a massive folly, each week he examines developments and tests them for how the progress, or hamper, a negotiated outcome that would serve the interests of both sides.

Of course, Brussels is not the only place hosting a painstakingly slow and complex negotiation between two intractable sides – closer to home we have the seemingly never-ending negotiation/talks process between the DUP and Sinn Féin, co-chaired by the two governments.

Taking Tom’s analytical approach, it is probably more accurate to describe what has been going on in Belfast as a talks process rather than a negotiation, as neither side – and it is important to stress that the blame attaches to both parties in this, not just one – has signalled any real interest in reaching an outcome.

In one of his early blog posts Tom Hayes identifies the 10 key “rules” for negotiations. I place “rules” in parentheses as they are not so much “rules”, as they are the basic key essential ingredients for a negotiation to get up and running.

In the same way that a leader without followers is just some taking a walk, a negotiation without these key components is just a chat, and a not too friendly one at that.

Rather than boring you to death and risking repetitive strain injury trying to type all ten on an iPad, I will focus on just two or three and consider the extent to which they are absent from the current SF/DUP talks.

The first two are:

Have clear, precise objectives. Know what you want to achieve out of the discussions.

Establish what the Harvard Negotiating Project calls the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). In other words, work out what is the best you can do if the other side person tells you to go and f… sorry, to go and get lost.

Are we seeing any hints of the first of these from either side? While both sides say they want a return of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly, there is little hard evidence that they do.

As for the second, the best alternatives to a negotiated settlement, well it seems that both sides are satisfied with the current alternative.

Now that the DUP has its confidence and supply agreement with the Tories, not to mention £2 billion for their pet projects, they are not that bothered whether Stormont returns or not. They have power, albeit without the trappings of ministerial offices or chauffeured Skodas.

On the other side, the handful of decision makers at the top of Sinn Féin have also concluded that the status quo is an option as the collapse of the Executive and Assembly has been good for business. It has not only stemmed the decline in their vote that they had experienced in the previous Assembly elections, it has partially reversed it.

So, they weaponise very real and legitimate concerns about the Irish language and parity of esteem to beyond a point where the other side can ever deliver. Thus, breaking not one but two rules of negotiations:

Manage stakeholder expectations by not promising to overdeliver.

Manage the expectations of the other party before you begin talking.

Worse still they catalogue and herald all their own failures in government and all the times the DUP out manoeuvred them in Gerry Adams’ Felon’s Club speech last January.

The history of the past twenty years shows us that the default Sinn Féin position in any fraught situation is to throw the balls up in the air.

Where other political organisations try to avoid crises, Sinn Féin thrives on them. That’s great for opposition, but lousy for government. That’s not just my opinion, while the folks around Gerry may feel they are having a good crisis, many local representatives are beginning to think otherwise – and no amount of spiking will stop that Storey.

But still the dance goes on.

The DUP knows that Sinn Féin is its best weapon in squeezing the UUP and increasing its own vote share, while conversely the DUP does more to drive nationalists to the polls to vote Sinn Féin than Sinn Féin itself.

The two big parties know each other all too well and see the current crisis as mutually beneficial, in the short term. Neither side is particularly mindful right now of the medium to long term the damage this stasis is doing to politics or the economy.

Why should they? The voters in Northern Ireland have been happy over the last few elections to reward them both.

Nationalists fed up with the intransigence and petty bigotry of the DUP have turned out to vote Sinn Féin while Unionists frustrated by the antics of Sinn Féin and fearful that Sinn Féin may become the biggest party abandoned their own moderate views and backed Arlene Foster’s DUP in even greater numbers.

The result is an impasse, but it is a time limited one.

Northern Ireland politics greatest success, and I use the word success here incorrectly, has been in insulating itself against the harsher realities of the outside world or even the consequences of its own inactions.

It is not that life in the Six Counties is some nirvana, it clearly isn’t, but it has developed a strange comfort in its own divisions, bizarre certainties and insularity.

It continues its tribal battles as if nothing anywhere else matters.

For years, the rest of the real world paid attention to what happened there, but somehow never intruded or impacted apart from sending peace envoys.

Brexit is about to change all that. Some harsh economic realities are about to hit those old certainties hard and the North’s politics will not be shielded from them.

In the meantime, the DUP and Sinn Féin talk aimlessly while the British prepare for the introduction of some form of Direct Rule from Westminster.

Hard to believe that is just short of a year since those two parties were jointly telling everyone ‘Our two parties are now in an Executive facing in the same direction… We are in this for the long haul.’

Not much of a haul.

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 morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Mytaxi Dublin Airport promo; Derek Mooney

About four weeks ago I arrived back at Dublin Airport after a late-night flight from Barcelona. Though the flight was hassle free, the same could not be said for the journey from the airport to home.

I got to the Terminal 2 taxi rank just after midnight. There I found around 100 other punters also looking for taxis. So, I queued for 40 minutes for a taxi home.

For many visitors these hefty delays in getting a taxi are their first experience of Dublin. Maybe it is intended as a premonition of the joys of living in Dublin, gently preparing those moving here for what the rental accommodation sector has in store for them?

If only we were that organised.

It is not just an airport problem. According to the taxi licensing division of the National Transport Authority (NTA), the size of the national taxi fleet has dropped by almost a quarter from its 2008 peak. I

n September 2017 there were 20,577 active vehicle licences in the country, the figure was 27,429 back in 2008.

While much of the decline can be put down to the recession (the NTA also cites increased vehicle and driver testing standards), the figure is still dropping. There are 230 fewer cabs now than there were last year.

Curiously, though the number of limousine licences also decreased from the 2008 peak of 1,338 to a trough of 1,204 in 2011, the market has bounced back and is now way ahead of that 2008 peak with 1,741 active limousine licenses on the road last year.

Remember, these are the national figures, they cover the 26 counties. The NTA says there are 10,680 Public Service Vehicles currently operating in Dublin. Just over 500 of these are limousines, about 40 are hackneys.

This leaves about 10,100 taxis to service the population of Dublin – at a time when demand is growing, not just because of the growth of the Dublin economy, but also the success of taxi hailing apps such as Hailo, MyTaxi, Lynk and (to a lesser degree) Uber.

Though “success” is probably not the most appropriate word when discussing the MyTaxi app. To say that the migration from Hailo to MyTaxi in Dublin has not gone well, is akin to saying that yesterday was an okay day for Donald Trump.

The transition from Hailo to MyTaxi has been a catalogue of confusions for customers and drivers alike. As one of the earliest Hailo users, I was a big fan of their app. It was neat, simple and reliable. If the app said that the Taxi was likely to reach you in 6 minutes, then that is what would happen.

Yes, there were a few issues with the pinpoint accuracy of the maps. It was not unheard of to find the taxi waiting for you on a street closer to your back door than the front one, but frequent users soon learned how to recalibrate the app and drop the pin to match the actual streetscape rather than the virtual one.

Hailo’s greatest achievement though, was not just making it easier and safer to hail a taxi, it was the extent to which it professionalised the business and increased industry standards, especially customer service. It did it in a way that the State’s regulatory model simply failed to and at no cost to the tax payer.

Drivers joining Hailo had to produce regularly their documentation in person and meet performance standards. Their cabs seemed that bit cleaner and in better shape. Not only was Hailo safer, after all you had the drivers mobile number plus record of the trip saved on your app in the event of a problem, you also knew they took customer complaints seriously.

This is not something you could say about the Taxi regulator. With Hailo you made your complaint online and they followed up on it within a few days. This contrasted with the Taxi regulator’s cumbersome and bureaucratic process that rarely ever led anywhere, including an acknowledgement.

The disappearance of Hailo earlier this year, following the company’s disastrous 2014 venture in to the US. taxi market and its takeover by the Daimler-owned MyTaxi group should not have resulted in a massive diminution in reliability and service – and yet it has.

I had used MyTaxi without any hassle while on trips to Germany, long before it moved here and so, I assumed, switching from Hailo to MyTaxi would be a piece of piss. I was wrong.

Like many thousands of other customers, I quickly learned that MyTaxi, the piss artist formerly known as Hailo, was not a patch on the original.

To be fair to MyTaxi the history of big IT projects was against them. The switch did require one of the largest app migrations ever undertaken in Europe, but did they not realise that when they took over? While a few weeks of teething issues might be understandable, several months of long waits to find a cab, cancelled trips and – now – more expensive journeys, are not.

It is a lesson that the customs service in the UK is about to learn the hard way after Brexit. If anyone tries to tell you that there is an easy technological solution to the Irish/Irish border, just point them towards MyTaxi.

Thus, I am now an EMU, an ex-MyTaxi-user and – if what my taxi driving mates tell me is correct – I am just one of many. Where once I used an app when I needed a taxi, now I walk to the local bus stop on the main road and hail one off the street.

True, there is the Lynk app and I am told by the same taxi driving mates that many disgruntled MyTaxi drivers are moving to Lynk, but the MyTaxi saga has so put me off hailing apps right now that it may take me some time to start trusting them again.

Sorry, Lynk. Sorry too Uber [Dublin], but waiting longer to pay 50% over the odds to travel in a flashy limousine is not my thing.

While I miss Hailo, I know that what I really miss are service improvements it helped make possible. I hope someone, be it Lynk or whoever, can fill the gap opened up by the MyTaxi fiasco and that we do not see the sector slide back to the chaos of the early 1990s.

In the meantime, I pay more often with cash than with a credit card and do not have a receipt automatically emailed to me, but at least I can get one of those declining number of Dublin taxis.

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 morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


From top: BBC NI Spotlight reporter Jim Fitzpatrick with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week; Derek Mooney

Though it has appeared to slip by without much political comment, the Taoiseach’s BBC TV interview last Tuesday (October 16) showed that he is not quite the master of the medium that his friends would have us believe.

He was being interviewed as part of a BBC Northern Ireland Spotlight programme profiling our neophyte Taoiseach. It looked at his life and his rise to high office, with a focus on how he has approached the North and Brexit over the four months since becoming Taoiseach.

It was a fairly standard profile format. A 40-minute programme featuring a one on one sit-down interview, interspersed with archive clips and packages on specific issues.

Though it was no fawning hagiography, neither was it the most demanding or probing of interviews. The interview section took up less than 50% of the show, with questions on current political issues only taking up about 40 – 50% of that portion: about 8 – 10 minutes.

But for a good portion of those 10 minutes the Taoiseach struggled. But, worse than that he also demonstrated a blissful ignorance of a key element of relations both on and between these two islands.

His first stumble was on the issue of Brexit, specifically on the right of people in Northern Ireland having the right to exercise their EU citizenship.

The interviewer asked him if Ireland would be prepared to pick up the tab where someone from Northern Ireland holding Irish citizenship – and by extension EU citizenship – had an operation in another EU state. As the UK would by then be outside the EU, would the bill for the procedure be paid by the Irish government, he enquired?

A technical, not to mention hypothetical, question which seemed more designed to highlight the interviewer’s research skills, than to elicit information that might help the punter gain a better understanding of the issue.

It was the kind of question for which The West Wing (TV series) mantra: “never accept the premise of the question” could have been coined.

But the Taoiseach – a former health and social protection minister – did accept it followed by the uncomfortable sight of seeing him struggle to grasp the underlining concept and, then, eventually work his way through to an answer.

Similarly, when asked about his views on Sinn Féin, the Taoiseach essentially spoke of it as just another political party. Not exactly the line he has been pushing in his recent Dáil spats with Gerry and Mary Lou. If Micheál Martin were asked that question the word ‘cult’ would feature prominently in his reply.

Though it was cringe-making, even for a non-fan like me, if the Leo interview had ended there, then it would have been a passable performance. But it didn’t.

Asked, at the very end of the programme, if Brexit had made a United Ireland more or less likely, the Taoiseach not only went off piste, he went clear off the mountain range.

He started out fine. He opened his response with the obligatory reaffirmation of the Irish government’s commitment to the Good Friday Agreement but then, before our eyes, the Taoiseach morphed into ‘Leo Varadkar: Precocious Wunderkind’ and attempted a single-handed redefinition of consent effectively junking a central tenet of the Good Friday Agreement, saying:

“…I wouldn’t like us to get to the point whereby we are changing the constitutional position here in Northern Ireland on a 50% plus one basis”.

“One of the best things about the Good Friday Agreement is that it did get very strong cross-Border support, that’s why there was a 70 per cent vote for it. I don’t think that there would be a 70 per cent vote for a united Ireland in the morning, for example, or anything remotely to that. And I really think we should focus on making the agreement that we have work.”

Worse still, he did it all unaided. There were no interruptions or interjections from the interviewer. No one else brought up 50% plus one, the Taoiseach did it all by himself, out of his own mouth.

Was this Leo making a major policy change on the principle of consent on the hoof or was this him failing to grasp a core policy position that has been around since the mid-1990s?

Regrettably I fear it was both.

This was the Taoiseach making up a policy on an issue he seemed fundamentally unable to grasp.

I say this as his address to the Derry Chamber of Commerce, a few days before the programme was aired, echoed the same approach, though without the reference to a 70% threshold.

What this Taoiseach fails to grasp, in contrast to his predecessors, including his most immediate one, is that consent is at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement. It applies equally and in parallel to both communities, as Seamus Mallon said at the 1998 British Labour party conference:

“Equality, parity of esteem and parallel consent are written into the Agreement – they are core of the new dispensation which we can and will implement.”

Simply put, you cannot say to one community in the North that the bar for their aspirations is to be set higher than for the other, whether that is 2, 5, 10 or 20% higher. That is the approach that prevailed in the North for decades.

The Taoiseach also fails to understand that the Good Friday Agreement, whose text appears on the website of his department, is not just a political document setting out some vague hopes and dreams, it is a sovereign agreement between two governments. It is a legal agreement that sets out the legal precepts underpinning the peace process and not something he can amend on a whim.

If his intention is to convince Unionism that he is their friend, then he will fail as they will see his comments as either patronising or undeliverable – or, both.

If his aim is to score political points off Gerry Adams’ fatuous calls for a border poll, then he will also fail. Not because there will be a Border Poll – there won’t – but because he is answering to Adams’ dog whistle.

The answer is not to raise the figure up from 50%+1 for one community, but to remind all those who demand a Border poll that with 50%+1 comes a great responsibility, a responsibility to make that situation work for more than just those who favour it.

Bizarrely, this is the point where Varadkar and Adams’ joint playing with numbers on consent risks unpicking the concept that made the agreement possible.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps what we saw on BBC Spotlight last week was not a Taoiseach making up policy on the hoof, but one who is so convinced by his own hype and spin that he went on to a TV programme ill-prepared and decided to just “wing it”.

Either way, the outcome is that he exposed his own lack of knowledge for no gain. He talked big, achieved nothing and managing to piss off all sides while doing it – just another average day for this government.

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 morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

From top: Dáil Eireann; Derek Mooney

Though the big political event today is the Budget, I do not intend to devote too much time to it here.

So much of what is to be announced has already been trailed out that the members of the most ancient and noble orders of the economic and political commentariat could have filed their copy late on Sunday night, taken most of today off and left it to the theatre and TV critics to cover proceedings.

Not that the drama and theatrics of Budget Day are unwelcome or unappealing, but in today’s world setting the government’s budget is more a process than an event.

Much of what the Minister will do today is to confirm which political and business journalists have the most informed sources. The rest is him setting out the conclusions that have almost been reached on the income and expenditure side.

I say “almost” as today’s speech is not the quite the final, final word on the Budget. That comes with the publication, in a week or two, of the full details in the legislation, the Finance Bill 2017, that underpins the Budget. It, to quote previous Finance Bills, will:

“…provide for the imposition, repeal, remission, alteration and regulation of taxation, of stamp duties and of duties relating to excise and otherwise to make further provision in connection with finance including the regulation of customs.”

There may be a bit of “will (s)he, won’t (s)he” during the day as speculation mounts around the corridors of Leinster House about how this TD or that Minister of State is wrestling with their conscience on how they will vote for some cut or increase.

Though it is unlikely that we will hear a “man overboard” cry on any Financial Resolution votes due later tonight, even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Theresa May knows the truth of that line only too well… and I am not referring to her nightmare of a conference speech last week. On April 18 last Mrs May thought she had the British Labour party on the ropes when she called a snap election to be held on June 8.

She was convinced that she had the numbers. All the Tory pollsters were telling her that. Indeed, so too were almost all the national TV and newspaper polls and even a few leaked Labour Party ones. Virtually everyone was telling her that she was set to win a landslide which could see her increase her working majority from 17, right up to maybe even 140.

But, as we now know they were wrong, badly wrong.

So was I. A few days before the June 8th vote I ran a poll on Twitter asking people how they thought the election would go. The numbers were interesting and ran against the still prevailing view that May was set to win big.

While a plurality, 41%, thought that the Tories would be back with a majority, a sizeable number, 34%, thought that Corbyn would emerge as the winner with the balance, 25% predicting a hung parliament. My own personal prediction was that the Tories would only pick up an extra 10-15 seats, as I felt a higher young vote could be a factor.

It was, but in a far more important and significant way than we realised at the time.

A major piece of research conducted by four noted US and UK election experts has shown that not only was the youth vote vital to the Corbyn surge, so too was the way in which this new cohort of young and first-time voters informed themselves.

The research, which was conducted for a book the four academics plan to publish soon, entitled: Youthquake! Brexit, the 2017 British General Election and Beyond, found that:

A flood of young voters, many of whom had relatively low levels of political knowledge, used the internet to get news about the general election.

In other words, the 2017 UK general election saw the internet, particularly social media, finally having a big impact on how individual people voted and the overall outcome.

The research found that those who used the internet to get their news about the general election were far more likely to have voted Labour. Conversely, it found that those who used the internet to gather political news less often were much more likely to vote Tory.

The impact was twofold. Young voters were not only mobilised to turn out and vote (turnout among 18-29 y/o went up by about 19% compared to the 2015 election), they were also persuaded as to whom they should support.

So, their decision to vote and the choices they made were associated with the volume of election news that they consumed online.

While it can be argued that there were very specific conditions in the febrile and uncertain political atmosphere in the UK in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum vote that may have compelled many young people to vote, it does fit in with what some believe may be “a global generational shift of voting and political engagement”.

It is a potential shift that sees a cohort of new voters who do not perceive government as something to be whittled away until it is as small as possible, but rather as their best protector against the perils not only of globalisation and automation, but of affordable housing, education and healthcare.

Is this something we might see here? I suspect it is.

But politicians and pundits be warned. While these new voters may get their news online that does not mean they are a ready and available support base for any twitter-savvy politician who knows how to produce great selfies. Content matters, even online.

Bear this in mind when Ministers and TDs take to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and SnapChat tonight with memes, photos and video clips to reassure generation rent that all may yet be well in Fine Gael’s republic of opportunity – provided you get up in time.

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 morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


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