Author Archives: Derek Mooney


From top: SDLP leader Colum Eastwood; Geryy Adams’ tweet yesterday


Derek Mooney writes:

OK. I must get this off my chest. I am no fan of RTÉ’s northern editor, Tommy Gorman. It is nothing personal. I know he is a good reporter and is well on top of his brief. It is just his ever so slightly over the top and knowing style of presentation that gets to me.

That said, there are moments when his tendency to go hyperbolic is appropriate. Last night was one of those. Reporting on SDLP leader Colum Eastwood’s Stormont press conference, Tommy recognised the significance of Eastwood’s call to protect the pro Remain vote in Northern Ireland.

He was right to do it. It is significant and may be the first new thing to happen organically in NI politics for a long time.

In declaring that he was “…open to discussions around how we can protect the interests of Northern Ireland and the majority who voted to remain” Eastwood opened the door on creating a new majority in Northern Ireland, one based on a set of idea and policies, not issues of identity and what Dr Cathal McManus has described as “Othering“.

OK, “create” is putting it a little strongly there. Eastwood is not “creating” that new majority. We have the eurosceptic Tories and UKIPers to thank for that.

The new majority in Northern Ireland is the 56% who voted to both reject Brexit and reject turning back the clock to the 1950s. Prime Minister May says the June 8 election to be about Brexit, well then… let it be about precisely that.

Even Gerry Adams agrees.

Within 25 minutes of Mrs May announcing her plans to call an election Gerry had put down his teddy and taken to Twitter to declare this election “another chance 2 vote against Brexit”.

It is. The UK general election is about Brexit. In Northern Ireland it is about doing everything that can possibly be done to avoid a hard Brexit and a hard border.

Remain/Anti-Brexit parties in the North must ensure that it is fought that way – and that means all the Anti-Brexit parties and politicians, not just the ones on one side of the traditional divide.

The Brexit referendum stirred people to vote in numbers that Northern Ireland had not seen in decades. Much to the surprise of many pundits, they stayed motivated and came out in equally large numbers at the last assembly election – even though the choices on offer to them then were more binary.

That is the way the DUP wants to fight this general election. Not surprisingly their main spokespeople have been saying that this election, like the last one and the one before and the one before that one, is all about saving the Union.

Not for the first, or the last, time, Messrs Foster, Dodds and Wilson are wrong. This is not about the union. We know that for two reasons:

  1. Mrs May has told us that it is about Brexit and…

2. If it was about safeguarding the Union and doing what was in the interests of its component parts would the Tory government at Westminster be calling an unnecessary election in the middle of a political crisis in Northern Ireland?

Mrs May and her Tory colleagues (well most of them – I am happy not to lump the likes of Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry etc. in with them) are not too bothered about how this election impacts the North, just in the way that she is not too deeply concerned about how her Brexit folly will impact either community in the North and either part of this island.

What may catch her attention though, is seeing some of the loudest champions of Brexit from Northern Ireland losing his seat in the House of Commons, such as Nigel Dodds, for example.

At the Brexit referendum in June 2016 his Belfast North constituency voted to remain by 20,128 votes to 19,844. A tight margin, but a win nonetheless. At the last Assembly election, the broadly pro remain parties in his constituency secured just short of 22,000 votes while the broadly pro Brexit ones got over 17,500.

I know you cannot presume that every SDLP, Alliance, SF or Green party voter is a definite anti Brexit voter, just in the same way that you cannot presume that every single DUP or UUP voter is a pro Brexiteer, but it is a better than even money bet that Mr Dodds could be toppled and replaced by an independent/non-aligned pro Remain candidate if the pro Remain parties were to put the future well-being of people before short-term party gain.

(NB Profs Garry and Coakley at QUB conducted a valuable piece of research on the political allegiances of pro/anti Brexit voters – it showed DUP voters were 70% Brexit and UUP ones 54% Brexit)

The same strategy should be applied in any constituency with a pro Brexit sitting MP – Tom Elliott in Fermanagh and South Tyrone comes to mind – the pro Remain parties agree to back a single pro Remain candidate.

This works the other way around too. The staunchly pro-Remain South Belfast MP, Alasdair McDonnell represents a constituency that voted overwhelmingly to remain (about 70% on a 68% turnout) in 2016 but, under the arcane British first-past-the-post voting system, he could lose that seat to the DUP if the DUP can secure a pact with the UUP and the pro remain parties cannibalise each other.

What Eastwood is suggesting is a no-brainer. It makes sense for the North and for us here in the Republic too. We need to send a signal from this island that a hard Brexit and hard border is bad for us all here. Our friends in the North, across both communities, can deliver that signal on all our behalf.

Securing agreement on how precisely to make this work among the pro Remain parties will not be easy. There will be difficulties and sensitivities for all of them, not to mention the requirement for some to break an old habit and actually put the bigger picture ahead of their own party’s welfare.

Besides, it is not as if there is not another election coming up again soon in the North when the old petty jealousies can be run out again.

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, left to right: Charlie McConalogue TD, Barry Cowen TD, Jim O’Callaghan TD during government formations talks last year; Derek Mooney

On Monday, Derek Mooney speculated on the possible outcome  of a deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael suggesting water charges were dead for both parties.

Derek writes:

While the agreement on the future funding of domestic water as hammered out at the Oireachtas committee is not a bad one – the issue now is more about the process and the path to its arrival.

It proves the truth of the old adage, usually attributed to Bismarck: if you want to keep your appetite then there are two things you should never watch being made: laws and sausages.

The Committee report does include an important climbdown from the government that now accepts that there should be a future referendum on the public ownership of Irish Water.

The fate of individual metered water charges was sealed politically at the last election and sealed technically at the committee with the evidence given by the officials from Scottish Water.

Scotland does not have individual metering, the charge comes from the council tax (in our case from income tax) and they are held to be in compliance with EU Directives.

Most discussion at the Committee since that evidence has been a proxy battle between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael fought on extremely narrow grounds via lawyers and competing legal advice.

The outcome was a draw nil all draw, not that the result matters too much as the crowds had been so frustrated and irritated by the carry-on on the pitch that they stopped watching and went home ages ago.

The only outstanding questions are: why did no one in Government look at the Scottish model before now and what was all that furore and activity between 2011 and 2016?

Expensive wasted water under the bridge it seems.

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

Earlier: They Think It’s All Over

Monday: Pointless Water Torture



From top: Simon Coveney and leo Varadkar; Derek Mooney


Former US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld spoke not just of the events themselves but of a government’s capacity to anticipate, and thus prepare, when he offered his Rumsfeld’s Rule of known and unknown knowns…

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know.

There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know.

But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

The latest Irish Water fiasco falls clearly into the first category.

Not only it is clearly a known known, it a well-known known. It was specifically provided for in the Confidence and Supply Agreement hammered out in Trinity College last year between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

There is no sensible or grown-up reason on earth why water charges should bring down this government. Both sides have known this was coming as both sides had agreed the timeline.

This process has been heading to an obvious conclusion from the very moment the committee was established – though why they established a committee with an even number of members that could be deadlocked is another issue.

Whether we like it or not and whether it is fair or not the simple political reality is that the complete mishandling of the whole water meter/charges process by successive Ministers since 2011 means that water charges are dead.

The 2016 general election result showed that.

Contrary to what Minister Varadkar might say across the floor of the Dáil the death knell of water charges was not struck by AAA, PBP, Sinn Féin or any other leftish anti-austerity group, but rather by Fine Gael and Labour designing and implementing a water metering and charging system that cost more to run than it raised in revenue.

To use phraseology that Minister Varadkar may grasp, not one red cent of the water charges collected was used to upgrade the water system.

It was taken up with administering the collection of water charges, charges not even based on the water meters which cost over €500million to install, and the payment of the so-called ‘water conservation grants.

While Minister Varadkar works on explaining the fiasco his government made of the implementation of water charges his colleague and leadership rival Minister Simon Coveney can attempt to come to grips with one key aspect of “new politics” that seems so far to have eluded him: namely, that Fine Gael does not have a majority in the Dáil and so it cannot tell Oireachtas committees what they may or may not decide.

The Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services was established by the Dáil last November, to consider the report of the Expert Commission and to report with recommendations to both Houses of the Oireachtas.

That is what it has been doing over its twenty, or so, meetings and that is what it will, all going well, finish doing tomorrow (Tuesday, April 11).

Perhaps Minister Coveney hopes he can thwart the committee’s report and so get out of the commitment given by Fine Gael in Annex II of its Confidence and Supply Agreement with Fianna Fáil thatL

“the recommendations of the Special Oireachtas Committee will be considered and voted upon by the Oireachtas within a one month period.”

Though he was not charged with its implementation in the last government, Simon Coveney owns Irish Water as a concept and a policy more than any other politician.

He is the one who came up with it back in November 2009 in his New Era policy document which promised €18 billion in investment and 105,000 new jobs.

He not only suggested the name, but also talked about “real economies of scale”. Who knew 2009 was such an age of innocence?

Within months of its launch, Michael Noonan was distancing himself from the grand promises of New Era, telling the Newstalk Breakfast Show on July 14, 2010 that:

“Simon Coveney was the author of that particular policy document and if you look at it, the figure of 100,000 jobs doesn’t appear anywhere in it; that seems to be some kind of public relations add-on that enthusiastic people attached to it.“

Both Coveney the Minister and Coveney the putative Fine Gael leader urgently need a political win somewhere.

His promise that hotel accommodation will no longer be used to house homeless families by July of this year rings hollow with the news that he hopes to achieve it by having the Dublin Region Homeless Executive take a five year lease to convert a disused hotel on O’Connell Street.

I don’t expect the Government to fall tomorrow, but the sturm und drang of the past few days on this very basic and long known known does suggest that the capacity of this Government and its agreement with Fianna Fáil to withstand a known unknown, never mind an unknown unknown is virtually nil.

If I were a screen printer I would be ordering the plastic corriboard sheeting for posters for later this year.

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 usually every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney



From top Gibraltar: Derek Mooney

The Rockies may tumble, Gibraltar may crumble, but a hard Brexit is here to stay.

Derek Mooney writes

The cheering and celebrating of some in the British media in the aftermath of the triggering of Article 50 reminds me of Billy Connolly’s description of the welders and riveters at the launch of a new ship.

Remember those old black and white Pathé newsreel scenes of laughing Clydeside ship-builders lining the quays, cheering loudly and waving their caps ecstatically as the ship they had been working on for months eased down the slipway into the river.

As Connolly observed, once the cameras had gone away the reality slowly dawned on the ship’s labourers they had in fact been waving goodbye to their jobs and their work was done and they were on the dole again.

So it is with Brexit. In the days following Theresa May sending her Article 50 letter we have seen and heard a succession of British commentators, politicians and Ministers, hailing this as a historic moment and the dawn of some new great age.

Indeed, it only took five days for former Tory Leader Michael Howard to go full steam ahead on the jingoism hinting at the possibility of the UK being prepared to go to war with Spain over the future of Gibraltar.

Five days earlier Gibraltar, which voted by 96% as a British Overseas Territory for the UK to remain in the EU, did not merit even one single direct mention in Theresa May’s six-page Brexit letter.

That was a huge error by the British government. It signalled that that Gibraltar was not a major concern. The Spanish saw this and acted. It sought a veto on future post Brexit deals with and, in a very smart move, it went on to say that Spain won’t block Scotland joining the EU, removing a not insignificant argument against Scottish independence.

Howard was not the only one at it. Arch Tory commentator Simon Heffer was calling for a return to imperial measurements. Out with the kilo, the kilometre and the litre and back with the pounds, inches and ounces. Back too with rods, chains and firkins? Why not dump decimalisation and bring back the groat and cock-fighting while they are at it?

No amount of huffing and puffing by any amount of superannuated Tory lords or pundits can distract from the harsh reality that the upper hand in the relationship between the UK and EU passed to the EU27 from the very moment Theresa May signed that letter to Donald Tusk. And that is the way it is going to be for the next two years.

Have no doubts have Brexit is going to be bad news for the UK and going to be even worse news for us. The next 18 months to two years are going to be a time of great uncertainty.

One element of that uncertainty is set to be soon played out in the Irish Courts with the lodgement with the Irish High Court last Friday of papers in a legal case taken by Jolyon Maugham QC along with three Green party politicians from Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

The details of their claim are explained on the Goodlaw Project website but, in brief, they want to ask the European Court (via appeal from the Irish Courts) to determine whether the UK can later choose to withdraw its Art 50 notice to quit, via referendum or parliamentary vote and also what happens to the EU citizenship rights of UK citizens post Brexit as EU Treaties seems to suggest these rights are additional to national citizenship?

These are important questions for us here as they touch on the Common Travel Area and trade between the UK and Ireland (the case also deals with membership of the European Economic Area).

As the Brexit negotiations get underway a whole range of issues will crop up, including some many of us had not considered as impacted by Brexit. One such potential area is data protection and data privacy.

There are strict rules under which companies can send the personal data of EU citizens outside the EU, in particular to the US. This this due to concerns that the US intelligence agencies could have unfettered bulk access to such data – as demonstrated in the Edward Snowden revelations.

Less than two years ago, the European Court of Justice struck down the old “Safe Harbour” system for sending personal data to the US. It did so following a case brought to the Irish High Court by Max Schrems over the transfer of data to the US by an Irish subsidiary of Facebook.

Safe Harbour has now been replaced by what the EU Commissions says is a more robust system called Privacy Shield in which the US authorities guarantee that the personal data of the EU citizens will not be accessed by US security services in bulk operations.

So, what happens to data transfers from the EU to the UK post-Brexit? The UK intelligence and security networks are not averse to a bit of bulk surveillance, especially with the powers they have just been given by the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – also called the “snoopers charter”.

Will data transfers to the UK be put on hold while the EU and the UK negotiate a UK/EU Privacy Shield… and remember negotiations on this will not likely start until after the end of the two-year Article 50 period.

This could have some ramifications for us here as so many of the companies we deal with on a day-to-day basis, TV, internet providers, shops and grocery stores process our customer data in the UK.

They operate their customer loyalty programmes from the UK. Next time you call up customer service to check on a delivery, see how often you end up with a UK based call centre.

Brexit is a bad deal. Given the number of false promises it has been based upon, it may well be holed before the waterline.

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 usually every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney




From top: DUP negoitiating team and Sinn Féins this morning; Derek Mooney


At 4pm today Northern Ireland will once again be pitched into a political vacuum when the Assembly, elected by the people just three weeks ago, fails to nominate a joint First and Deputy First Minister.

Derek Mooney writes:

As I pointed out in a recent article here it is not that long since the two main parties in the North where proudly boasting about how well they were working together. Exactly 18 weeks ago The Irish News carried a joint article from the then First and Deputy First Minister with the headline: First and Deputy First Minister vow to just ‘get on with the work’ with ‘no gimmicks’.

If only their parties had both stuck to that promise. In that article both the DUP and Sinn Féin presented themselves as the twin pillars of progress and duty, unlike those bold people in the SDLP, UUP and Alliance, saying:

“Our two parties [DUP & SF] are now in an Executive facing in the same direction. We made promises to voters that we will keep – taking on the heavy responsibilities that come with elected office, governing in their best interests, tackling head-on the tough decisions. Others decided to duck the challenges and retreat to the Opposition benches. That is a matter for them…. We are in this for the long haul”

How hollow these words now appear. So, what changed the political landscape to take the DUP and Sinn Féin from working together in an Executive “tackling head-on the tough decisions” to being unable to even sit together?

It came barely eight weeks after the joint article. Addressing a Sinn Féin meeting at the Felons Club in Belfast on January 7th, Gerry Adams catalogued all the issues on which Sinn Féin in government had failed, though this clearly was not how he chose to describe it. Just three days later Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister.

The turnabout did not take eight weeks, it took just two and a half – that was the gap between the Felons Club speech and Sinn Féin abstaining on the December 19th vote of No Confidence in Arlene Foster.

Adams used the RHI scandal and the DUP’s inept handling of it to turn the November 21 joint declaration from Foster and McGuinness on its head. He had come to recognise something that voters had already seen – that Sinn Féin in office was not delivering.

Top of his list of failures was the failure to produce a Bill of Rights followed by the absence of an Irish Language Act. There were other issues too; the decision to renege on the Programme for Government commitment on the Long Kesh site; the DUP’s resistance to the legacy and truth recovery mechanisms of the Stormont House agreement; the Red Sky scandal and the Project Eagle debacle.

Remember, Adams was making this speech less than eight weeks after Martin McGuinness had co-written The Irish News article that opened with the line:

Day by day, slowly but surely, politics here is changing. And it’s for the better.

No is wasn’t and no it isn’t. The RHI scandal did not expose the flaws and weaknesses in the DUP/Sinn Féin relationship rather it provided an opportunity for both parties to exploit the crisis and play petty politics to gain advantage over each other. It was game-playing by both, only the DUP showed itself to be a ham-fisted performer.

That said, it took hard line elements in both parties to destroy what little trust was there and so they each have a role and a responsibility to re-establish the trust needed to form an Executive. Another Assembly election will not make this any easier, indeed another election will probably only serve to reward both the DUP and Sinn Féin and

While the slippery road to the last unnecessary Assembly election was paved by the DUP, today’s failure has a few more authors, namely Adams and the British Government with some left over for our own dear government.

Adams’ had no strategic or political interest in resolving this crisis today. This has been his modus operandi for most of his career, well for the latter political portion of it. When things get tough Adams throws all the balls in the air and then lectures others at length about their responsibility to sort it out.

It is what he has been doing for the past few weeks and yet this fact seems to have escaped Arlene Foster and Co., whose continuing response has been to declare that they want a return to the Executive with no pre-conditions, as if the past few weeks have not happened.

There are clearly issues to be resolved, starting with the Irish Language Act and the sensitive area of legacy. To be fair to the DUP these are not areas which they alone can address. The British Government has a great deal of responsibility – but London’s man in Belfast, James Brokenshire appears unwilling to commit and reluctant to engage.

His dithering and hesitancy since his appointment has been as big a contributor to the current impasse as either Foster or Adams. While he may seek out the role of the aloof umpire, he is not – and Dublin needs to firmly remind him of this. Any additional time he intends to provide for further negotiations will be pointless unless he intends to accompany that extra time with some extra engagement and commitments of his own.

The SDLP and Sinn Féin are right that the Irish Language Act was a key commitment in the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement and it is one signed up to by the DUP, but the commitment was that the British Government would introduce the legislation. Annex B clearly states that:

The [British] Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.

The “incoming Executive” referred to here was the one headed up by Paisley and McGuinness.

The issues around legacy are even more complex. The British government has been using a national security veto to hold up progress on getting at the truth as well as being slow to provide funding for historical inquests.

A report by Pablo De Greiff, the UN special rapporteur, took them to task on both points late last year. It warned against using “national security” as a way of avoiding the UK government’s obligations to provide information about the past and called for the Lord Chief Justice Morgan’s plan on legacy inquests to be resourced and implemented.

But legacy is not an issue for one side alone. The UN special rapporteur cites various estimates of the numbers killed during the Troubles, including an analysis of the 3,593 killings between 1969 and 1998 which suggests that: 422 were killed by the Security Forces, 983 by Loyalist para-militaries and 2,001 by so-called Republican para-militaries.

The Irish Government too must shoulder some blame for its passivity over recent days and weeks. It has been too content to play second fiddle to the British and has lost sight of its responsibilities and its duties as the co-guarantor of the Agreement.

While this current impasse may yet be resolved and we may soon see the institutions up and running, we cannot lose sight of how and why we have again come to this point. The Good Friday Agreement institutions were established to show that politics can work.

At some points, they have succeeded, but the weakness now lies with the bodies charged with operating those institutions: the political parties.

Today they have shown that they are the ones who are not fit for purpose.

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 usually every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney




From top: Donald Trump and Enda Kenny; Derek Mooney

While one good speech, even one being posted repeatedly on Social Media across the world, will not stop Enda’s challengers cold in their tracks, it does precisely what it was intended to.

Derek Mooney writes:

The best way to steal a salami, according to an old central European proverb, is to take it one slice at a time. I say “old central European proverb”, but just like Donald Trump’s old Irish proverb I may be mixing or even making it up.

Not that the origins matter a lot. I could just have easily cited the Johnny Cash song “One Piece at a Time” the point here is that “salami-slicing” is well-known and long established political and negotiating principle. You assure the person across the table from you that you know you can’t have everything you want, but if you can just have a tiny bit more on this matter and a tiny bit more on that issue then you will both be well on the way to concluding a deal.

I mention “salami-slicing” as it appears from the outside (and given my own political allegiances, I do mean way on the outside) that this is the tactic that Enda Kenny is employing to frustrate his challengers and to stay in office, dare I say, even in power, for a while longer.

The first slice that Enda stole, and probably the most crucial slice, was his seizing the timing of whole leadership selection process. He saw that his opponents, particularly the pro Leo faction, were gathering pace and could, if not quickly thrown off balance, achieve such a momentum as to roll him unceremoniously out of office.

Enda showed the real and genuine tactical skills that Brendan Halligan mentioned on Sunday’s The Week in Politics and saw that his grip on the office was slipping and the best way to cling on was not to publicly face down his challengers or enter into any public slanging match with them, but rather to take the momentum from them by wresting control of the timing.

That he did. Not only did he change the dynamics of the process, he also gained some time and space for himself and his supporters to regroup.

Now we see him steal slice two of the salami by presenting us, but more significantly the members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, with the image of Enda the international statesman and strong leader.

Not for the first time Enda proposed a major constitutional change when his leadership was in peril. Last time it was Seanad abolition, this time it was Presidential votes for the diaspora and the North.

While the referendum tactic may have misfired, he made sure that his next one didn’t. His “St Patrick is the patron saint of emigrants” speech worked. Not only that, it worked spectacularly well on a global stage. While Enda and his time may just have been aiming for a small audience at home, they succeeded in connecting with a far wider one.

While one good speech, even one being posted repeatedly on Social Media across the world, will not stop Enda’s challengers cold in their tracks, it does precisely what it was intended to do. It is just one more salami slice taken that helps to bolster his position by making some waverers think twice about replacing him.

The British government’s announcement this morning that they will trigger the Article 50 Brexit process on Wednesday week (March 29) also aid Enda Kenny’s mission to stay, just a little bit longer. Indeed, next week heralds two important dates that aid that goal. First, is the aforementioned Brexit trigger date and second, is the deadline for the three weeks of post assembly elections talks.

In New York last week, Enda told journalists he did not intend to announce any retirement plans until the political uncertainty in Northern Ireland was addressed and the EU’s negotiating stance on Brexit is agreed.

According to the EU Council President, Donald Tusk, the latter should take six or so weeks from the triggering of Art 50, putting it into the middle of May, give or take.

Getting the Assembly back up and running is a more difficult formula to calculate. While it is possible that it could be all done and dusted by the March 27, this is Northern Ireland and history tells us that in the North most deadlines are missed.

According the Northern Ireland Assembly’s website:

If the main parties cannot agree to form the Executive by the deadline date of 4pm on 27 March, the law states that the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire MP, must call another election, ‘within a reasonable period of time’. The power to suspend the Assembly was repealed following the St Andrews Agreement (October 2006), so new legislation would have to be passed through Westminster for this to happen.

Speaking outside the White House last week Enda appeared to hint at a third option, a possible extension of the talk time, saying:

“I have spoken very clearly to the British Prime Minister and we are both agreed that there will be no return to direct rule from London”

While an official spokesperson for the British government did try to somewhat distance itself from the Taoiseach’s comments, they did not flat out deny or contradict them saying that it wanted to see devolution restored and “was not speculating on any other outcome”. Though it did pointedly remark that maintaining political stability in Northern Ireland was its responsibility.

In reality, the Executive will return when Gerry Adams determines that he has nothing more politically to gain from keeping the political balls in the air and decides to allow his MLAs elect a First and Deputy First Minister.

So, it could be argued, that Gerry Adams could have more say in how long Enda remains in office than Noel Rock, Pat Deering or Alan Farrell. In the meantime, Enda will try to keep on slicing that salami through April, May… maybe even June… until he realises that there is so little left to it that it is not worth having.

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

12/3/2017 Taoiseach's Visit To United States of America. Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny speaking about an announcement that the Government had taken a decision to move forward with plans to hold a referendum to give the right to vote in presidential elections to Irish citizens abroad, including those in Northern Ireland during his visit to Philadelphia as part of his Saint Patrick's day tour of the USA. Photo Tom Keenan/Merrion Street


From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Philadelphia, USA yesterday; Derek Mooney

The government’s proposed referendum, if not managed and led effectively, could perversely be turned into a reverse border pol.

Derek Mooney writes:

Enda Kenny’s fascination with his predecessor John A. Costello continues.  Not only is Enda determined to beat Costello’s record for time served as Taoiseach, he now seems to want to eclipse Costello’s penchant from making major constitutional announcements outside the country.

Costello announced his intention for Ireland to abandon the External Relations Act (and effectively quit the British Commonwealth and declare itself Republic) during a visit to Canada in 1948, while Kenny announces in Philadelphia that he intends to hold a referendum to give the Irish diaspora votes in future Irish presidential elections – but only in elections after the next one.

There are many legends about Costello’s Ottawa announcement, including one version that claims he made it when was “tired and emotional” and another that asserts he did it after being offended by the placing of a replica of the Roaring Meg canon used in the Siege of Derry in front of him on the dining table at a formal dinner at the Governor General’s residence. But they are only legends.

Moves to repeal to External Relations Act, which gave the British Crown limited recognition around foreign relations, i.e. Irish diplomats were formally accredited by the King, were already afoot before Costello even came to office. In late 1947 Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government started preparing a repeal bill, but work on this was halted by the February 1948 election.

At least Costello was able to announce something which he could immediately legislate for and see carried into action within a reasonable space of time. Within eight months Ireland was out of the Commonwealth), in Enda’s case he has just announced plans which may not come to fruition for another 8 years (never mind 8 months) – and only then if they are passed in a Referendum, which is no absolute certainty.

We must wait a few weeks more to see the detail of the Governments proposals on extending voting rights in Presidential Elections from 2025 onwards to Irish citizens living outside of the Republic.

From what the Minister of State for the Diaspora said on Radio this morning it appears that the Government intends to publish a range of options rather than a specific plan, which suggests that this whole adventure may not even be as planned and prepared as Costello’s 1948 one.

According to Minister of State McHugh there are an estimated 1.8 million citizens outside the State and a potential electorate of 1.87 million in Northern Ireland. To put this in context the total electorate eligible to vote at the October 2011 Presidential Election was just 3.2 million (On the day just 1.8m (56%) of them chose to vote).

While it is likely, if not certain, that Enda Kenny will neither be Taoiseach nor leader of Fine Gael by the time the referendum comes around, his shadow will hang over this and let’s not forget that Enda has had a penchant for starting referendums that he cannot win.

Will this be another one? I personally hope not, but I must admit that I am far from thrilled or enthused by what I have heard from the Taoiseach and his Ministers over the past few hours.

Surely such a major constitutional change should be accompanied by detailed research and argument, not followed along by broad range of options for consideration to be published a month or so later.

While I can see some merit in Leo Varadkar’s description of the proposal allowing for the transformation of the Presidency into one for the whole Irish nation, highlighting the fact that Ireland has become a global nation via its diaspora, won’t we also be effectively limiting the Presidency to just a symbolic, ceremonial role?

Though they are not often exercised, the Irish President does have important constitutional functions, are we perhaps diluting those for what it effectively just a gesture?

I also worry about how the referendum campaign make shape up. As we have seen in past campaigns, indeed as Leo Varadkar has observed: referendums are “by and large” never what they are supposed to be about and they can often turn into a votes on “extraneous issues… or decisions being made by the Government, such as cutbacks.”

The government’s proposed referendum, if not managed and led effectively, could perversely be turned into a reverse border poll – with the focus falling not on the wider diaspora or on the positives of giving Irish citizens in the North a formal recognition in our political process – but on worse aspect of the North and the prospect of allowing a load of hard-line DUP voters (and others) have any kind of say in the South.

Public attitudes to the North down here as not always as positive and welcoming as we would have ourselves believe. A recent poll for RTE by Dr Kevin Cunningham’s Ireland Thinks found a very mixed appetite for a United Ireland among voters in the Republic, particularly when it comes to the costs of re-unification. It roughly found that that voters in the Republic split three ways with one third being in favour, one third against and one third undecided.

That said, Brexit has pushed Irish re-unification way up the political agenda for all parties North or South: not as an absolute inevitability, but as an increasingly likely consequence of the economic consequences of Brexit.

Re-unification needs to be seriously considered now, not as some rhetorical wrap the green flag around me slogan, but as a real and viable political option. This is something that needs to be thought through seriously, which is why Micheál Martin’s announcement today that Fianna Fáil will soon publish its 12-point plan to prepare the way for unification of the island is so welcome.

We need to start talking and preparing for unification by strengthening the economic, political and educational links between the Republic and Northern Ireland. While these could help re-unification, even if that were not to come about, they would still be mutually beneficial.

Hopefully Fianna Fáil’s proposals, due in the coming months, will help provide a sound and considered backdrop for the debate on giving votes for citizens North of the border.

For the record, when it comes to votes for Irish citizens outside the jurisdiction my own preference would be to look to Leinster House rather than Áras an Uachtaráin and follow the French model by having a constituency in parliament (either in the Dáil or Seanad) voted for exclusively by Irish citizens living outside the Republic,

in fact I would suggest two such constituencies: one for Irish citizens living in the North and one for Irish Citizens living elsewhere.

As it stands today, while I am inclined to vote what Enda Kenny announced in Philadelphia, I am not so enthused as to go out campaigning for it – on that score, I remain to be convinced.

Over to you Leo or Simon.

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 usually every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney



Sinn Fein’s party leader for Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill celebrates last Friday  with party members Francie Molloy, left, and Ian Milne, right, after topping the poll in Mid Ulster; Derek Mooney

Northern politics needs to change.

Unionism is now the political force in crisis.

Derek Mooney writes:

Some thoughts on the quite amazing results in last Thursday’s NI Assembly election.

1. Brexit a huge motivating factor. It drove up turnout, esp among nationalists who didn’t vote at the May 2016 Assembly election, but who did vote remain at the Brexit Referendum.

2. Many of this new voting cohort voted SF, not because of any support for Michelle O’Neill or Gerry Adams, but because they saw voting SF as the best way of asserting their anti Brexit and anti Arlene Foster position. While the SDLP may closer mirror their actual anti Brexit position, it simply was neither strong nor viable enough an option to make their protest register.

3. This election was different in that the tradition (up to now) was for NI elections to be conducted in three individual silos:

Silo One – the biggest of the three silos is the unionist one with the DUP and UUP playing a zero sum game – when the UUP loses the DUP gains. This time both lost – with disgruntled DUP supporters staying at home, unhappy at Arlene’s financial irresponsibility on RHI, Nama, RedSky etc.

Some UUP voters felt unsure what Mike Nesbitt’s UUP stood for – some defected to the more secure DUP or went to the more clearly moderate Alliance. This decline in both unionist parties put seats in play that have not been up for grabs in years and the SDLP took at least two of them – on UUP transfers at that!

The instinctive Unionist response to this will be to regroup and perhaps even attempt to coalesce. Perhaps this will happen via a formal DUP/UUP merger or alliance – or perhaps the larger DUP will simply and slowly cannibalise its weaker rival.

This task could be made easier if the more moderate wing of the DUP (which now bizarrely seems to include Ian Paisley Jr) ends up in the ascendancy.

Silo Two
– the nationalist/republican one. Again, another zero sum game with SF picking up most (though not all) SDLP losses in the past. Last May the Nationalist silo reduced by a whopping 5% to drop to its lowest level. SF dropped just over 3% and the SDLP lost just under 2%. Some of the SF loss last May went to the PBP – SF took a chunk of that back this time around.

It also motivated voters in a way it had not in many years.

The SDLP had what on the surface looks like a reasonable day. It lost two seats – both to SF, via Richie McPhilips in Fermanagh and Sth Tyrone and Alex Attwood in Belfast West. These are two seats that an even moderately successful party should be losing.

The SDLP has the youngest, brightest and most politically astute leader it has ever had, but he cannot reverse decades of decline and directionlessness by himself.

The centrality of Brexit to the result and to the political future means any nationalist party needs to have a major all island focus and dimension. SF can claim this – though more in appearance than fact – the SDLP as it is currently configured does not. It needs to develop or transition into gaining it or it will continue to falter and gradually decline.

The SDLP won three seats on transfers. One was John Dallat who held on against the odds in East Derry, while the other two were new-ish seats: Dolores Kelly in Upper Bann – who won back the seat she narrowly lost last May and the really big winner on the day – Pat Catney in Lagan Valley who took a seat that no pundit saw as winnable and did it with a solid ground campaign of hard work and canvassing.

His campaign was the closest thing I have seen in NI to an old school Fianna Fáil election campaign. That said these three SDLP seats are vulnerable to either Unionist resurgence or to SF aggression.

Silo Three is the non aligned – the Alliance, Greens etc. They had a reasonable day, particularly Alliance. It did not have a great campaign, but it does have a charismatic and smart new leader in Naomi Long. She was forceful and commanding in her media appearances and could drive up Alliance gains in the future at the expense of a wounded and haemorrhaging UUP.

And finally:

4. Politics in Northern Ireland have not yet broken the mound – but the ground work for such a change has been laid and it has been laid by the voters not the politicians. They did this first at the Brexit referendum when they rejected the campaign to leave the EU and they repeated it again last Thursday.

Northern politics needs to change. Unionism is now the political force in crisis. Arlene Foster’s stubborn adherence to Brexit in the face of its popular rejection has undermined her own position and thrown Unionism into turmoil.

While she can comfort herself that most DUP voters were pro-brexit she cannot blithely ignore the concerns of 56% of the voters, if she wants to be taken seriously as a First Minister of all of Northern Ireland.

Her response to Brexit, her hands off approach to governance and her dismissive attitude to nationalism and republicanism over recent months has resulted in reawakening nationalism and republicanism – particularly in the middle classes – and making it more politically aware and motivated than it has been in decades.

This is something that was signposted last September, when Colum Eastwood said in a speech to the British/Irish Association:

“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.

They (Brexiteers) told a story of decisions being dictated by far away people and politicians with no connection or rightful authority to the places over which they prescribed their power. They summed it up in a clever and cutting soundbite – Take back control.

To all those Brexiteers now at the heart of the British Government, Irish nationalism says this– we know how you feel. No one should therefore be surprised if in the wake of Brexit ‘Taking Back Control’ is precisely what we in the North now intend to do.”

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 usually every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pic: Peter Morrison/Associated Press


From top: Stormont Castle; Belfast; Derek Mooney

Rarely have the two sovereign governments been less prepared and less well equipped to handle, never mind resolve, a crisis in Northern Ireland.

Derek Mooney writes:

Here is a worrying thought with which to start your week: in two years’ time, we will look back at these last few weeks with fondness and regard them as the last period of stability and calm before the storm.

Not a nice prospect, huh? Yet it is entirely possible that two separate but related and linked events due occur over the next month could throw us into several years of instability and confusion.

The first, and more obvious, of the two events is the triggering of the Article 50 Brexit clause by the British Government. This may happen at the March 9 EU Summit in Malta, though the UK’s Brexit Minister recently hinted that they may wait until later in the month, either way it is certain to happen before the end of March.

We already know how costly and disruptive this will be for us here. But a second event, due to happen later this week, could potentially make what would have already been a difficult situation considerably worse.

That second event is next Thursday’s Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Most commentators and pundits believe that the result after the election will broadly be in line with the one before it.  The issue at stake at this Thursday’s Assembly election is not who gets what number of seats but rather whether the Assembly voted in next Thursday has the political will to elect a First and Deputy First Minister and return to operation.

The issue is even more clear cut than that. Will the DUP and Sinn Féin have the political will and backbone to take the result and make it work or will they both continue to play the vapid and empty orange and green politics that we have seen them engage in for the past few weeks and months.

While each side will point the finger at each other in the classic Northern political game of whataboutery – they are equally responsible. Arlene Foster’s partisan intransigence is matched by Sinn Féin’s opportunist disruptive-ism.

Both parties cataloguing of the other’s transgressions and insults from the past is very hard to swallow when you consider that it is barely three months since the then First and Deputy First Ministers, Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness penned this joint article for the Irish News setting out how well their two parties were working together, stating:

‘Our two parties are now in an Executive facing in the same direction. We made promises to voters that we will keep – taking on the heavy responsibilities that come with elected office, governing in their best interests, tackling head-on the tough decisions. Others decided to duck the challenges and retreat to the Opposition benches. That is a matter for them…. We are in this for the long haul.’

That was on November 21 last – the long haul is not as long as it used to be, especially when there are political points to score.

Their delight and bonhomie may also explained, in part, by the ease with which they had happily carved everyone else out of the picture a year earlier in the ill-named Stormont Fresh Start deal.

Right now, we are looking at a suspension of the key institutions established under the Good Friday Agreement: The Assembly and the Executive for a period of perhaps six months, or even a year.

So, we enter a major negotiation on our neighbouring island (sometimes known as Great Britain) exiting the EU at a time when Northern Ireland – whose status and future in those negotiations is a key interest and concern for us – is set to enter a period of political instability.

Not that you would know this from listening to anything coming out from either Dublin or London. Rarely have the two sovereign governments been less prepared and less well equipped to handle, never mind resolve, a crisis in Northern Ireland.

Here in Dublin, the political side of the government machinery is more focused on its internal machinations and the leadership of Fine Gael. Neither of the two main contenders for the Fine Gael leadership have ever exhibited much interest in the North or the Good Friday Agreement, though on this score FG is consistent as our current Foreign Minister, Charlie Flanagan, is more disinterested in the North than most.

While the political side of government is in a state of bewilderment, the institutional side is at least watching what is going on, though it is tough to do this while straining to find the resources to deal with one of the most complex negotiations we have ever conducted with the EU.

Meanwhile, across the sea Theresa May’s government is focused, nay fixated, on the Brexit negotiations and finding a way not to (a). bankrupt their economy by cutting it off from its biggest market and (b). end the Union by disregarding the clearly stated will of the people in Scotland, Northern Ireland and central London.

Coupled with this Prime Minister May has landed Northern Ireland with a Secretary of State who is disinterested in dealing even-handedly with the parties there or even following events in Northern Ireland.

This does not augur well.

The problem is not merely that the Irish government is going to have deal with two major simultaneous political crises – Brexit and suspension of the institutions in the North – but that the discussions in Brussels and the issues in Belfast are considerably intertwined and each exert pressures on, and creates stresses under, the other.

Add to this makes the potential for even greater destabilisation within the United Kingdom as the Scottish government increasingly moves towards a second independence referendum and you have a mix for a highly volatile and difficult situation not just within Northern Ireland but across this and the neighbouring island.

One of the great strengths of the Good Friday Agreement as negotiated by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair is that it recognised that the three strand nature of relationships on these islands.

The first strand was the internal relationship between the two communities in the Six Counties. The second was the North/South relationships between the North and the remaining 26 counties of the Republic. The third is the east-west strand between the British and Irish Governments.

One of its weaknesses is that it set these in the context of our mutual membership of the EU, but did not explicitly recognise this underpinning fact anywhere in the text.

So, there you have it. We are about to face into political problems whose complexity and duality are of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle dimensions and all we have to tackle them is a choice between are two primary school science teachers. Worrying… isn’t it?

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

Pic via

16/01/2014. Launch Online Of Military Service Material (1916-1923). Pictured (LtoR) An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and Commanding Officer P.Kennedy in charge of the Military Archives at the launch for the first time of Online Of Military Service Material (1916-1923) in the GPO in Dublin this evening. The Military Services Pensions Archive project is a conerstone in the Government Decade of Centenaries 2012-2022 Commemorative programme and the collection numbers of almost 300,000 application files for pensions. Photo: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland


From top: Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny with Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave at an event in the GPO in Dublin in 2014; Derek Mooney

This heave is different or at least it appears different. Unlike heaves of the past it has been occasioned by an actual political event,

Derek Mooney writes:

No one does heaves like Fine Gael does heaves. None of your subtle behind the scenes manoeuvring for them. When it comes to getting political blood on the plush Axminster the good folks at Fine Gael are major exhibitionists.

They have had plenty of heaves over the past forty years or so: most of them ill-judged, poorly timed and glaringly unsuccessful. The December 1972 heave against Liam Cosgrave is a good example of all three.

Fine Gael’s liberal wing wanted rid of the conservative, law and order Cosgrave. They complained that the party had failed under his leadership to capitalise on Fianna Fáil’s post Arms Crisis trials and tribulations, but the final straw was Cosgrave’s efforts to get FG TDs to back the government’s controversial Offences Against the State Bill – something they implacably opposed.

Cosgrave was effectively saved from the plotters by a loyalist bomb on Sackville Place that tragically killed two CIE busmen. The explosion took place just hours before the Dáil vote on the Bill. The Dáil adjourned to allow discussion between the parties.

When it resumed, Fine Gael withdrew its opposition and abstained as Bill was voted through in an all-night sitting. Three months later Cosgrave became Taoiseach leading Fine Gael into government with the Labour Party.

Fast forward to 1980s and 1990s and we enter the golden age of the Fine Gael heave. The drama and intrigue within the Fine Gael parliamentary party was so intense that RTÉ ran a TV documentary series in 2003 about the period entitled: Fine Gael: A Family at War.

For about two decades the folks in blue were regularly sharpening their knives as they awaited the opportunity to dispatch their leaders. While Dr Garret Fitzgerald managed to escape their clutches his successor, Alan Dukes, had a less happy fate.

Dukes took over from Fitzgerald after the 1987 defeat. While he started out well, Duke’s Tallaght Strategy – a less formalised precursor of the current Confidence and Supply Agreement, which facilitated Haughey’s minority government – was not too popular with FG TDs.

One TD, Austin Deasy, was so incensed that he at first resigned in protest from the party only to return in 1989 and try, unsuccessfully, to oust Dukes. Deasy was a serial heaver, launching his first one first against Garret in 1982 and finishing up with his failed November 2000 one against John Bruton.

Dukes survived, but not for long. In a snap election in June 1989, Fine Gael regained only 5 of the 19 seats they lost two years earlier. The whispering campaign against Dukes was back with a vengeance with one back bencher remarking that if it was raining soup Dukes would be out there with a fork.

Things came to a head in late 1990 when the party’s candidate in the presidential election came a very poor third behind Mary Robinson and Brian Lenihan Snr.The result had hardly been declared when Fergus O’Brien, who had been demoted by Dukes, tabled a motion of no confidence.

This was followed by a flurry of Fine Gael TDs rushing to the nearest journalist to unburden themselves. Dukes could not withstand the onslaught. Within days he resigned and was succeeded by John Bruton.

Now the Fine Gael heavers shifted into top gear. It seemed as if there was a heave brewing every few months.

Bruton survived five leadership contests during his eleven years at the top. The sixth one, in January 2001, led by two political heavy weights Jim Mitchell and Michael Noonan succeeded in toppling him. Noonan took the top job, beating Enda Kenny, but his reign was short lived. FG’s defeat in the May 2002 election was so calamitous that Noonan resigned on the night of the count. He was succeeded by Enda Kenny.

As you can see from these examples and the June 2010 heave against Enda outlined in my Enda’s 3am question is still unanswered Broadsheet column: most of them fail. The ones that do succeed have the oblique backing of the person who hopes to succeed and are usually attempted when the party is in opposition – not in government.

This later point is perhaps not so relevant today. Fine Gael spent most of the 80s and 90s in opposition and were not in office long enough to have the time to consider it. It was these long periods of opposition – and powerlessness – that led to the heaves. The breaking point, in most cases, being a bad election result or a series of poor opinion poll results.

This heave is different or at least it appears different. Unlike heaves of the past it has been occasioned by an actual political event, namely the chronic mishandling of the Sgt McCabe debacle and the confusion about who told who said what and when and if they told the Taoiseach or just one of his Advisers.

But it would be foolish to think that electoral considerations are not also a major factor.
While Enda Kenny has made it clear that he does not intend to lead his party into the next election, the abiding fear among Fine Gael TDs was that events would overtake them and that Fianna Fáil would pull down the house of cards before Enda quits and they find themselves facing an election with Enda still in place.

Up to a few weeks ago, they assumed that Fianna Fáil was neither ready nor willing to trigger an election until 2018 – but a series of good polls for Micheál Martin’s soldiers of destiny has convinced already rattled Fine Gael TDs that Fianna Fáil was preparing itself to call time on the government.

The problem with this scenario is that it shows Fine Gaelers thinking like Fine Gaelers, not like Fianna Fáilers. Fianna Fáil knows well that voters tend not to reward parties who trigger unnecessary elections for partisan gain.

Martin’s FF eschews the “cute hoor” tag that once bedevilled the party. When it eventually moves against the government it will be seen clearly do so on an issue of policy, not personality or partisan gain.

On a more practical front, 20 of Fianna Fáil’s 45 TDs are first timers. They are just starting to settle in after two or three years of intense campaigning to win those seats. They are not ready or prepared for an election yet. Most are now watching the turmoil in the FG ranks and trying to work out whether the election of Simon or Leo – or neither – means the election will be in May, June, September or later.

Meanwhile the rest should reach for the popcorn, scan our WhatApp to see if Charlie Flanagan is messaging us and just enjoy it all.

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 Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney