Author Archives: Derek Mooney

From top: Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll of January 25; Derek Mooney

The last few political opinion polls from the Sunday Business Post, the Irish Times, The Irish Daily Mail and the Sunday Times have all painted a similar picture of the current state of play among the main political groupings.

While they may quibble over the hard numbers, they agree on the relative positions. They show Fine Gael in prime position, enjoying a comfortable lead of 6% or more over Fianna Fáil who, in turn, enjoys a similar, if slightly wider, lead over Sinn Féin.

Without doubt it is good personal news for Varadkar, and happy news for a party that only twelve months ago was still coming to terms with the 2016 fall in its fortunes.

What a difference a year can make? An important lesson for any political leader in these still uncertain times.

But, before the government friendly pundits crack open the Champagne and start the celebrations for the next Fine Gael election victory, let us take a few moments to consider why it is still far too early for Leo, Paschal or Regina to count their chickens.

The first point I would make, is not a new one. I have said here many times before that newspapers and media outlets do not conduct their political polls in the way that political parties conduct theirs.

The main political parties do not test their own levels of support with mass quantitative polls, but rather with a series of constituency polls. These offer a more accurate picture of the real levels of voter intention.

They are their holy grails and are guarded almost as jealously and religiously as the fictitious Brothers of the Cruciform Sword tried to guard theirs. Only a few people at the top know the numbers and they don’t share them with anyone, especially not the candidates concerned.

So these numbers do not leak out, but even a simple exercise based on data already in the public domain demonstrates that even the best Fine Gael poll numbers in the capital city might not convert into much.

According to the latest Irish Times MRBI-Ipsos poll from January 25th, the level of Fine Gael support in Dublin has grown to twice that of Fianna Fáil: 34% versus 17%. In 2016 Fine Gael won 14 seats compared to Fianna Fáil’s 6 – and Sinn Fein’s 7.

This included one Fine Gael seat that was uncontested, due to the automatic return of the Ceann Comhairle, giving Fine Gael three out of four in Dún Laoghaire.

So, even before the first election poster is hung, Fine Gael is set to lose at least one seat in Dublin.

Another one, in Dublin North West, is knife-edge with Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe now having an advantage thanks to boundary changes and Fine Gael unlikely to benefit so much from Labour transfers next time.

So, where are Fine Gael’s possible gains in Dublin? Dublin Fingal and Dublin Bay North are contenders, but neither are certain. The Taoiseach will be under big pressure to pull in a running mate in Dublin West, but that will be a tall order.

Dublin South West is also an FG target, but the person they hope to unseat is fellow Cabinet Minister Katherine Zappone, which is an as you were for the government.

On the Fianna Fáil side, the prospects for gains look far better. It has more pathways to closing the gap with Fine Gael, due mainly to its low 2016 base.

For Fianna Fail, 17% across the Capital is an improvement on the 14% it got back in 2016. That 17% is a city wide average, and varies considerably area to area.

Even a marginal vote rise would see it win a seat in Dun Laoghaire, with either former TD and Minister, Mary Hanafin or young local Cllr and former Mayor, Cormac Devlin. It puts Cllr Paul McAuliffe, already mentioned, strongly in contention in Dublin North West to unseat a Fine Gael TD, while assuring Senator Catherine Ardagh of a seat in Dublin South Central where she narrowly missed out by just 35 votes last time.

Though Fine Gael will be eyeing up Dublin Fingal for a potential second seat, so too will Fianna Fáil who were 3.5% ahead of them there in 2016. Meanwhile, an increase in voter share and favourable boundary changes puts Mary Fitzpatrick in contention in Dublin Central.

The point here is that the figures in a national poll can vary hugely in constituency polls when you bring local factors and individual candidate’s support into play.

Extra votes in some Dublin constituencies will drive up Fine Gael’s national share but will not put another bum on a Dáil seat – and that is what counts on the day after polling.

But there is a second, more telling point. It is unwise to try to forecast a result from a period when one party is on maneuvers and the other one is on a sabbatical.

Where Fine Gael used the slow news period from New year to mid-January to get its message out and have its key players making all manner of policy pronouncements, Fianna Fáil has been doing its trappiest monk routine: practising taciturn reserve. It has been schtum.

Apart from Micheál Martin’s own speech on Repeal the Eighth two weeks’ back, can you recall any major policy statement from them in recent weeks, if not months?

Even allowing for the efforts of their €5million Strategic Good News Unit, Fine Gael has had the field to itself for most of the time since Frances Fitzgerald saga. Is this because Fianna Fáil has decided that this strategically suits its purposes, or is it just laziness?

It could be that that Fianna Fáil strategists are operating a form of reverse political rope-a-dope, refusing to expend its limited resources in sham battles with Fine Gael now, when it feels that the election is still a while away and the battle lines have yet to be formally drawn?

It could also be that Fianna Fáil simply decided to collectively take a month off and recharge its batteries – or, perhaps it a little of both. Either way, though Leo and his team would like the impression to go abroad that his path to victory is strewn with rose petals and the bodies of his political foes, there are way too many imponderables yet for anyone to make any serious predictions.

He could well be right. He could be on course for a famous third win in a row for Fine Gael that will propel his personal political career on to new international heights in the EU, WTO or wherever, or he could end up being, as I have argued here in the past, Ireland’s Gordon Brown, looking back at this period of time and thinking, why didn’t I just call the election then.

Either is possible.

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

Graphs via Irish Times

From top: Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath (left) has said he does not support Party leader Micheál Martin (right) on the removal of the Eighth Amendment with access to abortion up to 12 weeks; Derek Mooney

Back in late 2014 I was invited to assist the nascent Marriage Equality campaign with its preparations. They asked me to help draft a campaign playbook, or ‘campaign bible’ as it was labelled by some, along the lines of the one I had put together for the successful 2013 Seanad referendum.

As part of my groundwork I tried to get some insights into the mindset of No voters. To this end I went for a few beers and a chat with an old political colleague who I knew to be quite socially conservative.

I dragged the conversation slowly and steadily around to the topic of gay marriage and prepared myself for the explosion. None came.

Have you decided how you will vote?”, I asked

Not sure, yet” came the reply.

I was astounded that he was not a definite No, so I pushed a bit further.

Are you saying that you might even vote yes”, I enquired.

Yes” he said. “This is not like abortion. I am not comfortable with gay marriage, but it doesn’t hurt me and at the end of the day this isn’t about life or death… abortion is.”

That was the moment when I realised that the marriage equality referendum was very winnable. It is also the conversation that echoed in my mind in the weeks after the marriage equality result when some sought to use that big win as a predictor of any future abortion referendum.

In that one line my friend summed up the outlook of many of those opposed to repealing the 8th Amendment. They sincerely and passionately believe this is about the protection of life.

It is black and white to them. It is not about some zealotry or wanton disregard for the rights of women, it is about a deep-seated belief, not necessarily religious, that this is about taking a life.

I am not arguing that they are right, neither I am defending the campaign material the No Repeal side has produced, I am merely reminding the Repeal the 8th campaign that many who will vote No will be acting sincerely.

I am also suggesting that the Repeal campaign recognise that, something I have not discerned from much of their public commentary, so far.

To this end I offer a paraphrasing of the cautionary note I included at the start of the marriage equality campaign playbook/bible:

This campaign is not about being proven right or correcting the wrongs of the past, it is about getting 50% +1 of those who turn out to Vote YES.

Do not criticise voters for their deeply held views. These views should be respected. Avoid labelling opponents, and dismissing sincerely held beliefs, as ‘conservative’, ‘backward’ etc.,

…but be firm in identifying where the other side is scaremongering, raising baseless fears and deliberately misleading and confusing voters.

Messages that fail and are counterproductive:

Voting No will embarrass us internationally

We need to drag Ireland into the 21st century

This will be a liberal victory over conservatism

I offer this to the repeal side not because I am implacably on their side but because much of their messaging so far has seemed directed at those who have already decided to vote to repeal. The same is true for the No side, some of whose self-ordained leaders have already decided to go with the old “scorched earth” approach.

As it stands, both sides appear more focused on addressing their own partisans rather than persuading the cohort of “undecided” or “unwilling to say how they’ll vote” – which a recent poll put together at 20%.

While it may seem like a winning strategy on paper for the repeal side right now, they ignore the ‘differential turnout’ factor at their peril. As the good folks in Ireland Thinks observed in the analysis of their December 2017 poll for the Daily Mail on this question:

In any referendum campaign it is not just which side people prefer but whether they actually turn out and vote that is important… It is often ‘who wants it more’ that determines who is more likely to turn out and vote.

Perhaps it was the prospect of a shrill and deeply entrenched campaign that helped bring the calm and reasoned Dáil statement of the Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, last week, into focus.

In my view it was the first major input into the debate that (a). sought to persuading the undecided middle ground and (b). didn’t attempt to portray the other side as the devil incarnate.

Though many pundits seemed surprised by its contents, it was clear he was heading that way, indeed he flagged it himself in an interview (from 11m35s) on Radio Kerry a few days before.

There he also readily accepted that the majority of his TDs were opposed to the Oireachtas Committee recommendations – perhaps by a margin of 4:1 – so why are some Fianna Fáil activists acting so shocked?

Fianna Fáil adopted the policy of allowing a conscience votes back in 2013 when the Protection of Human Life Bill was being discussed. The idea that you can allow some a conscience vote but then bind the leadership according a members’ vote is an affront to the concept of conscience, democracy and leadership.

Party membership carries many rights and privileges but replacing you and your views for the electorate at large is not one of them. Neither 50,000 nor 500,000 self-selecting members of party X or Y are representative of anyone except themselves. It is one of the mistakes that Momentum has made in its relationship with the UK Labour Party and there is no reason to go that road here.

Members earn the right to be listened to and to have a say in candidate selection and party organisation by virtue of their activism, but that very activism, knocking on doors and meeting the wider public, reminds them that there is a diversity of views out there and that political parties that succeed are the ones who listen to that diversity and reflect it in their policies. Good leaders realise that. Great ones act on it.

Hopefully Martin’s intervention – and the measured response yesterday from Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath on Sean O’Rourke’s show on RTÉ Radio 1 arguing the other side – is an indication that tone and pitch of the campaign debate is set to rise, but I will not get my hopes up.

And even if it does, bear in mind that this week sees the 45th anniversary of the landmark Roe Vs Wade case where US Supreme Court ruled abortion legal. 45 years later it is still a defining and divisive issue in American politics. Win, lose or draw, this debate is not likely to go away for very long.

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: Sinn Féin’s Michele O’Neil (second right) addresses media following Barry McElduff’s resignation as MP for West Tyrone; Derek Mooney

The essential ingredient of politics is timing.” So said Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian Prime Minister and father of Leo Varadkar’s current favourite politician.

The former member of parliament for West Tyrone, Barry McElduff, has learned this basic lesson the hard way. But he is not the only one.

If he had resigned last Sunday or Monday, much of the pain and distress of the past week could have been avoided.

The relatives and friends of the victims of the Kingsmill massacre would have been spared the nonsense excuses and the insult of seeing the Sinn Féin leadership, North and South, imposing and then repeatedly defending its three-month non-penalty.

Sinn Féin’s political opponents would have been denied the open goal presented to them to score points off them and the Sinn Féin leadership would have avoided the embarrassment of defending its slow and inadequate response.

Indeed, if Sinn Féin had not waited two full days to deliver its three-month suspension and had acted more speedily and decisively to address the spiraling McElduff crisis on the Saturday after the tweet it could have even helped to jump start the process of ending the year-long political stalemate between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

But it didn’t.

To paraphrase Abba Eban, some politicians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

So, one week later, Barry McElduff is no longer the honourable member of parliament for West Tyrone, a by-election is imminent and a return of he Northern Ireland Executive is as far off as it was before Christmas.

While McElduff did act over a week late, he is nonetheless entitled to some personal credit for doing the right thing. It does seem that he alone took the decision to resign, something that Sinn Féin’s Northern leader, Michelle O’Neill acknowledged in the opening line of her statement at the hastily convened press conference responding to the resignation.

Yet we see some “sources” in Sinn Féin attempting, this morning, to hint that McElduff may have been compelled to resign for the greater good, to ease the mounting pressure on senior Sinn Féin figures – particularly after Miriam O’Callaghan’s moving interview with the one survivor, Alan Black .

According to Fiach Kelly in today’s Irish Times:

“Sinn Féin sources maintain Mr McElduff made his own decision to resign but acknowledged it was impossible to defend his “stupid” actions as the controversy intensified.

“If I had been sent out to defend it, I would have found it very difficult,” said one TD.

One party source said that it was noticeable that Sinn Féin spokespeople did not seek to defend Mr McElduff in weekend media appearances. “No one was jumping to his defence.”

While that may be true for the Sinn Féin TDs who spoke with the Irish Times, it wasn’t quite true for all of them. It also completely misses the point that the problem was not just with McElduff’s tweet it was with the leadership’s paltry and derisory response. Together, McElduff and the leadership tainted themselves with the sins of the past.

There was no shortage of Sinn Féin public representatives happy to retweet McElduff’s original twitter video, including Sinn Féin’s former Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. Neither was there any shortage of them to stand by McElduff in the days immediately after the tweet.

True, the solidarity did somewhat dissipate after last week’s suspension and the acknowledgement by Michelle O’Neill that the tweet was “ill-judged and indefensible” but some were still prepared to go out and argue McElduff’s cause and more were happy to defend how the leadership responded.

This included the usually adept Éoin Ó Broin TD who went further than most on Sunday’s Marian Finucane radio show on RTÉ Radio One, dredging the depths of the Sinn Féin lexicon to come up with the weasel phrase “unjustifiable killings” to describe what had happened at Kingsmill.

Just as we call what happened at Bloody Sunday “murder”, so too should we call what happened at Kingsmill “murder”. Ten brutal, callous, sectarian murders which Seamus Heaney described as ‘one of the most harrowing moments in the whole history of the harrowing of the heart in Northern Ireland’.

Heaney’s telling of the horrific story of Kingsmill in his 1995 Nobel Prize lecture is worth reading. In it, he tells how the masked gunmen, who stopped the minibus full of workers heading home, ordered the group out at gunpoint and called on any Catholics to step forward.

There was one. Fearing that the masked gunmen were loyalists, one of the protestant workmen took the lone Catholic’s hand and squeezed it in a signal that said, don’t move, we’ll not betray you. The catholic stepped forward, only to be pushed aside by the gunman who then murdered the others.

Heaney observed:

“The birth of the future we desire is surely in the contraction which that terrified Catholic felt on the roadside when another hand gripped his hand, not in the gunfire that followed…”

It was – and it still is.

While the past 10 days have brought back many painful memories from a dark and difficult past, it is possible for political leaders from all sides, North and South, to still siphon some progress from the wreckage.

While all politics is about timing, Irish politics is also about tone.

Arlene Foster’s tone in her speech to Killarney Economic Conference last Saturday was way more positive than we have heard from her and the DUP in well over a year, not only that, but it was delivered to a southern audience.

While the test of that changed tone will be to see if it is followed up with actions, the odds of seeing them would be dramatically increased by a similar improvement in tone from Sinn Féin. One that indicated that they are ready to engage in the real dialogue essential to see a return of the Executive and a meaningful input on Brexit from Northern Ireland’s elected leaders.

While Sinn Féin may feel content that the current crisis is benefiting them electorally, the current impasse is not working for nationalists or republicans on the ground. It is time for a new strategy. The events, missteps and bad judgements of the past ten days may, inadvertently, have given them the space to move to it, if they can acknowledge them.

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: PA

From top: Sinn Fein MP Barry McElduff in a video posted on Twitter on Friday night with an alleged reference to the IRA murders of 10 protestant workmen in 1976; Derek Mooney

Precisely how do you suspend an abstentionist MP?

Do you make them show up and take their seat in the House of Commons for three months as part of their punishment?

Eh, no… you don’t.

But, as we have learned since Sinn Féin “acted quickly” to deal with Barry McElduff’s tweet mocking the Kingsmill massacre, he will be on full pay while he is suspended from party activities for three months.

It is almost worthy of a Lewis Carroll story. “Acting quickly” means waiting two full days to gauge public reaction and decide what is sufficient to assuage any anger among the middle ground.

“Suspending” means no actual loss of definable privileges for the guilty party, just the appearance of a loss of some non-specified ones.

To be fair to Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, she did concede that what McElduff had done in his online video was “inexcusable and indefensible”.

This is something that many of McElduff’s online defenders, both named and anonymous, were not prepared to accept or acknowledge at any point on Saturday or Sunday.

O’Neill also accepted “the seriousness of the issue” and – directly addressing the families of the Kingmill’s victims – told them that she “recognised the hurt this has caused and I wholeheartedly apologise for any distress.”

While her words give the impression of a leader who gets it, even if it had taken her a few days to get it, her inaction tells a very different story.

She had the opportunity to properly sanction McElduff and send out the message that the next generation of Sinn Féin leader was different from the last one – and she flunked it.

The deliberate irony in her statement is that McElduff’s non-punishing punishment bizarrely fits his offence. His online joke, at the expense of the victims of the provo atrocity at Kingsmill, was aimed at an internal audience. So was his punishment.

His joke was intended to go over the heads of those outside the provos. It was an in-joke. The problem is that he forgot that others would see it and might just wonder what the hell was funny about a guy walking around a convenience store late at night with a sliced pan on his head.

The in-joke, for his provo audience, was probably not intended to mock the victims as such, just to tell his own people that the victims of the provos terror are not to be accorded as high a place in any hierarchy of victims as their own dead.

It was type a dog whistle to the provos not to pay much heed to the next day’s anniversary commemoration of Kingsmill and not to take any of the media coverage of the provos callous slaying of 10 protestant workmen in 1976 seriously.

McElduff has carved out a role for himself over the years as a sort of in-house court jester. He is the one warming up the crowd at Sinn Féin gatherings with jokes at the expense of others. Every party has such a figure. But in other parties they, or those around them, know what is suitable for joking and what is not. It does not take them three days to cop on.

What Elduff got wrong was that he forgot that Sinn Féin’s public position is that all victims are equal and that all victims are due equal respect. He gave the game away.

He demonstrated with his buffoonery that Sinn Féin believes that its dead are superior to everyone else’s. It is an old tactic. Dehumanise the other side. See them as less than you. That way it is easier to inflict the terror. The “war” may be over, but the attitudes continue.

McElduff’s punishment is a bit better crafted than his in-joke. The three-month apparent suspension is primarily aimed at the external audience – at you and me. It is intended to convince us that Sinn Féin’s new leadership takes this matter seriously and that its words about respecting all equally have meaning.

But the internal audience is the more important one.

That older audience within Sinn Féin will know the three-month suspension is meaningless. All those who defended McElduff over the weekend will see that this is not even a slap over the wrist.

They will take this message the way it was intended. They will see that the “new” leadership is telling them, just as the old leadership always did, that what they are saying and doing is all ok. The message is clear, nothing at all has changed.

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 via Irish News

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the launch of social housing units in Dublin last November; Derek Mooney

One of the nicest things about the run up to Christmas are those chance encounters with former colleagues and old acquaintances as you frantically rush around town looking for those presents you claimed you ordered online six weeks earlier.

I had a few of those, but two may be of interest to you. Both involved high level civil servants, from different departments, who I knew from my time in government. After catching up with each on the whereabouts of mutual friends, we got to talking politics.

Both reported that there was virtually no real policy work going on within government and that ministers, specifically the Fine Gael ones, were focused exclusively on PR
, ferreting out any possible item of good news that may be in the pipeline and getting it announced ASAP, courtesy of the Strategic Communications Unit, with the maximum fanfare and hoopla.

According to them (and note that these were separate encounters) the general consensus among their colleagues was that the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael ministers were now in full campaign mode which, they assumed, pointed to a general election before the summer, possibly well before it.

This last point was probably less of a firm prediction and more a pious wish.

When ministers go into campaign mode, difficult decisions get put on hold. Government goes into stasis. Problems stack up. Nothing gets done, but lots of things get talked about. Ministers become commentators on policy, more interested in posing questions and flying kites than answering any. It is a situation that can be tolerated for a few weeks, but it is not sustainable for much longer, sustainable by departments and statutory bodies, that is.

Yet is what we have been seeing for the past few months, plenty of fine talk and snappy presentations about what may happen, but very little action. Look back over the newspapers and news reports of the past month. How many times have you seen Leo Varadkar and Eoghan Murphy in hi-viz jackets and hard hats looking and pointing at handfuls of new houses and apartments, while the homeless statistics deteriorate with an unprecedented 3,300 children homeless at Christmas?

If fine words and noble intentions alone were enough to solve the housing crisis, then Simon Coveney should have had it resolved months ago. Back in March the former Housing Minister was solemnly telling us that he would end hotel use by homeless by July. He didn’t and his successor is not doing any better. When Murphy was appointed in June last the Taoiseach said:

“Rebuilding Ireland is working but it may not be enough and so I am tasking him [Minister Murphy] to review it within three months and to consider what additional measures may be required including consideration of a greater quantum of social housing build… ”

That was over six months ago. The Minister was given three months to come up with an additional plan, recognizing the the previous Fine Gael one was not doing it, and told it should include social housing new build. Yet three months after his new plan we see that Councils have only used one in three of the units identified by Nama as available as social housing. Indeed, local authorities have refused over 4,000 units and failed to take up almost 400 more that they had identified as suitable for social housing.

It is a similar story on Health. There we have another great electioneer, who is adept at getting out the message, but less sure footed when it comes to knowing what is needed in the long term.

It is not that they are indifferent to the problems, but rather that they subscribe to the political view that you can change the political reality by creating your own political narrative and then imposing it as the settled and agreed view through “strategic communications”.

It is not quite Kelly Conway’s “alternative facts”, but it comes pretty close. But it works because it plays to something within us. As Jonathan Gottschall observed in his book The Storytelling Animal, we use narrative to make sense of a chaotic and unpredictable world, to imbue events with moral significance, and to define our own selves.

It is what the Taoiseach and his senior Ministers have been doing for the last few months. Driving home the image of a virtually problem free society, thanks to the new and vital “Leo” brand. The government is also sold to us as new and vital… not an easy sell when it contains the likes of Ministers Flanagan and Ring.

Lately, we have the hard selling of Fine Gael and Leo draped in the tricolor, gently humming “A Nation Once Again” as it rebuffs and rebukes the Brits. No matter that the headlines are potentially damaging to North South relations that took decades to build, they suit the current government’s current needs, and that’s all that matters for now.

And it does seem to be working, if the last few polls are correct. Fine Gael appears at last to have secured the “Leo bounce” that eluded it in his first six months. But, has it really? Could it be that this is not so much a brand new story as it is the story of a new brand?

Might those polls just be reflecting the absence of a clear competing narrative that offers a better story, one based on ideas and experience? It is not that Leo’s story is better, it is just that it is the only one on offer, for now.

Whatever about the cause, the fact is that all this one-sided narrative spinning is being done at the expense of real governing. The country is being put on hold while Fine Gael tries to reverse the result of the 2016 election.

So, if the election is to take place this year, then it is better that it takes place as early as possible so that the phony campaign can be brought to an end and we can have more decision taking and less announcement making.

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: Taoiseach Leo Vardkar in a video from the Government jet in October; Derek Mooney

Though it would probably be more accurate to call it an idiom than a word, “fake news” is now 2017’s new word of the year. Not just in English. Norway’s Language Council pronounced ‘fake news’ (falske nyheter) as the new Norwegian word of the year saying:

“The word is not completely new, but its use has exploded over the last year… It is a word that has set the agenda and was given a lot of attention during the 2016 US election, and that attention has continued.”

Though they probably said it in Norwegian.

Though idiom has its origins in last year’s US Presidential slug fest, it has come to be the hallmark of Trump’s presidency. A few months back we saw President Trump bizarrely claim, in an interview with fellow Republican nut job Mike Huckabee that was so soft (and full of crap) that it could have been sponsored by Cushelle toilet rolls, that he invented the word “fake”.

It is not only the charge Trump levels at established news organisations who put out stories or commentaries he does not like, it is also the tactic that Trump’s surrogates use to deflect criticism.

It is our “whataboutery” times a thousand, but where our “whataboutery” is intended to just shut the other side up for a while, the intention of “fake news” is to erode any public trust and faith in the truth.

“Fake news” is not new, back in the 1930s the Nazis had another name for it: lügenpresse – the lying press. It is just the means of delivery that has changed.

As we have seen in the Brexit referendum, plus in elections in Germany and France, “fake news” is not confined to one country or continent. How could it? Its modern means of delivery is global, social media.

But here we should stress that the two are not synonymous. Social Media is just the tracks on which this runaway train is rolling, it is the train we need to stop, there is no public benefit in ripping up the tracks.

It would naïve in the extreme to imagine that dear little, sweet little Ireland will be immune from the phenomenon. Just because we have not yet been the sights of an “Alt-Right” “fake news” factory somewhere in Moscow so far, it doesn’t mean we might never be.

Neither should we be so green as to imagine that others with differing motivations and political inclinations would not be happy to use these tactics to further their own agenda.

Last week’s initiative by Fianna Fáil’s Science and Technology spokesperson, James Lawless aimed to address some of these concerns. His Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017 was debated in the Dáil last week, and was passed at Second Stage. At this point I should declare that James is an old friend of mine and discussed the Bill with me some weeks ago.

Lawless’s Bill proposes to address the difficulties with online authentication and identification and thus close off the opportunities currently available for, in his own words: “more advanced actors to game the system in the technological space and to pretend to be other than who they are, operate multiple fake accounts or run sponsored advertising”.

A laudable ambition which most would applaud, you would think… but no. Though Lawless’s Bill was supported by his own Fianna Fáil party, as well as Sinn Féin, Labour, the Greens, the Social Democrats and several independents, it was opposed by Fine Gael, govt supporting Inds and their newly found BFFs in PBP.

Though the Government indicated its broad support in principle for the Bill’s aims and intentions, it then said it was opposing it. Rather than looking to amend any flaws or anomalies at committee and report stages in the Dáil and Seanad, which is, afterall, the purpose of our complex ten stage legislative scrutiny process, it sought to kill it off.

But, the two sole Fine Gael speeches in last week’s Dáil second stage debate give the game away. They were concerned that the Bill, which seeks to heighten transparency in online political advertising, might stymie the operations of their Strategic Communications Unit (SCU).

Passing James Lawless’s Bill might mean no more videos of Leo addressing us from the inside Government Jet or the teaspoon slot of the dishwasher. Well actually no, it would not mean no more videos, just no more of them being pushed and promoted on the State credit card.

Fortunately, the Dáil saw the difference and Lawless’s Bill was passed last week and it now proceeds for its Committee Stage sometime in 2018.

All’s well that ends well, says you. Eh, not quite.

Having lost the vote and having failed to stop the Bill that it fears may frustrate its SCU it then suddenly finds a similar initiative of its own that it can share with the media over the weekend.

On Sunday night the online edition of the Irish Independent was able to report on a letter sent by the Minister of State for Older People urging the EU Commission:

“…to consider a new policy that will require multinationals, such as Facebook, to introduce new and stronger methods of authenticating accounts created on their platforms”

This was barely four days after they had tried, and failed, to defeat James Lawless’s Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017.

Curious, how there was no mention of this initiative from the government side in the Second Stage debate last Tuesday?

Even more curious when you consider that Minister Daly told the Irish Independent that he is on a cross-departmental group led by Minister for Communications and includes Ministers for Justice and for Children. Only one of those Ministers contributed to last week’s Dáil debate and he never mentioned it.

You would have thought someone in Leo’s joined-up government would have thought to mention this important cross-departmental group in a Dáil debate on the issue of online transparency? Surely the group didn’t just suddenly pop out of mid air after the debate, or even late on Sunday night?

Looks like Leo’s government has found a new way of operating: denounce one thing today and then hail it as your own idea the next. I have given previous examples of this approach here, here and here.

All they need now is a new word that describes it. Who knows, it may even become the 2018 word of the 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 every Tuesday morning. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

 

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and DUP Leader Arlene Foster at government buildings last Summer; Derek Mooney

Though I did a bit of leaflet dropping for Fianna Fáil in the 1977 general election, the first election campaign in which I really canvassed was the 1979 European and Local elections.There I learned the skill of marking the register.

This involved writing a letter after the voter’s name as it appears on the electoral indicating, after you had canvassed them whether you thought they were for Fianna Fáil (F), against us (A), doubtful (D) or where you got no reply (NR) or CB for call back.

In 1979 there a lot of ‘A’s to mark on my sheet. These fell into two categories, the first were the people who voted FF two years earlier and were now very angry at how the country was going. The second were the group who had never and would never stoop to vote for “your shower”.

When encountering a person from this second group, usually after walking up a long gravel driveway and climbing a flight of granite steps to reach the ornate front door, one of fellow canvassers, a very nice woman, several years my senior, would call out “NOCD”.

This was a canvassing code with which I was not familiar, but I dutifully noted it down. When we finished later than evening to complete our canvassing returns, I set out totting up the F’s, the A’s, the D/k’s and the N/R’s.

“What about the NOCDs?” I enquired. It hadn’t occurred to her that I would be so naïve as to write it down.

“Count those as A’s” she said.

“But, what does NOCD” mean, I asked.

“They are the ‘not our class, dahling’ who still look down their nose at us”, she laughed.

They were the Fine Gaelers who still saw Fianna Fáil as a great unwashed, dinner in the middle of the day, hoard of cute-hoors who had the temerity to think they were up to the job of government. Though that generation of Fine Gaelers has now passed the NOCD attitude still soldiers on within the party.

It plays some small part in colouring its view of Sinn Féin, but it is not just limited to them. Ivan Yates gave a hyped-up version of the outlook on his Newstalk programme last week, having a go at all Northerners across the board.

Though his intent was probably more about winding up his listeners, Yates still struck a chord with some in his audience with his observation that “we don’t actually like the Nordies”.

It is not a new thing, we have seen it before, but this time around it seems to be a much stronger factor in how the DUP is perceived, not least by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

Though I know the dangers in overstretching the comparison, there are some echoes of how Fine Gael viewed Fianna Fáil in the past with how they now view the DUP.

Fine Gael, especially its leadership, seems to have a stereotypical view of the DUP seeing them as intransigent hardliners, stuck in the past and mouthing old slogans. They see Sammy Wilson or Ian Paisley Jr on the TV and think, how could you ever deal with them? But the political reality is that you have to.

Like it or not the DUP is the biggest party in Northern Ireland. A poll conducted by Lucid Talks (commissioned by Sinn Féin’s EU Parliament grouping GUE/NGL) puts the DUP on 33.7% support, just under 1% ahead of Sinn Féin. Its nearest unionist party rival is just on 9%.

While we may not like it, the DUP speaks for the bulk of Unionism, though the Lucid Talks poll, and a survey from Profs Coakley and Garry in QUB, does show that Unionism is not nearly as hardline on Brexit as the DUP.

Cue the chorus that the DUP is simply out of touch with its voters and is playing political games with Brexit. There is definitely some evidence for this view, not least the boorish heckling and barracking of the sole moderate independent unionist MP lady Sylvia Hermon in last week’s House of Commons debates, but there is also a bigger picture.

There are two other factors at play – factors that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste appear not to have… ehh, factored in.

Though the polls and surveys show a sophisticated and nuanced public response to Brexit and its consequences for the border, Northern Ireland politics remains stubbornly binary – it is a zero-sum game. If them’uns is winning, I must be losing.

If Simon Coveney is gleeful on Monday, then I must be unhappy – and not only that, then I must act quickly to re-establish the equilibrium. The Irish government should know this by now, and should realise that the DUP is following the Dublin media far more closely than the Irish government appears to be following the Belfast ones.

Varadkar and Coveney also need to learn the crucial importance of having solid and reliable back channels of communications with parties in the North both as part of the government and as a political party. This includes the DUP.

Indeed it is vitally that important that it does so Fine Gael can get beyond the stereotype and grasp that the DUP is a far more sophisticated political operation than it likes to portray itself and has a much stronger and progressive backroom team than you might suspect.

The other factor is that Northern Irish politicians are invariably protected from the consequences of their own actions. When something goes awry the cry goes up for an international mediator to step in or for the two governments to intervene.

Politics in the North is broken. In the classic Northern Ireland binary/zero sum tradition, the beneficiaries of this breakage are the DUP and Sinn Féin. The only way to reduce the power of one is to reduce the power of both.

There is now a generation, or two, of political leaders in the North who have never had to pick up the pieces of the crockery they smashed. They have, instead, thrived on crisis and learned how to leverage more out of it.

We saw an example of that skill last week with the DUP. Though they are clearly not prepared to do anything that puts Jeremy Corbyn in No 10, the DUP still managed to come out of last week’s chaos ahead of where they went into it.

While keeping the DUP apart and having them as NOCDs may politically suit Varadkar and Coveney just now, it does not benefit the rest of us in the long 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: UN and Defence Forces veterans march on Leinster House last week. They claim one in five soldiers is currently accessing income support as serving members; Derek Mooney

Tempting though it is to add my 2 cents worth to the vast swathes of analysis of what happened, or almost happened, on Brexit yesterday, I will resist. There is still just over a week to go to the crucial December EU Council summit and I am sure that we will see a lot more manoeuvring before then.

In the meantime, best to follow RTÉ’s excellent Brussels correspondent Tony Connolly and Politico.co.uk’s Ian Dunt for up to minute analysis of the Brussels and Westminster machinations.

Instead of looking at Brexit, I want to look back at last week’s 24 hour protest outside Leinster House by the wives and partners of members of our Defence Forces and offer two additional perspectives, which may help illustrate why the Defence Forces are a special case and worthy of a far higher priority than this government is according them.

Before I get to those, it is worth noting why the protest was by the wives and partners. Under Defence Force regulations serving members of the Defence Forces may not make representations regarding any aspect of their employment, including pay and conditions, to third parties, including elected representatives.

Though this may seem a bit draconian, it does reflect the particular nature of their job. Soldiers cannot simply down tools, especially when those tools are often loaded, and go on strike – particularly when they are one of the key services we depend upon in emergency situations. But there is, or at least there should be a quid-pro-quo in this relationship.

While the State curtails your right to trade union membership, it also recognises your employer rights via pay negotiation models (conciliation and arbitration) that parallel those of other public servants. That is theory, at least. The practice over recent years, the wives would argue, has not lived up to that model, hence their protests.

So, to my two perspectives.

First, while the protest and the discussion on RTÉ’s Primetime last Thursday with the Minister of State for Defence [Paul Kehoe] has focused on the issue of allowances, there is another area which has drastically affected the average take home pay of the members of the Defence Forces in a unique way – overseas allowances.

I am not referring to the amount of these individual allowances, though I accept that is also an issue, but rather the number of them.

There are fewer Irish Troops currently serving overseas than there has been for well over a decade and a half. During my time in the Department of Defence there were over 800 Irish soldiers serving somewhere overseas at any one time.

As most overseas tours of duty last six months that means in almost any given year in the 1990s and 2000s over 1600 individual members of the Defence Forces would have served six months overseas and each received a daily overseas allow worth around €85 for an ordinary private. Bear in mind that most soldiers serve at least one six month overseas tour every three years.

By September 2011 the number serving overseas had fallen to 524. It fell further to 440 by June 2012 and stayed in or around that level until late 2016. The number has increased over the last year with around 630 troops currently serving overseas, its highest level in almost seven years.

While part of the reason for the drop is accounted for by the decrease we made in Defence Force strength from 10,500 to 9,500 in 2009/2010 as part of the Bord Snip nua cuts, that only took the overseas figure to approx 780.

Halving the numbers serving overseas as the government has done for almost five out of the past seven years has meant a huge additional drop in income for virtually every army family.

While other groups in the public sector have also endured major cuts, this dramatic hit on Defence Force family incomes is unique and I think it has not been adequately reflected in the public discussions of the Defence Force case.

The second perspective is the damage that this is doing to the aim of public sector reform. The modernisation and reform of the Defence Forces that was undertaken in the late 1990s was a model for how the public sector can reform and do work more efficiently and effectively.

While other areas of the public sector were expanding their numbers, the Defence Forces actually reduced theirs, but not at a cost of efficiency and delivery.

The savings made in reducing both troop and civil servant numbers in the late 1990s were invested in better training and equipment, making our Defence Forces the equal of those they served alongside. We achieved an enviable reputation in both logistics and ordnance disposal, particularly improvised devices.

There has been a needless neglect and indifference shown from 2011 onwards. It started with the appointment of part-time ministers: Alan Shatter was minister for Defence and Justice, while Simon Coveney was Minister for Agriculture and Defence and ended up with the downgrading of the Department to being nominally headed up by the Taoiseach, but in reality managed by an ineffectual Junior Minister.

The fact that he had just appointed himself as Minister for Defence seemed lost on the new Taoiseach on the night he was announcing his Cabinet picks when he neglected to tell the Dáil that he would be the Minister.

We saw just how well meaning but ineffectual the Junior Minister he reappointed was when he appeared on Primetime last week to defend his non defence of our defence forces, but it was also on show in the last budget when Defence saw a miserly 2% spending increase at a time when, as Fianna Fáil’s Defence Spokesperson Lisa Chambers argued at the time, the growth rate is 3.5%.

It is regrettable that the wives and families of our Defence Forces find it necessary to take to the streets to make their case, but it is outrageous that the indifference and disregard of the current ministers put them in that position.

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: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Derek Mooney

At the end of my Broadsheet piece last Friday I said that the Taoiseach:

“…still has one last opportunity to somewhat redeem his reputation by taking some right steps now.”

At the time of writing this, it appears that the Taoiseach remains doggedly determined not to take the steps needed to diffuse this ministerial-made crisis.

While sacking an old and valued colleague is not a pleasant task, it comes with the job. He is the Taoiseach, he hires and fires. He is also a politician and it must have been obvious to him since Friday that the mounting evidence of Frances Fitzgerald’s failure to act meant that that Dáil Éireann could no longer have confidence in her as Tánaiste or as minister.

So why his slowness to act? Why insist, right up to the eleventh hour when all bar a handful of people around him realise that her goose is cooked, that a general election is preferable to her resignation?

Why is there such a determination to deny her accountability and responsibility to the Dáil – a Dáil in which Fine Gael holds less than one third of the seats.

Whatever else happens today – whether the Tánaiste resigns or is sacked or whether the Dáil votes on her fate or not – one thing is clear, Fine Gael’s attempt to ram the Tánaiste unscathed through this crisis by deploying Trump-esque campaign tactics has not worked.

Compare and contrast the comments of Fine Gael spokespeople yesterday and last Friday, it is not simply that the tone has changed, so too has underlying strategy.

Take last night’s RTE Claire Byrne Show and the exchanges between Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan and Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney. At one point, Minister Coveney went out of his way to acknowledge that Fianna Fáil was not being unreasonable and that he “accepts” their call for political accountability.

This was accepted, in turn, by Jim O’Callaghan who then reminded Coveney that he had dubbed Fianna Fail as “reckless” the previous Friday. While Coveney protested that this was not the case, it was. Indeed, he went a lot, lot further.

Speaking on RTÊ’s Morning Ireland on Friday, Minister Coveney said Fianna Fáil was trying to bring down the government for “political party reasons”, adding “This is reckless politics that is politically opportunistic to damage a Taoiseach…”. Both quotes from the Irish Independent.

Not that Coveney was the worst exponent. Fine Gael ministers, TDs, trolls and bluebots (the FG equivalent of Shinnerbots) were at it the entire weekend. Listen to Minister Michael Ring debate (or should I say rant) with Stephen Donnelly on Friday’s RTÉ Drivetime for a example of the tactic at work, albeit ineffectively.

FG sent out the message that Fianna Fáil had tabled its motion of No Confidence in Frances Fitzgerald because it just wanted to cause an election.

This despite the fact that the Taoiseach told RTÉ’s Six One News on Friday that he accepted that Fianna Fáil did not want an election, saying: “I don’t believe Micheál Martin wants one [an election] either, by the way…”

Not that this mattered. No sooner was he back in his state car than the Fine Gael talking points were being churned out saying that Fianna Fáil was only doing this because it wanted an election – something already denied by an Taoiseach.

Was this an attempt to undermine and deny what he Taoiseach had said?

No, of course it wasn’t.

It was the same facts don’t work campaign tactic as used by Trump and by Brexiteers: say whatever you need to say, even when you know its false and misleading, to switch voters your way. No matter that your leader said something else… just get your claim out then and then repeat, repeat and repeat.

This is way beyond the spin we have seen this government engage in since 2011 or even the political dissembling of old. This is not just a desperate tactic you use to get yourself out of a tight-spot, it’s the baseline strategy. Ignore facts and just accuse. Last weekend it was wall to wall on broadcast, print and online media.

It wasn’t just limited to Fianna Fáil’s motivation. When it came to Brexit, no claim was too outlandish. During his Six One News interview the Taoiseach made it clear that if there was to be an election that he would prefer to have it before Christmas saying:

“If we have an election, I can still attend the EU Summit with the full executive and constitutional office and powers of Taoiseach on the 13th and 14th of December”.

Clear enough then, the Taoiseach did not feel an election in December (an election he said that neither he nor Martin wanted) would impede or reduce his abilities to negotiate on Brexit at the December Summit? So why were all his Ministers screaming about Fianna Fáil undermining the national interests on Brexit at this critical time in advance of the make or break December summit on which all our futures rest?

The simple answer is because that is what they were told to say, by the same people who helped the Taoiseach prepare for that interview. It was on their talking points – raise public fears and doubts.

By the way, the Taoiseach went much further on Brexit and the December EU Council meeting. He not only said that he was satisfied that he could attend the December summit with full authority, he then went on to downplay its singular importance adding that “…it is not all going to be sorted in December, there will be another summit in February”.

While their strategy did garner Fine Gael a lot of coverage and did succeed in whipping up public concerns on election, it did not succeed in its primary objective: saving the Tánaiste from Dáil accountability. That alone is a good result.

To cite a 2014 Department of Public Expenditure report on government accountability: while the democratic and constitutional imperative, as codified in the Constitution and legislation, requires a government to be politically responsible to parliament for the activities of departments and ministers, it is particularly the case where the minister was personally involved. In other words, this is not a case of a Minister taking the wrap for misfeasance or nonfeasance by officials, this is about personal ministerial responsibility.

Whatever her failing and misjudgements, and I think the trickle of Department of justice emails shows there clearly were oversights, I am sorry to see her political career come to an end this way.

Having been there, in the thick of it, when a minister had to resign, I know how much personal strain and pressure she and her team must be enduring. We put our senior politicians through far more stress than is necessary or, at times, bearable.

We expect them, and those around them, to endure huge intrusions into their lives and just accept a range of claims and accusations and then we wonder why it is so difficult to attract he best and the brightest into public life?

Hopefully, we will come through today without the Taoiseach taking any more wrong steps, including ones to the Áras… but that the decision rests with him alone.

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: clockwise from top left: Ceann Comhairle, Pat The Cope Gallagher, Micheál Martin; Leo Vardkar and Frances Fitzgerald, all taken during Dáil proceedings on Wednesday ; Derek Mooney

How did we get to this situation?

Well, as with any crisis, we got to it one step at a time.

Leo Varadkar did not start this week with a plan to trigger a snap election, no more than Micheál Martin did, but with a series of serious missteps Leo Varadkar walked this government to the brink and last night whipped things up to a point that the country is now on a course that means a general election either before Christmas or early in 2018.

Misstep number one came with the Taoiseach’s opening comments on Leader’s Question in the Dáil last Tuesday. when he attempted to address the issue:

“The House will appreciate, once again, that I do not have first-hand knowledge of any of these matters.”

With those words it was clear that an Taoiseach was approaching the issue of Minister Fitzgerald’s level of knowledge on the campaign against Sgt McCabe satisfied that it had nothing personally to do with him and, so it was not something for him to be worried about.

In his own view he had not been directly embroiled in any of the Garda Sgt McCabe machinations that had brought down a Garda Commissioner, a Minister and dispatched a Department Gen Sec, in fact he had been the first Fine Gael minister to speak out in support of Sgt McCabe, so how could he be personally damaged by this issue?

What he had forgotten is that he answers for the actions of the whole of his government, not just the bits he has personal involvement in.

Misstep Two came a few minutes later in an exchange at the Order of Business between An Taoiseach and the Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat The Cope Gallagher that inadvertently revealed part of the problem with how his government and ministers had approached this and other issues.

As a row ensued about whether the Dáil should require the Tánaiste to make a statement and answer questions on the unfolding email saga, the Taoiseach attempted to chide the Leas Ceann Comhairle, a TD of very long standing, saying:

“I do not wish to tell the Leas-Cheann Comhairle how to do his job here – he should not take me up in that way – but I believe it is important that he, his office or somebody get some legal advice”

The Cope exploded.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Hold on. I do not need legal advice on a simple question. Deputies are requesting that an opportunity be given to make statements. It is a matter for the House, not a matter of legal advice for me…

I might not be a lawyer but I have common sense. I have been here for 36 or 37 years and I will not be dictated to by anybody in this House, not even the Taoiseach…

It is rare you see a Taoiseach so openly and roundly scolded in public. But more than that’ it is rare to see a Taoiseach having to be schooled on their role and reminded that Ministers are there to use their judgement and common sense, not to sit with a lawyer at their shoulder 24/7 and do nothing but to follow their legal advice.

If that is how government is to operate why not cut out the middle man, drop all ministers and simply appoint a panel of lawyers to oversee Departments and exercise neither judgement nor political common sense.

The surest way to never do the wrong thing, especially the wrong thing legally, is to do nothing. That is the basis of the charge against the Tánaiste. She did nothing and is championing her inaction while the State pursued an innocent man as a defence. This crisis is about what type of government we want.

There were another series of missteps with the Taoiseach having to come back into the Dáil again, and again, and correct the record. Did it never occur to Taoiseach that the volume of misinformation that his ministers was conveying to him and, in turn, to the public signalled a much greater problem? Did the Taoiseach and his advisers ever think to look at the timeline of the email revelations and maybe consider its implications? (courtesy of the Indo’s Kevin Doyle):

Nov 8 – Alan Kelly submits PQ

Nov 9 – Justice find the email

Nov 13 – Email is “mentioned” to Charlie Flanagan (but he didn’t see it)

Nov 15 – Flanagan alleges “smear campaign” in Dáil

Nov 16 – Fitzgerald phones Justice & is told about the email

Nov 20 – Taoiseach sees email.

These were then followed by two major missteps by the Taoiseach that border on reckless.

The first of these was not to respond adequately to Michael Martin’s contacts on Wednesday and Thursday which initiated the clause in the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael confidence and supply agreement that was specifically drafted to address emerging crises like this:

Should an event arise that has potential to undermine this arrangement, efforts will be made to have it resolved by the two Party Leaders.

This was then followed by another major misstep by wrongly supposing that Micheál Martin and Jim O’Callaghan were bluffing when Deputy O’Callaghan went on to Thursday’s RTÉ News to set out Fianna Fáil’s absolute lack of confidence in the Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald.

Rather than acting to calm things down, Varadkar chose to act like an arrogant Young Fine Gael branch secretary, not a Taoiseach, and ramped things up.

This catalogue of Varadkar’s missteps, his bad judgement calls and clear political naivete come on top of the rolling revelations from Katie Hannon, Alan Kelly TD and others.

The bottom line is not whether there will be a general election, it is when will it be. Will it be between now and Christmas or will it be in early 2018.

As for the next steps… it is just possible that some sanity and calmness will reassert itself within Fine Gael today and tomorrow and that someone, though almost certainly not the Taoiseach, will see that the Tánaiste’s position is untenable and that it is in everyone’s interests in the short and medium term for her to gracefully resign, recognising that it was never her intention to do anything that undermined Sgt McCabe.

If that happens, then maybe Varadkar will think back to what The Cope said to him on Tuesday and exercise some common-sense and approach Micheál Martin and other leaders to agree an orderly pathway to an early 2018 election that will see the Social Welfare, Finance and other key legislation passed and allow Ireland’s interests to be protected at the December EU Council meeting on Brexit.

The Taoiseach has taken the wrong step at almost every juncture this week. The step to take us back from the brink in now in his rear-view mirror – but he still has one last opportunity to somewhat redeem his reputation by taking some right steps now.

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