Tag Archives: Derek Mooney


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


From top: Gerry Adams with Mary Lou McDonald (front centre) at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in the RDS, Dublin on Saturday. Derek Mooney

After months of will he, won’t he, Gerry Adams, Irish politics enduring enigma has announced that he plans to shortly stand aside as leader.

Cue the long lap of [dis]honour as his fans hail the great negotiator and peacemaker and his detractors remind them that he was even more responsible for the mayhem and pain that preceded the peace. Yes, he is entitled to top marks for his role in the peace process, but his total score has to be calculated over his whole career, not just the heavily revised latter portion.

Adams’ longevity is due to many factors, not least his enigmatic persona. What we know about Adams is what he wants us to know, whether it is his penchant for writing poetry, his fondness for his teddy bear and crème eggs or his passion for naked trampolining with his dog. The Adams that he would have us know is a mass of contradictions that allows some to project onto him all those talents and skills they would wish to have in a leader.

But the reality is very different. The real Adams is rarely on show, but when it is, it is unpleasant, especially when he does not think he is on the record as with his November 2014 Enniskillen speech or his responses to the provo victims.

It is also easy to seem like a skilled negotiator when you have a band of paramilitaries and a cache of weaponry that others want you to dismantle. Curious how Adams’ abilities as a negotiator have diminished since decommissioning?

Adams standing down as leader should not be confused with him relinquishing the leadership of the provisional movement. Instead, Adams moves from centre stage to behind the curtain, but have no doubt that his control, not to mention that of the others on the Army Council, will not be surrendered just yet.

If you don’t believe me then look at the situation north of the border. There Michelle O’Neill is the de jure leader, but the de facto leader remain Adams. Indeed the early and untimely death of Martin McGuinness allowed Adams and his coterie of old Belfast comrades to increase and strengthen their grip on the organisation in the North. The Northern party, once the bedrock of the Shinners set up, now must play second fiddle to the needs of the organisation in the South.

Michelle O’Neill is no accidental puppet, she was picked specifically for the role as she knew and accepted the limits that would be placed on her. This is not acquiescence, it is the provo-real-politik. She knows who truly runs the show and she is fine with that.

Just as Mary Lou will be fine with a similar situation on this side of the border. Mary Lou does not flatter herself to think that she will actually be anything more than a titular leader who will deal with the minor day-to-day tribulations while Gerry and the lads handle the big stuff, she just hopes we will not realise this – a point I will come back to, shortly.

But moving backstage does not mean that nothing at all will change. With Adams departure the provos lose their biggest celebrity whose draw and pulling power when it comes to media attention and fund raising, should not be underestimated.

While Adams will still exercise leadership over the big policy questions and directions from behind the curtain, the provos will soon feel the loss of his authority and presence when it comes to exercising day-to-day discipline and control.

Answering Mary Lou back will not be as scary and foolhardy a notion as answered Adams would have been. Unlike Adams, Mary Lou cannot invoke the whiff of cordite to engender respect and dominion.  The closest Mary Lou has come to cordite is the bang bang chicken in Wongs of Castleknock

She may wish that she had to judge from her eagerness to preside at provo gatherings, but she didn’t. Back in those more troubled and difficult days she eschewed the provo chic and was more content in Fianna Fáil in Dublin West. Indeed this, and her wish that she had taken a more central and prominent role in the past which may prove her greatest undoing.

Remember that apparent Dail dust-up between Mary Lou and the Taoiseach back in September? Most political correspondents saw the row as being provoking by comments made by Leo Varadkar. But they missed the real cause. While Mary Lou’s exit from the Dail chamber may have immediately followed Varadkar’s remarks, they did not cause it.

Fans of the West Wing will recall an early episode entitled Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc loosely translated as: after therefore because of. In the episode Bartlet points out that this is rarely the case in politics that because one action follows another that it was caused by it.

So it is with the Mary Lou dramatic exit. The comments that really got under Mary Lou’s skin came from Micheál Martin in an exchange a few minutes before.

The Toaiseach was answering questions on British-Irish relations in both the context of Brexit and the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland. Martin referred to his own experience of negotiating with the British when Mary Lou chimed in, the following exchange comes from that day’s Dáil transcript:

Mary Lou McDonald: “Deputy Martin’s words demonstrate remarkable ignorance.”

Micheál Martin: “I have been there. I have been in negotiations with all parties.”

McDonald: “I have been there with the Deputy.”

Martin: “Deputy McDonald was not. She was never in negotiations.”

McDonald: “I have, and I have seen Deputy Martin at close quarters.”

Martin: “When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy McDonald, was nowhere. What tended to happen was that certain people came out for the photo calls. The Deputy was never at negotiations with me or Shaun Woodward. Commitments that were given then were not dealt with or seen through.”

My point is that it was not the Taoiseach’s name calling and needling that got under McDonald’s skin, she is far too wilely and experienced to allow something that innocuous to irk her.

No, it was Martin disclosing her non-role in the talks and reminding her, publicly, that she has not been the central player she would have others, even within Sinn Féin, imagine her to be.

It is her Achilles heel then and will become a greater vulnerability as leader.

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 watches the South Africa Vs Ireland rugby international during a break at the Fine Gael annual conference last Saturday; Derek Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few minutes later he compounded the situation, adding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pic: Eamonn Farrell/Rollingnews

iate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first two are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manage stakeholder expectations by not promising to overdeliver.

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

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

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

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

But still the dance goes on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not much of a haul.

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

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Mytaxi Dublin Airport promo; Derek Mooney

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

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

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

If only we were that organised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regrettably I fear it was both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From top: Dáil Eireann; Derek Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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