Tag Archives: Mooney on Monday

brexitderek

From top: UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Derek Mooney

Instead of passively waiting for our near neighbour to tell the EU their opening position Enda Kenny must act now to set out our vision of a post-Brexit border.

Derek Mooney writes:

If Enda Kenny intended his nonchalant response to Theresa May’s Brexit speech to convey the image of a Government that is perfectly prepared and in complete command of the situation, then the ploy has not worked.

Instead, his under reaction and this is all in line with what we had prepared for approach only makes his government look like it either does not grasp the enormity of the situation or – even more alarmingly – it is behaving like Tennessee William’s Blanche Dubois, and must depend on the kindness of strangers.

It is an impression that is not eased by reading the transcripts of the Leaders’ Questions exchanges between An Taoiseach and Michéal Martin and Mary Lou MacDonald last week.

On several occasions during his replies, particularly to the Fianna Fáil leader, An Taoiseach said: “We are at the start of this process”.

But we are not at the start of this process. The clock started on this messy and complex business within minutes of the announcement of the UK referendum result early on the morning of June 24 last. We are well into this process with the Article 50 negotiation talks ready to start in just under ten [10] weeks.

I cannot believe that the Taoiseach seriously meant to suggest that he and his officials needed to wait until the British Prime Minister was ready to formally set out her Brexit strategy, yet that seems to be the impression he was content to give.

In the Government’s formal response to May’s speech it “welcomes” the fact that Prime Minister May “…made clear that her priorities include maintaining the common travel area and avoiding a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland.”

She does indeed say that in point 4 of her Twelve-Point Brexit strategy. But she also said a lot more. Point 4 comes between Point 3; where she says that she will ensure that:

“…no new barriers… within our own Union are created” and Point 5; where she bluntly says that: “Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe.”

There is the problem: how can you have something that is clearly a border when it comes to keeping EU citizens out of the UK (Point 5) but it is not between the two islands (Point 3) and yet it is not a border when it comes to allowing the traditional common travel area to continue (Point 4)? It is the Schrödinger’s cat of borders?

Leaving aside the physical incongruity of it being a non-border border – a situation made more improbable when you add in the complexity of the UK not being in the customs union, but kind of being associated with it (Point 9) – and just look at the politics of this conundrum.

May has made a firm commitment to her voters in England that she will stem immigration. Won’t this domestic political imperative trump her broad wishes on our Common Travel Area? Especially, as Dr Kevin Cunningham pointed out on Twitter, when a NatCen (UK) social research survey from last November shows that 45% of British voters support introducing passport checks between the UK and Ireland with only 29% opposing it. An Taoiseach is being naïve if he genuinely thinks Point 4 can be taken at face value.

This situation is made even more complex, as Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien pointed out last week, when you factor in that Prime Minister May did not make any mention of the special status of Northern Ireland.

After Brexit it will be a region with a million or so Irish – and by extension EU – citizens who will find themselves outside the EU despite their will and without representation – a matter I will return to later.

I have no doubt that officials in the amalgamated international, EU and Northern Ireland division of the Department of An Taoiseach (sounds like a non-ICTU trade union from the 70s, does it not?) have been working on contingency positions to address many of the permutations that the UK could have taken: in/out of the single mark, EFTA, customs unions yadda, yadda…, but that has been on top of their usual daily work dealing with Northern Ireland, the EU and the rest of the world, items that probably generate enough work to fill a normal day.

Instead of passively waiting for our near neighbour to tell the EU their opening position, we should be putting more senior officials to work on Brexit on a full time basis and start setting out in detail both the major difficulties that Brexit poses for us in terms of our economy, our trade, our security and our day to day relationships with Northern Ireland and Great Britain and the measures we propose to address them. To do otherwise is a false economy.

This is a first rule of lobbying – don’t just go with a list of gripes, go with a researched and structured set of solutions. Make it as easy as you possibly can for the powers that be to give you want you need.

We have more skin in this game, North and South, than anyone else with the possible exception of Scotland. We are not merely one of 27 on the EU side of the negotiations – though we clearly are on the EU side of the table – we are unique among those 27 in having to live daily with the consequences of Brexit.

These consequences will be considerable, as the economic integration of the North with the rest of the island has risen considerably since the Good Friday Agreement, as pointed out by the Bruegel think-tank.

The retention of the Good Friday Agreement in any post Art 50 negotiation is a sine qua non for us as it sets out the relations between these two island on three individual strands – within Northern Ireland, between the North and the South of this island and east-west between the two islands.

While some of the key negotiating figures on the EU side, including Michel Barnier and Guy Verhoefstadt, have already indicated that safeguarding and protecting the Good Friday Agreement is a priority, they cannot hope to understand or grasp the finer details of its provisions better than our most senior officials.

There also needs to be a voice for the many Irish citizens in Northern Ireland who, as I pointed out earlier, are also EU citizens. One of the benefits of that EU citizenship, is the right to be represented in the EU Parliament. While it is not a right we all may equally appreciate – I suspect the prospect of having it taken away may awaken some to its value and significance.

The Irish government should be arguing for continued representation for Northern Ireland in the EU and the retention of its three MEPs – rather than allowing Mrs May to set the agenda for how a large number of Irish/EU citizens are represented and championed post Article 50.

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

Top pic: Getty

fosterderek

From top: Outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster arrives with DUP members to talk to the media at Stormont this morning; Derek Mooney

With the prospect of the DUP and Sinn Féin returning as the main parties of Unionism and Nationalism in Northern ireland it is hard to see how a viable new Executive can be formed within the time allowed.

Derek Mooney writes:

Where the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive has been about an absence of trust and respect, the next six weeks will be about patience – not least the patience of the electorate.

Voters, in most mature democracies, do not like unnecessary elections, and tend to punish the party that caused one. Whether that rule holds in a polity that is closer to pubescent than mature will be interesting to see, but it is already clear the DUP is not as bullish about its prospects as it was. We saw that in Arlene Foster’s Stormont Hall presser just before midday.

The last Assembly election was just eight months ago, the Brexit referendum was held last June. Barring a snap Westminster election, the good voters of Northern Ireland were not anticipating having to drag themselves down to the polling stations for another two years, at least, until the May 2019 Local Elections.

They were expecting almost three campaign free years, but now DUP intransigence and mismanagement has plunged the Six Counties into crisis and sent the two governments scurrying about when they were already barely coping with Brexit.

But as tetchy as the voters may be about having their period of political rest disturbed, their patience will really be tested if the DUP – and by extension Sinn Féin – attempt to run the 2017 Assembly campaign along their traditional routes.

The DUP lambasts Sinn Féin which helps Sinn Féin convince the nationalist community that it is the only bulwark against DUP hegemony. In turn, Sinn Féin slams the DUP, which helps the DUP to convince wavering UUP supporters that they must rally to them to stop the Provos getting the First Minister’s job.

It’s a symbiotic campaign tactic has worked for both in the past, but at a cost: to the smaller parties and to voter confidence.

As I have discussed here before, voter turnout in elections in the North has been dropping with nationalist voters staying away slightly more than their unionist neighbours.

The Brexit turnout was the exception. Though only seven weeks after the Assembly election; it saw voter turnout jump by a whopping 8%. In other words, about 90,000 people who were not motivated enough to come out and vote for any of the candidates running for the Assembly, were moved to come out and vote on the issue of remaining in the EU.

The question this time around is whether the new circumstances will dictate a new voter strategy? Will people still vote the way they did last May and will the 90,000-extra people who voted on Brexit have the motivation they require to come out again and vote.

Perhaps some of them will after they hear Prime Minister Theresa May say tomorrow that she is happy to accept a hard Brexit and a hard border across this island as a price worth paying for keeping his grip on the Tory party.

A six-week campaign of deep silo-ed orange and green rhetoric from both big beasts will test the voters resolve and patience.

If their patience is exhausted and we get, as I suggested last week, a situation where the DUP and Sinn Féin return as the main parties of Unionism and Nationalism, albeit with reduced numbers, then it is hard to see how a viable new Executive can be formed within the time allowed.

If that is the case, then the Secretary of State can call another election, except this time the existing executive doesn’t continue into a caretaker/acting capacity, instead we get a return of direct rule.

This is a problem. Given that the Executive has effectively collapsed due to absence of real parity of esteem, it would test the patience of nationalist voters, from across the spectrum, to see the political instability triggered by DUP intransigence result – even temporarily – in direct rule from Westminster, especially one so driven by Brexiteers. This is not in our interests either.

There is also a sound practical political reason why direct rule is a bad alternative. If you want to get all the parties to come to their senses and break any likely deadlock, then don’t threaten as a default something that one of those parties does not view as something to be avoided at all costs.

There is, as Colum Eastwood and the SDLP have suggested, an alternative. It is one that Governments had already envisaged for such a deadlocked scenario: it is: Joint Authority, though back then they called it Joint Stewardship.

In Armagh on 6 April 2006 the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair and the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, issued a joint statement on the then deadlocked political situation.

In April 2006, the two Governments concluded that the people of Northern Ireland should not be asked to vote repeatedly in elections to a deadlocked Assembly and proposed cancelling salaries and allowances for MLAs pending “a clear political willingness to exercise devolved power”.

More specifically, at Point 10 of their statement the two Governments agreed:

“…that this will have immediate implications for their joint stewardship of the process. We are beginning detailed work on British-Irish partnership arrangements that will be necessary in these circumstances to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement… is actively developed across its structures and functions. This work will be shaped by the commitment of both Governments to a step-change in advancing North-South co-operation and action for the benefit of all.”

Significantly adding at Point 11 that:

“The British Government will introduce emergency legislation to facilitate this way forward.”

Perhaps the two Governments, but more especially our own Government, should be considering this approach now as a way of bringing some political leaders to their senses before everyone’s patience is tried.

One last word on patience. Though I am no fan of his and I have had no problem criticising him here and elsewhere, it must be said that Martin McGuinness showed considerable patience and perseverance over the past few months as he used his personal leadership skills to hold an increasingly fractious Executive together.

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

Pic: Hannah Gay

90434539

derek

From top” Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster; Derek Mooney

The North is heading for another Assembly election barely eight months since the last one.

But this is not some Sinn Féin campaign to get rid of Arlene Foster and the DUP knows it.

Derek Mooney writes:

What makes this ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal different is that, unlike Northern Ireland’s political crises of the past, is not about flags, marches, emblems or legacy – it is purely political. Or, at least, it started out that way.

Cash for Ash is about ministerial competence and responsibility and how they allowed a projected £500 million overspend over the next twenty years on subsidising the use of renewable pellets in heating systems.

But that is not how the DUP First Minister wants to play it. She, and her supporters, have dialled the political rhetoric back to the 1980s, talking the crisis up as not just orange versus green, but as deepest orange versus light orange and all of green.

According to Arlene this is all about her, not the public purse.

Though they cursorily acknowledge the deep public disquiet at the waste of public funds, the DUP asserts that the row has been motivated by the First Minister’s political enemies and opponents.

Arlene Foster herself has even claimed that “A lot of it is personal, a lot of it sadly is misogynistic as well because I am a female – the first female leader of Northern Ireland.”

At some points, she talks as if the crisis was just some part of a big Provo plot to undermine her.

That particular assertion suggests that – despite outward appearances – the DUP has not moved on one iota from its pre-Good Friday Agreement days. It is also as complete a fiction as the notion that the saga is based on misogyny.

It wasn’t Sinn Féin who brought the Cash for Ash scandal to public prominence, it was the BBC’s Stephen Nolan, through both his TV and Radio shows.

It was Nolan’s BBC Radio Ulster morning show that highlighted the scandal with day by day drip feeds of newly leaked material. It was Nolan who featured Arlene’s former DUP ministerial colleague, Jonathan Bell, in a TV interview where Bell pointed the finger at Foster and her Special Advisers for extending the scheme.

Similarly, it has been the traditionally Unionist Belfast newspaper, the Belfast News Letter which has kept the story on its front page since mid-December, courtesy of the tenacity of its Political Editor, Sam McBride.

In the Assembly, it was the SDLP, supported by the UUP, Alliance and Green parties, that tabled the motion calling on the First Minister to be excluded from office for six months. When it came to the vote, Sinn Féin merely abstained.

This is not some Sinn Féin campaign to get rid of Arlene and the DUP knows it. This is a scandal that has its roots in ministerial misfeasance, whether there are elements of malfeasance has yet to be established.

Right up to last Friday, even after the DUP provocatively cut funding for an Irish language scheme, Sinn Féin was still struggling to find a way to get Arlene off the hook.

This, at least, was acknowledged by the First Minister when she said “with the exception of the issue of stepping aside, we believe that the proposals provided to us by Sinn Féin… provide a basis for taking an investigation forward.”

Gerry Adam’s speech over the weekend where he catalogued the times that the DUP had out-foxed Sinn Féin in government signalled a hardening of their position.

The tipping point now is whether the First Minister is prepared to stand aside for a four-week period while the mooted whirlwind investigation is conducted. The DUP say she will not stand aside for even a day. Sinn Féin thinks she must, as indeed did the Assembly by a vote of 39 – 36.

So, who will blink?

If no one does, then an election is inevitable. The Deputy First Minister (who is actually the Co-First Minister) Martin McGuinness can trigger her resignation by resigning himself. This would effectively collapse the Executive and lead to an election.

Will it happen? We should know in the coming days. But even if it doesn’t and one side gives way, relations and trust between the two Executive partners are now so strained and damaged that it hard to see how it can hope to continue for much longer.

It is also hard to see how an election alone can resolve the impasse. Public confidence in NI’s political parties has been falling from election to election. Voters are so turned off by NI politics that fewer people voted in last year’s Assembly election (55%) than voted in the Brexit referendum (63%).

Given the choices currently on offer, is there any reason to hope that voters will not be turned off even further by the petty partisan politics of the past few weeks?

If voters continue to stay away and both the DUP and Sinn Féin return as the main parties of Unionism and Nationalism, albeit with reduced numbers, can a viable Executive be formed with the same two parties at its helm?

Last June’s Brexit vote potentially changed the political landscape in the North, with a majority voting to stay in the EU – it is time that the North’s party political landscape caught up with that change.

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

Rollingnews

90431564

derek

From top: Simon Coveney at a Rebuilding Ireland event in Charlemont Street, Dublin in June; Derek Mooney

Instead of his well-intentioned, but ultimately stop-gap, package of measures Minister Simon Coveney should have been looking to more bold and creative ideas

Derek Mooney writes:

Just a few weeks ago Simon Coveney’s Fine Gael leadership ambitions seemed forlorn. His media appearances were infrequent. When he was on TV or Radio it was to answer for the government’s two big policy failures: water charges and housing.

Meanwhile his principle rival, Leo Varadkar, was Whatsapp-ing Fine Gael parliamentary colleagues, doing the constituency chicken and chips circuit and popping into radio and TV studios dispensing bonhomie and political insights on every issue under the sun, providing it had nothing to do with his departmental responsibilities.

According to the pundits in the Sunday newspapers all this has changed. Thanks to the launch of his rental strategy Simon has, with one mighty bound, now leaped ahead of Leo in the leadership stakes.

They say that Simon’s new policy is a winner as he managed to keep most of it intact and didn’t have to surrender too much to Fianna Fáil, apart from back-tracking on his earlier rejection of rent controls and only taking on ten out of the original twelve proposals it had made over the Summer.

So, is this really how we evaluate policies these days – by how they affect your personal political ambitions?

How about we do something bold and brave and judge them by doing something mad or crazy like seeing how effective they are and how they address the problem they were designed to solve?

I do not doubt Simon’s sincerity in trying to tackle the crises facing him. He has demonstrated great political courage in taking on not one; but two of the biggest political challenged facing this government. While I do not doubt his commitment, I do seriously question his boldness and imagination.

As with so many political and policy issues in Ireland, Minister Coveney appears to be tackling this one from the wrong end. The biggest problem we face in housing and accommodation is supply – attempting to tackle the housing problem without doing something serious about supply is the equivalent of tackling global warming by turning down the brightness setting on your iPhone. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t really help either. It just gives you something nice to post on Facebook.

We have seen a massive increase in the numbers living in rented accommodation over the past decade or so. Between 2006 and 2011 the number of households renting from private landlords increased by a staggering 120% from 145,317 in 2006 to 323,007 in 2011.

But the supply of good quality rental accommodation is not keeping pace with that increase nor with the specific demands of that group. According to Eurostat figures (2015) the percentage of our population living in apartments/flats, at just over 5%, is one of the lowest rates in the EU. The percentage in the UK is 11% and the average across the EU is 25%

Yet, though it serves the needs of an increasing percentage of the population Ireland’s rental sector is deeply dysfunctional.

It is not designed nor structured. It is something that has developed and emerged in an ad hoc manner and has now reached the point where it doesn’t work for either renters or landlords. This is a rare achievement. It is also entirely unnecessary, as there are a range of rental models from which we can pick and choose.

The market has not created or evolved a stable and sustainable model of rental accommodation over the past decade and a half because the market itself has not been stable over that period. It has lurched from boom to bust and given us a rental sector with all the hallmarks of both.

Mention rental accommodation and many politicians immediately think of students and young people. It doesn’t appear to have occurred to them that using rented accommodation could be a reasonable first choice for large swathes of people and not some mere fall back or stop gap for those who cannot afford to buy.

About 12 years ago, I was an adviser to the main representative body for rental property providers. Back then one of their key issues was the lack of professionalism in the sector, and the same remains true today.

We have a class of accidental landlords, many of whom have just one, two or three properties and who juggle managing those rental properties with other businesses.

We should be encouraging the provision of good quality rental accommodation as a service business. It should be run to professional standards and attract both the supports and regulations that would apply to any other important service industry such as accredited training programmes, inspections and tax reliefs.

Instead of his well-intentioned, but ultimately stop-gap, package of measures Minister Coveney should have been looking to more bold and creative ideas such as long term leases, German style rent caps, incentives for institutional investment in the rental sector and higher densities, i.e. building up to 10 storeys plus, in designated areas, especially in Dublin.

He should be moving rent subsidy away from the Social Welfare code and turning it into a housing benefit payment operated by Local Authority housing officers who can monitor and inspect the scheme, not overworked and over stretched community welfare officers.

This proposal was made back in the mid 1990’s when Proinnsias de Rossa was the Welfare Minister, maybe Simon can persuade Leo to hand responsibility for this scheme over to him?

While he is at it, Simon also needs to show the leadership he hopes someday to achieve and stand up to the Department of Finance.

We cannot expect to professionalise the provision of rental accommodation for as long as rental income is treated as “unearned” income. The time has long since passed to make the provision of rental accommodation a proper and legitimate business. Can Simon do it?

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

90436192

derek

From top: Gerry Adams at the Dublin Wax Museum last Summer; Derek Mooney

The drama and untruth surrounding Gerry Adams handling of the Stack family will not topple Adams as leader, but it points us towards the fault line under his leadership that will.

Derek Mooney writes:

One of the most cherished tactics of the ever harder working army of Gerry Adams defenders is the “whataboutery” argument.

It is deployed, almost as regularly and speedily as the online shinnerbots, whenever Adams comes under attack. Indeed, whataboutery has so become the modern-day Provo’s weapon of choice that we may yet see a range of whataboutery trinkets and t-shirts available for online sale alongside the old Kalashnikov pins and ‘sniper at work’ t-shirts

The whataboutery tactic is a form of ad hominem attack, where you attack your critic, but you make it seem like you are expressing concern for others.

We saw it used a lot last week as the troops rushed forward to defend Adams in his dealings with the Stack family.

Asked why Adams would not give the Gardaí the name of the person he took a blindfolded Austin and Oliver Stack to meet; they answer: what about all the other victims? Why do you only want to talk about Brian Stack? Why are we not talking about all the others?

The point that they very conveniently forget is that Brian Stack was one of those “other” victims about whom they themselves have not spoken for years, if not decades. He was one of the unnamed others when we spoke about other named victims.

Adams and, by extension, Sinn Féin likes its victims in the abstract. In theory Sinn Féin has huge sympathy for all victims. Its rhetoric on victims – as a collective – is close to faultless.

A major problem emerges however when it comes to putting that rhetoric into practise for individual victims, particularly the victims of the Provos. Then the sympathy comes more slowly and rarely stretches beyond a few tired old phrases.

The Stack family has been quietly and patiently seeking the truth for decades. Brian Stack’s name and his memory is being spoken about now, not because Michéal Martin or Enda Kenny have brought it up, but rather because Austin Stack and the Stack family have.

I should at this point declare that Austin Stack is a friend of mine and that I have known him for very many years. I know that Austin has been working quietly and constructively with victims’ groups, North and South, for several years.

I know this partly due to my past involvement with the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. As the centre operates under Chatham House rules I will not identify any of the people I have encountered there, but I can say that I have seen victims and former combatants from all sides to the conflict in Northern Ireland reach out to help each other. This includes people with provisional IRA connections.

The other assertion that Adam’s apologists make is that the rest of us are trying to hold Sinn Féin to a higher standard than others. What they really mean is that we are wrong not to hold them to a lesser one.

As part of this process they consistently and persistently attempt to re-write the history of the past fifty years on this island. They try to portray the IRA as arising seamlessly out of the Civil Rights movement of Hume and Cooper as a popular army fighting on behalf of all of us against a British aggressor.

It is this concoction of a false past and a fake narrative that creates a responsibility, if not an imperative, on the rest of us to call Sinn Féin out. We all have a particular duty to hold the Provos, the INLA and all the other self-styled republican terror groups to account as they claimed to be carrying out their campaign of terror in our name.

They sought to embroil us all in their actions, so they and their apologists must face the opprobrium of those whose mandate they erroneously claimed.

Holding the Provos and the others to account does not stop us from doing right by all sides. The whataboutery is wrong. So, we should and we must also pursue the British government and security forces and hold them to account too for their excesses, their dirty tactics and abuses of human rights during the conflict.

The drama and untruth surrounding Gerry Adams handling of the Stack family will not topple Adams as leader, but it points us towards the fault line under his leadership that will.

One of the smartest and most consistent voices of reason in Northern Ireland is that of Derry man, Denis Bradley. Writing in the Irish News just before the latest phase in the Stack drama unfolded, Denis said:

“Gerry Adams should ride off into the sunset. That day has arrived. No matter what good or important contribution already made, his presence is now a hindrance.”

He is right. Adams has stayed on for far too long. Over the past few years, perhaps since winning his seat in Dáil Éireann, Adams has focused more on turning Sinn Féin into an organ for promoting the myth and legacy of Adams than a political party looking to change Ireland.

As I have written here before, Sinn Féin is not so much a “party in transition” as it is “transitioning into a party”. Adams handling of the Stack killing and his apparent insistence that the next generation of Sinn Féin put their fingerprints over his defence can only slowdown that transition process, if not reverse it.

The eagerness of Mary Lou McDonald to be one of those championing her floundering leader may help her gain the support of the Sinn Féin grandees in Belfast, but it may render her hoped for leadership banjaxed before it starts.

And so, I end this week’s Broadsheet post. Now, let the tirade below the line commence…

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

derek

From top: Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi leaves an EU summit last June; Derek Mooney

A bad weekend for Europhiles?

Not a bit of it.

Derek Mooney writes:

I know it is a hackneyed old phrase and gets trotted out in almost every election discussion, but there is a very good reason Tip O’Neill’s “all politics is local” maxim gets so much airplay: it’s because it’s true.

Yet, somehow, commentators, pundits and even politicians forget this.

Take yesterday’s referendum result in Italy. No sooner had the exit polls showing a heavy defeat been announced but the Euro-sceptics, including Nigel Farage, were out in force to claim the result as a continuation of the Brexit/Trump trend.

Isn’t it curious how those styling themselves the biggest supporters of national sovereignty and the greatest opponents of EU integration are the ones who see every political development in terms of a pan European trend and not individual nation decisions? Mightn’t the factors underpinning the Italian result have more to do with local Italian politics than what is happening in the UK or France?

As it turns out, they do. While the lazy analysis will see it as just another phase of the Brexit/Trump populist train, the reality is that the Italian result was not about populism versus the establishment.

There were as almost many members of the establishment on the No side as on the Yes, including the centrist former Italian prime minister and EU Commissioner, Mario Monti, hardly your archetypal populist!

Though the winning No side also included the anti-establishment Five Star movement, they were not the insurgents – the No side were arguing the status quo. They were urging a rejection of Renzi’s proposals to make Italian decision making easier by reducing the size and power of the Senate and taking power back to the centre from the regions.

While the Italian result was widely predicted, including by pollsters, the Austrian Presidential result was not.

Right up to the last minute the polls in Austria were forecasting a very tight race with many pundits concluding that the far right’s candidate, Norbert Hofer, would emerge the winner. In the end, the moderate Van der Bellen had a comfortable win.

Not only does his victory deal the simplistic “populist wave” argument a blow, it also reduces the size of the headache facing Brussels today.

But before they start the celebrations in the Berlaymont, the far right FPO party is still on course to make significant gains in the 2018 Austrian parliamentary elections – though these are the same polls that called the presidential for the FPO, so maybe take that with a pinch of salt.

Before we reach the 2018 Austrian elections, we have 2017 to get through – and 2017 brings a series of crucially important general elections; in the Netherlands, France and Germany. The timeline is as follows:

March 15 – general election in The Netherlands

April 23 and May 7 Rounds I & II in the French Presidential election

Mid-June French parliamentary elections (2 Rounds)

Sept/Oct – German federal elections, polling date yet to be determined

And, remember, just after the Dutch elections and before Round I of the French presidential election we will likely have the UK’s triggering of Article 50, commencing formal Brexit negotiations.

Next year will be an important one for Europe, though I suspect those seeing it as the year that Europe starts to finally and irrevocably fall apart may not get their wish.

As with yesterday’s results, the outcomes will likely be a mixed bag of confusing signals. While it still looks unlikely – at least from this remove – that the far right or ultra-nationalists will end up in office in either France or Germany, the possibility of Geert Wilders PVV party ending up in coalition government in the Netherlands cannot be ruled out.

Meanwhile, what lessons will Brussels take from yesterday’s Italian and Austrian results?

Not only was the Italian result the clearer and more decisive of the two, it is the one that will likely have the most immediate impact in Brussels. Italy’s financial sector was in a precarious enough position before the referendum, so the result coupled with the instability that will follow Renzi’s resignation can only make an already bad situation worse.

As for the Austrian result, if it had gone the other way and the far right had won, then much of the focus that is now on Italy would have been on the far right’s victory and the alarm bells that it was setting off in Brussels. The response in Brussels will be a sigh of relief that they just have Italy to deal with and it is hard not to imagine that they had already factored the Italian defeat into the mix.

So, the Brussels response will likely be: as you were. This will also be the probable Brussels response to any emerging crisis over the coming year. The EU is set to effectively go into stasis or suspended animation until after the German elections next, with the Commission President Juncker appearing to have already personally commenced the process.

This should not be a period of inactivity here. The triggering of Article 50 negotiations in March 2017 should kick start a debate on this island as to how we see our EU membership and which way we want to see the EU go.

A good starting point for such a debate could be found in comments made by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during her address to Seanad Éireann and in some of the responses from our own Senators. The First Minister spoke of:

“The sense that small countries can be equals in a partnership of many is something that appeals to us about the European Union”

This theme was picked up on by several Senators, including Fianna Fáil’s Mark Daly and independent Alice-May Higgins with Michael McDowell reflecting opinion across the Chamber saying that

“…the partnership of independent states in the EU echo the feelings of most Irish people towards the EU. It is not a super state but a partnership of individual states.”

He is right and it should inform our approach to the Brexit talks and what we want a post Brexit EU to look like, after all: all politics is local.

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

Earlier: A Limerick A Day

Pic: Getty

000d392c-614

cyvopdpuaaenkb1derek

From top: Castro tribute; President Higgins arrives at the Cuban Embassy this morning; ; Derek Mooney

The human rights abuses in Cuba are not some historic inconvenience that can be poetically euphemised.

Derek Mooney writes:

There are several immutable rules in politics. One of the most important ones says: when you are in a hole: stop digging.

The rule applies outside the rarefied atmosphere of the corridors of power. It even extends to those residing in 18th century palatial residences in the Phoenix Park.

Trying to pretend that President Higgins’ statement on the death of Fidel Castro was anything other than fawning and unbalanced is to toss aside the silver shovel and bring in a JCB.

Defending the President’s statement from criticism a spokesman said that the statement had clearly referred to the price paid for social and economic development in terms of civil society and the criticisms it brought.

Clearly? Really?

The relevant sentence reads: “The economic and social reforms introduced were at the price of a restriction of civil society, which brought its critics.” Twenty (20) words in a statement that was about 430 words in length. That is hardly balanced, especially when you consider the passivity of the language employed.

Styling the use of murder to acquire and maintain power as just a “restriction of civil society” is naive dissimulation at best and an insult to defenders of human rights at worst.

While some may question the scale of the horrors Castro inflicted, like Stalin or Mao he had absolutely no compunction about lining up thousands, if not tens of thousands, of men and women in front of the infamous ‘paredón’ (the wall) for summary execution. These included former revolutionary comrades such as William Alexander Morgan.

The human rights abuses in Cuba are not some historic inconvenience that can be poetically euphemised. They continue to the present day. In its 2016 report on Cuba the noted human rights NGO Human Right Watch states:

Human Rights Defenders: The Cuban government still refuses to recognize human rights monitoring as a legitimate activity and denies legal status to local human rights groups. Government authorities harass, assault, and imprison human rights defenders who attempt to document abuses.

Check the President’s twitter feed and you will find that President Higgins’ eulogy to Castro came just two hours after posting a link to his Mansion House speech given on Thursday last as part of the inauguration of the first global memorial to murdered human rights defenders.

What a contrast. How incongruous. Side by side on the President’s media page is a speech praising human rights defenders and a statement eulogising a man who systematically oppressed human rights defenders.

I do not for even one second doubt the sincerity of the President’s ongoing commitment to human rights or of his lifelong work in this area, but I do question his judgement.

He damages these causes when he puts his simplistic and romanticised notions of the Castro legend ahead of the more complex reality – even under the guise of “de mortuis nihil nisi bonum” (don’t speak ill of the dead).

Castro was a divisive figure. To some he was the “scourge of the west” and the great liberator, to others he was a megalomaniac autocrat who preached socialism while living like a king with his own private island.

The fact is that he was probably both.

Sadly, our President does not see it this way. So, instead of issuing a statement that observed the diplomatic niceties by extending the sympathies of the Irish people to the Cuban people on their loss and noting Castro’s place in world history, our President opted to go much further. He decided to internationally proclaim a glowing and lengthy tribute – and all in our name.

President Higgin’s finished off his homage to Castro with an effusive flourish, stating that:

“Fidel Castro will be remembered as a giant among global leaders whose view was not only one of freedom for his people but for all of the oppressed and excluded peoples on the planet.”

I can understand how many young people in the 1950s and 1960s initially fell for the idealised version of Castro. He overthrew a corrupt, puppet regime in the face of US opposition and introduced massive agrarian and education reforms.

This was also the golden age of photojournalism. The early black and white photos of Castro and Guevara are iconic, portraying two young men standing up against the odds.

But there comes a point when you get past the bedroom poster version of world politics and see things as they really are. The real world is not so photogenic. It is murkier and less stark with many confusing shades of grey. In the real-world politics is conducted in prose, not in poetry.

I don’t like seeing our President, or more correctly his views, being compared with those of Jeremy Corbyn and I don’t like that it is our President who has put himself in that position.

The Áras brings many privileges, but they come at the price of the loss of many personal freedoms. This includes having to temper your own personal views and recognise that when you speak you no longer do as just a private citizen.

While the President has seemed not to grasp this point on several occasions in the past, something usually dismissed as Michael D. being Michael D., this time he has strayed further across the line.

This is not a resigning matter – but it does make one wonder if we want another seven years of these particular lines being tested?

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

Pic 2 via Tom Moran

hamilton

derek

From top: The cast of Broadway show Hamilton address Vice President-elect Mike Pence after the show during the weekend; Derek Mooney

As dramatic events on Broadway dominated the news cycle Donald Trump and his key aides played us all for fools.

Derek Mooney writes:

As I sat sipping my early morning coffee and flicking through the news alerts on my phone, I came across this headline from a story in the business section of today’s Belfast Telegraph: “Applegreen moving ahead with expansion in Northern Ireland despite Trump’s win“.

By coincidence I was reading this as I sat in the Applegreens on the Stillorgan Road. It was too enticing to resist.

Had the Donald tweeted something overnight to put the future of the North’s motorway service station industry in jeopardy?

Eh no. It was some sub-editor’s attempt to put an even bigger spin on a decent good news story about Applegreen planning to build additional service stations by mentioning the fact that they have some outlets in the U.S.

In terms of putting a local spin on an international event it doesn’t quite match the way the Buchan Observer, a local Scottish weekly paper in the area when Trump owns a golf course, announcing his election: “Aberdeenshire business owner wins presidential election”. It does, however, remind us that events many thousands of kilometres away can have ramifications here, even if they are tangential.

In terms of the Applegreen story the Brexit angle would have been the bigger one as the company has a significant presence there, but at the moment Trump is a much bigger and more colourful story than Brexit and just maybe Trump’s orange hue gave it an added local dimension to counter the green.

Either way Trump is impossible to ignore. He is larger than life and he knows it. Shoe-horning him into a story or an event adds an extra bit of oomph and helps transform a mundane run of the mill announcement into something that seems more significant.

The problem is that we risk trivialising something serious. Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States and the decisions he takes on a range of issues from climate change to U.S. protectionism to whether or not to back Assad will impact us over the coming years.

So too will other developments due over the coming months; including the March 2017 commencement of Britain’s Art 50 negotiations; the outcome of the French Presidential Election in May 2017 and the continuing rise of the likes of Geert Wilders.

Between Trump, Brexit, Le Pen etc. we are in for a period of instability, especially over the next few months when the uncertainty and transition in the EU and the US allows the likes of Putin a window of opportunity to take advantage.

This is a fraught time, yet so much of our newsfeeds are filled up with trivia such as the booing of VP elect Pence at a Broadway play and Trump’s Twitter reaction to it.

cxo_wfjxcaaj-uw

The Hamilton tweet is good example of how we way underestimate both Donald Trump personally and the team around him.

The fact that he got selected as the Republican nominee and then elected as their candidate should have been proof enough of his ability and his acumen. So too is his ability to use the self-righteous anger of others to dodge far more serious issues and to also turn it back upon his critics is something to behold.

When the news agencies ran with the footage of the cast of the Hamilton musical using their curtain call to say a few words to Pence, Trump took to Twitter to say:

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

Up to the time of Trump’s Hamilton tweet the trending news topic online was Trump’s sudden settlement of the Trump University fraud suit against him for €25 million, without admitting liability.

The media – and people like me – see the Hamilton tweet, become self-righteous and indignant about how he, of all people, could slam others as being rude, and suddenly a real and substantial issue, namely his settling a major fraud case slips easily into the background.

Like many others I was on Twitter reminding people how Trump’s rallies were hardly a safe and special place for freedom of speech – or for minorities or those with disabilities – and was helping Trump bury the news item he wanted buried.

And it worked for him. The Trump University story even ended up way down the homepages of the Washington Post and the New York Times – two outlets not known for aiding and assisting Trump. So too, did the story of how the Trump organization was encouraging foreign diplomats into staying at one of its hotels.

It is a mistake to dismiss Trump and his key aides as just master manipulators. Yes, they have those skills, but they have a lot more than that. They have a political agenda too.

Trump’s senior adviser Steve Bannon, gave a potential insight into what underpins this agenda in a Skype talk to the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in June 2014.

It is a serious agenda which needs to be challenged and scrutinized seriously. We need to stop playing Trump’s three card twitter trick and focus on what is serious and leave the trivia to the trolls.

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

Pic via Twitter; Graph via PBS

trumpderek

From top: Donald Trump; Derek Mooney

Winning the Presidency while not getting more votes than your opponent does suggest that Trump the populist is not so popular.

Derek Mooney writes:

I closed last week’s Broadsheet column with the line:

“…the furore and turmoil of this divisive and nasty campaign will not end with the result. If anything, it is likely to get worse. The next President may well be faced with a task and a challenge which the conduct of the campaign has ensured they cannot fulfil.”

Though this came at the end of a piece where I predicted that Hillary Clinton would win, this part will remain the case for some time to come.

While, as Micheál Martin observed this morning on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, there is some evidence of moderation in the interviews that Trump has given since his election, that evidence is slight and is very far from conclusive. At the moment it is a hope, rather than a firm belief.

You know you are clutching at the faintest straws of hope when you view the appointment of the ultimate GOP and Washington inside Reince Priebus as Trump’s Chief of Staff. It is a key appointment and does suggest that Trump grasps the realities of the balance of powers in Washington, but its truer significance may lie in the opprobrium Trump was prepared to endure by this appointment.

As one of the more right wing and strident of Trump’s original band of political advisers, Roger Stone, tweeted when word of the announcement leaked out: “the selection… would cause a rebellion in Trump’s base. #RyansBoy”. Stone’s anger abated when he later learned that Trump was also appointing alt-right, anti-semite Steven Bannon as a senior adviser and strategist.

The signals coming from Trump so far are mixed, at best. He may ease off on his plans to scrap Obamacare and his wall with Mexico may not be a wall, but he does not plan to quickly shift to the centre and be the President of those who voted for him and those who didn’t.

Which brings us to one of the myths of the recent election, namely that Trump has created some mass popular political movement in the United States. As I have been saying here since last June Trump was riding a zeitgeist not of his own making.

While there was a sizeable chunk of voters, including the deplorables, attracted by his Putin-esque strong man message that he alone could save the US, the key swing voters viewed him a way to remind Washington and the big cities that their communities could no longer be ignored.

The division in America is as much geographic as it is class based. Look at a map showing the voting levels county by county and you will see that the main schism in today’s USA is between the big urban centres and small town/rural America: the so called “fly-over” communities.

These are the areas who feel both left behind and looked down upon, literally and figuratively. They are seeing what economic activity there is being concentrated on the big urban centres. It is a phenomenon we can relate to here.

As Enda Kenny discovered a few months ago, you cannot sell the “Keep the Recovery Going” message in areas which have yet to feel the recovery. Not only does the message not chime with these voters, it smacks of protecting the status quo

Trump did not start a movement, but he very effectively tapped into a great deal of hurt. He reached out to those disappointed by how trade agreements had shipped their jobs to Mexico and beyond and spoke out for them. He did the same on globalisation, on social change and offered to be their champion. The “those” and “them” in the last two sentences primarily refers to white, smalltown/rural Americans.

But while his appeal worked and he did undoubtedly switch people who voted Obama in 2012 to support him in 2016, Trump’s appeal was not as widespread and far reaching as he and his surrogates would have us believe.

This part of the story will slowly emerge as the full and final details of the results come in. As it stands (at the time of writing this), on the national popular vote – Hillary Clinton is about 1% ahead of Trump – approximately 600,000 votes. According to projections by Nate Cohn and others she may end up ahead by over 2 million votes – a margin of 1.5%.

Clinton leading Trump nationally by 1-2% is in line with most of the main polls and is certainly within the margin of error.

My own “Hillary will win” prediction here last week was based on my own guestimate that she would get 64 million votes and Trump would win 62 million – on this calculation I gave her 290 Electoral College Votes. I felt he would win Florida and Ohio (and said so on Twitter), but was confident she would hold traditional Democrats states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. I got that part wrong.

This is precisely where Trump won the Presidency and, when the final numbers are in, he may have done it by about getting less than a hundred thousand people in these States who voted Obama in 2012 to swing to him.

This was a specific and targeted operation – not some massive popular groundswell.

The Trump shift was not limited to this, he did gain more votes from Hispanics than expected, esp in Florida, but without those 100,000 so voters in WI, MI and PA he would not be President. But the fact is that he did and that a much weaker Democratic party campaign and disconnected messaging in these States allowed this.

This does not invalidate the result. Presidential elections are decided State by State with a weighted (not proportional) Electoral College deciding the result. Donald Trump will be President – there is not a doubt about that. He won the election based on the rules agreed and decided well in advance. But – winning the Presidency while not getting more votes than your opponent does suggest that Trump the populist is not so popular.

As a colleague of mine remarked on Twitter yesterday:

“The victory of Trump resembles the victory of Morsi in Egypt: suddenly their bigoted supporters think the country is theirs & act like it.”

Trump will need to do a great deal more than look down the lens of a TV camera and say stop. It will take a lot more and a lot longer to calm the turmoil stirred up by the campaign of the past year and a half.

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

Pic: AP

hillary

derek

From top: Hillary Clinton; Derek Mooney

He called Brexit wrong.

But know Derek has some ‘hard evidence’.

Hillary Clinton will steal win tomorrow’s US election.

Derek Mooney writes:

A week before the UK’s Brexit referendum I wrote an analysis piece for Slugger O’Toole  in which I criticised, at length, the poor preparation and campaign messaging of the Remain side.

But, for reasons attributable to the triumph of hope over experience, I ignored the evidence I had just presented and concluded – on the flimsiest of evidence – that Remain would still win.

I was wrong.

Now, with one day to go, I may be about to do the same thing again by predicting that Hillary Clinton will win the U.S. presidential election – though this time I think the hard evidence is on my side.

realclear

US election polls six month average via Real Clear Politics

If you look at a graph (above) of the US presidential public polls over the past 6 months you will see that there have only been two brief points where Donald Trump was ahead. The first was in June and the second was just after the Republican Convention.

For all the rest of the time she has been in front.

But you notice something else. Whenever the polls start to show him as getting close to winning, her support rises. When he seems out of contention, as he briefly did after the release of the “bus” video, her voters slip away. They only re-emerge, reluctantly, when they realise that he is once again back in contention.

Trump or, more correctly, the prospect of a Trump win has become a better motivator of Hillary’s supporters than the candidate herself. It is as if she has a cohort of ‘supporters’ who are more motivated to support her to stop Donald than they are to support her to make her President.

As we saw from Brexit, there are dangers in depending too much on public polls – and I stress the word public. Political parties do not do poll in the same way as news media.

Political party polling is more targeted and more refined – it looks for movement in specific sectors (demographic/geographic) of the electorate, not the whole mass.

Fortunately, for Hillary, there is evidence beyond the public polling which suggests that she will prevail.

The first is the changing nature of American society. The demographics suit her. Her supporters are mainly college educated, they are also non-white. These two groups are on the increase – more Americans are now college educated and a higher percentage of the America population is non-white.

Trump’s supporters are mainly white, male and non-college educated. For reasons I have explored here several times before; white blue-collar workers (and ex-workers) are angry and disillusioned with the system.

Perhaps some see Trump as their last best chance of having a white and male President, but most just want to stop globalisation and trade deals that have seen their jobs shipped out to Mexico and China. This includes a chunk of blue collar workers in the rust-belt states who supported Obama in 2012 and are now backing Trump.

The other factor favouring Hillary is the way that campaigns are organised and the critical importance of voter databases. These databases are vitally important to US elections in a way that they are not here, due to our increasingly strict data protection rules.

In America both parties know who they need to get to the polls in fine detail. Clinton’s campaign knows county-by-county just how many voters it needs to get out to vote and precisely who they are. Their ground war over the past few days and weeks has been focused on get out the vote (GOTV) operations in a way that much of Trump’s own campaign has not.

Trump himself prefers the air campaign, conducting big rallies and using the media to reach out to the voters. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s one-time campaign manager, has been dismissive of these ground campaigns, calling them old fashioned.

While the Republicans (GOP) also have a strong ground campaign, especially as it has so many Senate seats to defend, its capacity and/or its willingness to assist the Trump effort varies from State to State. In many areas the GOP is using the probability of a Clinton win as a way to motivate its base to back its Senate and House candidates to counter balance a Clinton White House.

The third factor favouring Hillary Clinton is the Electoral College. Tight elections are the norm in the US. Obama’s margin of victory over Romney in the 2012 popular vote was 5 million out of the 129 million votes cast. Obama was the winner in 26 States, plus Washington DC, while Romney won in the remaining 24. In terms of the Electoral college Obama won by 332 to 206.

In 2000 George W Bush was the winner in 30 of the States, but just shaded the electoral college winning 271. In terms of the popular vote he lost to Gore who won 51 million votes to Bush’s 50.5 million.

The point of these examples is to show that Democrats are traditionally stronger in the States that have the higher electoral college votes – the so called Blue states – another factor giving Hillary the advantage.

Trump’s third campaign manager Kellyanne Conway conceded this point on CNN yesterday acknowledging that Hillary started the race with a secure 240 electoral college votes, based on safe Democrat states.

For these reasons, I think Hillary Clinton will be the 45th President, though I would not be willing to bet on the margin. My own best guess is that she will get 290 electoral college votes, but it all depends (once again) on Florida.

The one thing I am prepared to bet on, is that the furore and turmoil of this divisive and nasty campaign will not end with the result. If anything, it is likely to get worse. The next President may well be faced with a task and a challenge which the conduct of the campaign has ensured they cannot fulfil.

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

Top pic: Getty