Tag Archives: Mooney on Monday

From top: Opposition benches in Dáil Éireann; Derek Mooney

Who in their right mind would want to become a TD?

The pay is good, the perks are decent and the scope for promotion (career and ‘self’) is none too bad either, but can these incentives really outweigh the forfeiture of a private life, never mind the ongoing press, public and social media opprobrium whenever you express an opinion?

Shouldn’t politics be a vocation, not a career path?

The problem with that view is not just that it is naïve, it is that it simply won’t work. Try it and we end up with a Dáil full of only those who can only afford to be there by virtue of their profession, their families’ money or simple “pull” – by the way not all of them would be on the right, a fair few would also come from the comfortable left, but that’s just an aside.

So, recognising that we are in the real world, perhaps we should be looking more at how to make entry into politics less unattractive and encourage more people who would not just see it as a long-term career option, but rather as something to contribute to after they have done and achieved other things.

Billy Connolly used to say that “The desire to be a politician should be enough to ban you from ever becoming one”. He is right, but only in one narrow sense. Wanting power for the sake of having it should be disqualification, but wanting it so you can change things, whether that be how many street lights there are in your community cycle, how waste is managed or how the cost of housing is reduced – that should be encouraged.

One of the problems is that many of political parties still include obstacles and tests that deter all but the most ambitious and politically astute. There is value in these skills, but national politics needs others too: people with wider skill sets and experiences.

Politics is not well served when it full of neophytes who have spent plenty of time as parliamentary researchers and ministerial assistants but have no genuine experience of the real world.

This applies to both left and right. Politics needs more people who have built things from houses to computers to companies and fewer people who have made placards and organised protest marches.

This is one of the reasons we have political parties. The most crucial role of any party, after policy development, is candidate selection. Political parties are there to identify, encourage, resource and support new entrants – people who may not in other circumstances have considered or pursued politics. They are there to protect them and back when they come under attack and support their work by making policy expertise available.

It can and does work. After the 2011 election massacre, Fianna Fáil was left with a lot of vacancies for prospective TDs as it had a lot of constituencies with no sitting TDs and no seat blockers.

This was a major plus, it had the capacity to rebuild and renew with a massive intake of new talent. But it also had a big problem. On the negative side, it had a poll rating that would not encourage many to see it as offering a pathway to the Dáil.

Squaring this circle was no easy task. It had both to identify potential future TDs and to reassure them that it was a sufficiently viable vehicle to help them make it to the Dáil and contribute positively.

Much of that work happened locally. In many cases the local organisations and activists were ahead of their national counterparts. By the time of the 2014 local elections the party, nationally and locally was starting to synchronise both tasks: it had sufficiently recovered in the national polls to offer a credible vehicle and also had a slate of people with a variety of backgrounds to fast track into the Dáil.

Looking back, it now looks far more organised and structured that it probably was at the time. Building a mythology around what was done and how it was achieved risks missing the real and valuable lessons of what really happened. It also risks allowing a re-emergence of all the obstacles and hurdles of the past.

Though much of Fianna Fáil managed over the past five years was much by local action as by national design, it still offers a template for how other parties can and should encourage more new entrants.

But there is one big proviso, they must also realise that the work does not end when you bring in a few new TDs. If anything, that is when it really starts. TDs are not shrinking violets, but neither can they be allowed become punching bags for any group, whether in or outside the Dáil, who want to take politics out on to the street and then abrogate all responsibility for the consequences.

Every TD has an equal right to be heard inside and outside the Dáil. Being a Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour or Sinn Féin back bencher does not lessen or reduce their mandate and should not reduce their speaking rights. Political parties are not an impediment to political progress, they are the bedrock of it.

Everyone has a right to disagree and to do so robustly and loudly, but the “What the Parliament does, the street can undo” mantra of Solidarity-PBP cannot be allowed to stand. It is a pernicious attempt to discourage wider political engagement and involvement in the guise of opening it up to those approved by Solidarity-PBP.

It is joked that France has the only “tricameral system” in the world – the National Assembly, the Senate and the Street – but history and experience shows that the Street has always been the biggest hindrance to reforms.

It is yet another reason why political parties now must ensure that many people who should be considering entering politics are given the opportunities, supports and protections to do so.

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: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Downing Street today; Derek Mooney

“Silage and Ice-cream”.

This is how Audrey Carville defined the classic Irish Summer on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland earlier today.

And though silage was not exactly plentiful in the Liberties, Rathmines or even Yellowbatter in Drogheda during my childhood years, I think I know what she means.

Indeed, up to this morning I hadn’t realised that silage is spelled with just one “l”. Though I cannot recall using the word in many speeches, reports or articles I am virtually certain that I used two “l”s anytime I have written it.

I know for sure that I used two “l”s when I went searching for the phrase just before writing this piece, only to discover that the two “l”-ed version of silage, i.e. sillage (pronounced as if there were no “l”s at all in the word) is the word used to describe the lingering fragrance that someone’s perfume leaves in the air.

Silage and ice-cream may also be an apt phrase to describe Leo Varadkar’s first few days as Taoiseach.

The ice-cream has come in the form of the positive coverage his elevation to high office has generated, both at home and abroad, though that may be starting to melt a bit after two solid weeks of learning what a wonderfully precocious child he was and how he wrote his first letter to the Irish Times aged three, or whatever.

His first TV interview with Tommie Gorman was good. He was clear, concise and on top of his brief. The fact that he opted to do his first one-to-one TV encounter as Taoiseach with RTÉ’s northern editor was clearly intended to signal that the North would be a priority with this Taoiseach in a way that it had not been for his predecessor.

It was also interesting that he opted to set out his government’s policy approach to the North and re-unification himself having just appointed his rival, Simon Coveney, as the line minister dealing with the brief, a signal perhaps of things to come.

But, and not for the first time, a gap emerged between what he says and what he does.

His decision to just meet with the leaders of two of the North’s five major political parties was not a good first move. In using his first actions on the North to meet with just Arlene Foster of the DUP and Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, and not to meet with the leaders of the other three centre ground parties: the SDLP, UUP and Alliance, the new Taoiseach was perpetuating the mistake made by recent Irish governments.

Yes, a deal on the return of Stormont and the Executive is not possible without the two big beasts of the DUP and Sinn Féin agreeing to again work together, but the smaller parties should not be taken for granted.

Even the British government realised that when it invited all the parties to Downing Street last Thursday, not just the big two.

Taoiseach Varadkar made a silly unforced error in appearing to relegate the smaller parties to the second division of negotiation. Their participation in the institutions is as important and crucial as that of the DUP and SF. If anything, the events of the second half of last year suggest that it is even more important, as the two main parties seem unable to reach accommodations in office without the smaller parties there to give them cover.

Varadkar should know this. He sits at a Cabinet which could not continue in office if it were not for the involvement of smaller parties and Independents though, as we see from today’s latest development in the Marie Whelan appointment saga, he may know it, but he doesn’t show it.

Perhaps this is the point. Perhaps his near disdainful attitude to the smaller parties in the North just echoes his disdainful attitude to its own partners in government?

The incredible, some would say grubby, rush to get Marie Whelan quickly sworn in as a judge of the appeal court this morning so that the sorry saga is all over and down before tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting is a brazen throw down to Ministers Ross and Naughten and – by extension to Fianna Fáil.

Is this just Varadkar bravado, showing early on that he is now the boss and what he says goes? Or, is the nomination a difficult, but essential, element of the succession’s realpolitik that he must see through to the end, no matter how the stench adheres to him? I suspect this is more the latter.

Those who say that Leo has wiped Fianna Fáil’s eye by pushing this through seem to miss the point that this appointment, coupled with the fiasco of the cabinet reshuffle that wasn’t, has just shortened what could have been an extensive Varadkar honeymoon.

As every job interviewee had been told: you only get one chance to make a first impression and Leo has wasted his.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil will wait for its moment to exact some political revenge and that will be a moment of its choosing, not Leo’s. If Fianna Fáil is to bring down this government let be on an issue of policy that affects people’s lives, not “beltway” process.

The Marie Whelan saga was not of Varadkar’s making, but his ownership of a move that looks suspiciously like a vintage political stroke, is now 100%.

The appointment was brought to Cabinet as the last act of the outgoing Taoiseach and outgoing Justice Minister, but by defending it so fiercely the new Taoiseach has made it his own… alone… and, unless I am missing something, I have not seen the new, sorry… the incoming… Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, (it hardly seems right calling someone who has been in the Dáil since 1987 “new”) rushing to the barricades to help.

If Varadkar has been preparing all his political life for this moment, then it is hard to believe that this is what he had planned.

You cannot call a cabinet that contains FG ministers who entered the Oireachtas in 1981 (Bruton), 1987 (Flanagan) and 1989 (Creed), 1992 (Fitzgerald) and 1994 (Ring) new or fresh.

We shall see tomorrow how he handles the even trickier issue of appointing Junior Ministers. Will he be bold and courageous in these hardly earth-shattering selections, or will he just do what he did with the cabinet?

Are these first faltering steps a case of the promises made to secure election restricting the ability to operate, or is the problem more fundamental? Can Varadkar be the thrusting and dynamic Taoiseach his Fine Gael parliamentary colleagues longed for, or will he just become the commentator-in-chief?

Is that the sillage of silage or of raspberry ripple ice-cream. Excuse me, I must be off to Teddy’s in Sandycove!

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

Pic via Random irish Photos

From top: Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill, centre, celebrates last Thursday night after picking up two seats from the SDLP; Derek Mooney

While the outcome of the Westminster election was far from conclusive in England and Wales, the same cannot be said for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Only for the resurgence of the Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson, Theresa May would be moving furniture rather than clinging to office by her fingertips. While the same Scottish result has, sadly, delayed the prospect of an Indy2 referendum, as the SNP Westminster representation collapsed from 56 seats to just 35 thanks to a 13% drop in support.

While in Northern Ireland the two parties that were at the heart of the post Good Friday Agreement Executive the: the SDLP and the UUP have been wiped out in terms of Westminster representation with the spoils being shared out between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The Westminster line-up going into last Thursdays election was DUP 8, SF 4, SDLP 3, UUP 1 and Ind 1. The line-up coming out of it looks far starker: DUP 10, Sinn Féin 7 and Ind Unionist 1.

In crude political terms the balance has not shifted, however. There were 11 broadly unionist MPs and seven broadly nationalist ones in the last House of Commons. This time around there will be:  11 broadly unionist MPs and seven broadly nationalist ones, only that none of the seven will attend.

Much has been made of Sinn Féin’s abstentionism over the past few days with most parties in the South using it as a stick to beat them with. I think the parties here have got it wrong on this one.

I would have happily voted for any of the SDLP candidates and I am deeply saddened not to see Mark Durkan, Margaret Ritchie or Dr Alasdair McDonnell in the House of Commons ensuring that the voice of nationalist and republican Ireland is heard.

That said, the reality is that nationalist and republican voters still opted for candidates they knew would not take their seats.

Why voters in the North decided to vote for candidates who are happy to take the wage and the perks without doing the job is the issue that our political leaders should be addressing. The issue was excellently summed up by Denis Bradley in his analysis piece in last Saturday’s Irish Times:

“Since the Good Friday Agreement, Irish nationalism, across the whole island, has allowed itself to be reduced to a critiquing and an opposing of Sinn Féin instead of better understanding and explaining to itself and to others the desirability and the possibility of Irish unity.”

Bradley then went further and made the case for not just slagging off Sinn Féin hollow and ultimately directionless narrative saying:

“There will always remain Irish nationalists who are unconvinced that Sinn Fein are the best proponents and providers of Irish unity but they continue to await a message and a messenger that is better.”

I believe this group is in the majority, North and South. As I have said here very many times, Brexit has completely changed the nature and scope of the debate in the North.

One of the fundamental principles of the Good Friday Agreement is consent. Consent means, in the context of the Good Friday Agreement, that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will not change without the consent of the majority of the people there.

There was a vote on Brexit in the North and 56% of people there, across communities, said no to Brexit. Yet it was still pushed through Westminster – despite the impassioned pleas of people like Durkan, Ritchie and McDonnell – and will proceed, we presume, in some shape or other.

The EU citizenship of the people of Northern Ireland is not only being ignored, it is being annulled by the government at Westminster – small wonder that nationalists and republicans are angry.

Yes, it would be far better for this island North and South if Sinn Féin took their seats in this finely balanced parliament and used their numbers to raise the many legitimate and real concerns of Irish people on a hard Brexit and a hard border, but that is the type of analysis and criticism you apply to a political party, not Sinn Féin.

There are so many other areas on which to challenge Sinn Féin, top of that list is the perpetual sloganeering and game-playing that it engages in which helps it squeeze out an extra percentage point or two here and there but which also pushes the prospect of reunification further over the horizon.

As Cllr Mannix Flynn said in his podcast with the Irish Independent: “The Sinn Féin promise of liberation is nuts.

Over the past few days we have seen successive SF talking heads on TV Radio and Social Media telling us what a brilliant election they have just had and how their mandate is even further strengthened.

In the most simplistic terms, they are right. Sinn Féin did have a good Westminster election, but the shift in votes needed under the archaic first-past-the-post system to deliver that result was not huge. They took two seats off the SDLP and took one off the UUP, but when you look at the movement of voters, it was not a seismic change.

While SF saw its vote share since the most recent assembly election increase by 1.5% and the SDLP saw its vote decrease by a mere 0.2%, the biggest swing was to the DUP which saw its vote surge by a stunning 7.9% to 36%.

That DUP swing was decisive, not just in terms of the North, but also in terms of its clout in Westminster.

So, the DUP now has the ear, if not the more tender regions, of a weakened UK Prime Minister, while Sinn Féin has seven MPs with no clout, no Executive, no Assembly and an NI MEP who will be redundant in less than two years.

The other thing that Sinn Féin may have achieved is to have opened up a political space that it cannot occupy, but which could be filled and expanded by a new, or even an old, pro-European, business friendly, republican political party.

Things in the North may be about to get a whole lot more interesting.

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


There you go now.

From top:  Barrow Centre, IT Carlow last Friday ahead of a Fine Gael leadership debate.; Derek Mooney

If memory serves me right, and it rarely does, in one of the many documentaries on the fall of Margaret Thatcher, Cecil Parkinson recounts the story of Michael Heseltine approaching him in the House of Commons to ask for his vote in the leadership battle following Thatcher’s resignation.

Parkinson, a long-time confidante of the Iron Lady was taken aback by the brazenness of the approach. He tried to explain to Hezza that, given his closeness to Margaret, he could not be seen to back the man whose challenge had just brought her down. Heseltine brushed his concerns aside, saying: “I don’t care who you say you’re voting for Cecil, just as long as you vote for me”.

Coveney supporters must be hoping the Heseltine approach will sway some of those who have already publicly declared for Varadkar.

According to some associated with the Coveney camp, Simon needs to swing just 6 Oireachtas members back over to their side to neutralise Varadkar’s lead and leave the decision in the members’ hands.

It is a very long shot.

While the secrecy of the ballot may allow some individuals to exercise a buyer’s remorse and switch back to the guy they may have committed to backing in the first place, are there six, or more, of them in the Fine Gael parliamentary party?

I doubt it very much. This is not a reflection on anyone’s character but rather it is to wonder what would anyone gain by switching away from the likely winner at this point?

Doubtless, as I type there are Coveney grassroots supporters across the constituencies busy lobbying their local TDs and Senators to switch support before the parliamentary party votes next Friday.

I know how this works. I was one of the many grassroot activists who did it for Haughey during the early heaves against Charlie. But the tactic has only limited effectiveness as it can only hope to influence those who are undecided or wavering.

Those who have openly declared their support have already factored the impact on their supporters into the equation. They know that they can either ride out any local displeasure or watch those supporters switch sides when they gain preferment at the next reshuffle.

The bigger problem for Team Coveney is that the “winner alright” attitude to Varadkar has started to take hold among the group that Simon expected to win by a couple of clear lengths: the membership.

Many, if not most, of the rank and file Fine Gael party members may prefer Simon personally and support his more centrist platform, but they are political animals. They read the polls and online support trackers and can see that Leo is well ahead.

They do not want a divided party after the contest and so they will feel a self-imposed pressure to go with their heads rather than their hearts and give their vote to the person they believe will be their next leader, rather than the one they would like to be their leader.

I am around political parties and constituency organisations long enough to know that there is also a sizeable cohort of curmudgeonly gits in every organisation who will do whatever runs counter to the prevailing trend.

In this instance, they will back Simon as they resent having the parliamentary party alone decide who should be the next leader. But I also know that there are not enough of them, even among the blueshirts!

Though I am a bit of a card-carrying curmudgeon myself, they are also wrong. While it may not look great to have a small number of people take such a major decision alone, you cannot get away from the fact that it is the broader Oireachtas grouping, the TDs, MEPs and Senators, who are best placed to judge and evaluate the ability and calibre of the candidates.

They are the ones who will go into the next election under their banner. They are the ones whose futures fall or rise on the success of their choice. They are the ones who have seen the contenders up close in the Dáil and in meetings. They are the ones whose task it is to know what their voters (as opposed to supporters) want.

Leading a party, a parliamentary party when you do not have the active support and endorsement of the elected representatives on the benches behind you leads to all kinds of difficulties, as we can see with Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

Experienced and long serving party members see this too. They know how politics works and, so, it is hard to conceive of a situation where the Fine Gael party members would land the parliamentary party with a leader it had not picked for itself.

For all these reasons, it is impossible to envisage a situation where Leo Varadkar is not Fine Gael leader at 6pm next Friday. If Simon does beat Leo it will not just be a major upset, it will send Fine Gael into turmoil.

The four debates with his rival have exposed Varadkar’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Indeed, the fact that pundits judged Coveney as the winner of most, if not all, the hustings, casts major doubts on Varadkar’s claims as a skilled debater and media performer.

His platform for the leadership was high on style and flair, but low on detail and substance, while some elements in his version of his ministerial record have been questioned by colleagues.

While the recent Irish Times and Sunday Business Post polls differ (significantly) on the size of the bounce Varadkar’s Fine Gael can expect, that there will be a bounce is not in doubt. The question is how long that bounce will last and will it be sufficient to withstand an election later in the year.

Varadkar has dismissed the idea of calling a “snap” election – but that does not rule out the possibility of a “rift” with independent ministerial colleagues “emerging” at Cabinet over policy that necessitates an early election.

Though, as Simon Coveney discovered, Varadkar’s crew are fans of the shock and awe style of campaigning and like to move quickly and take an early advantage, they also like to prepare. They know that voters do not particularly like unnecessary/stroke elections, but will Irish voters regard an election to change a replace a do-nothing government with a decisive administration as entirely “unnecessary”?

His advisers will watch the results of the British general election in 10 days’ time to see if Theresa May’s gamble paid off and whether she increased her majority. Though her campaign has been full of errors, none thus far seem to relate to her calling the election early, but the results will tell all.

That said, the real determinant as to whether there will be an election before the winter or not will be how far above the 30% mark Varadkar can bring Fine Gael’s support and for how long.

But there’s a Catch-22. The longer the bounces lasts; the more sustainable and secure it appears, but the longer you hang around the more you take ownership of the existing crises, and the opprobrium that goes with them, plus you have the added complication of some unforeseen events derailing you.

It is a delicate balancing act, and while the evidence of recent years is that Minister Varadkar can’t do balance, can Taoiseach Varadkar? By the way, do you know any horses who would like to serve in the Seanad?

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: Maria Bailey TD, Kate O’Connell TD and Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney as Mr  Coveney launched his policy priorities at an event in Dean Hotel in Dublin yesterday; Derek Mooney

The article you’re about to read is not the article that I was originally planning to write. I usually write these pieces late Monday morning, but because I am travelling this week I decided to get the bulk of it written early last Friday.

However, the events of the last few days, particularly the surge to make Leo Varadkar… the leader Fine Gael caused me to reconsider some aspects of that original draft and so what appears below is the original piece with some added reflections.

So, as Eric Morecambe would say of Ernie’s hairpiece, see if you can spot the join.

My original starting point was a casual and basically harmless comment made by Fine Gael Senator, Michelle Mulherin on the Vincent Browne show on TV3 last Tuesday night.

Responding to a barrage of criticism for the inaction of Fine Gael on several issues and specifically the outgoing Taoiseach’s slowness to act, Michelle proffered the excuse that Enda and other ministers were reluctant to act as politicians like to be liked and so naturally avoid tough decisions and unpalatable policies.

To be fair to Senator Mulherin she was merely recycling a well worn trite excuse. It is not as if she had coined the phrase on the spot. Many people use it, including commentators and political observers.

It is offered as a valid and human explanation as to why so-and-so did not do such-and-such, but when you think about the phrase, it is really a back handed insult. The phrase is unfair on politicians and should not be deployed by them, even when under pressure from Mr Browne.

Most politicians I have known and worked with over the years would much prefer to be respected than liked. The politicians who succeed are the ones who we most respect, even when we disagree with them.

They are the ones who express their views and say where they stand, rather than telling you what you want to hear or, worse still, attempt to use weasel words to both run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

OK, many politicians do the “hail fellow, well met” act and go about back slapping, but that does not stop them from being serious and assiduous in serving the best interests of their constituents and, hopefully, having an input on national policies.

Anyone who gets into politics thinking that they’re going to be universally liked and loved will soon find their illusions shattered. It is not that there is a lot of abuse or nastiness, there may be some from time to time, but it is fleeting, indeed most people who vote for a partcular TD or Cllr rarely ever contact them directly.

There are exceptions, of course. As Frank Cluskey famously observed, there are three types of people who go to a TD’s clinic: one third want you do something illegal, one third want you to do something immoral and the final third are just effin’ lonely.

It works the other way around too. Some years ago a craftsman friend of mine was doing some specialist décor work in Leinster House over the Summer recess.

It was so slow and painstaking that he was still working on it after the Dáil and Seanad had returned. One morning, as he and I went for a coffee, he told me of the a fool-proof system he had developed to correctly distinguish between the politicians and the many officials and civil servants walking along the corridors.

“Just say hello to them” he said, explaining: “If they are a TD or a Senator they will respond immediately and effusively and greet you as a long lost friend”. “They do this”, he added, “as they daren’t take the risk of offending a possible voter by letting them think they did not recognise them, even when they don’t know them from Adam”.

“And what about the others” I enquired. His answer: “if they don’t recognise you, they’ll simply ignore you… especially the pol-corrs.”

If, as the former Deputy and current Senator Mulherin thinks, policians just want to be liked, then how does she explain the ease and speed at which Minister Varadkar has coasted ahead to be within a whisker of already securing the leadership of Fine Gael?

Minister Varadkar has cultivated the image of being a man of many fine skills and qualities, but likability ain’t one of them.

Not that he has gone the full Machiavelli route and decided that it is better to be feared than loved either, but he has (wisely and properly in my view) opted to be respected and regarded for being his own man and possessing a set of firm political views, an intellect and considerable debating skills.

In some ways, particularly when it comes to presentation, Minister Varadkar is the opposite of the Enda Kenny I described in a previous Broadsheet column. While Kenny was at his best when in a crowd of people, his personality and demeanour was dulled by a studio camera, Varadkar’s is sharpened by it. He is better in the formal setting of a TV studio or a debating chamber than in one-to-ones.

This is in contrast with his rival Simon Coveney, who is not usually too comfortable in the formal setting, though Simon’s rally speech to his supporters in Cork last Saturday night was possibly the finest and most impassioned address I have seen him give. The pity is that his campaign team did not think beforehand to arrange to stream it live so that more Fine Gael members could see it.

Both candidates for the Fine Gael leadership are, to their credit, attempting to run on platforms that go beyond the usual: “I’m great, look at my record” approach – though with a record like Varadkar’s that may be the wisest move.

But, leaving my cynicism aside, both men have placed a big emphasis on policy and are looking to political developments elsewhere for inspiration and analysis. They both attempt to set out their vision, though they are somewhat competing ones, with Leo focussing on the “open and closed” visions of the world.

It is very laudable, the problem is that all their work is now clearly wasted.

The Fine Gael Oireachtas members have decided not to consider the competing visions of where the two candidates want to lead their party and decided, instead, to jump on board the bandwagon that they, or the Fine Gael party managers, have determined will suit their personal ambitions best.

In their rush to unify and coronate, the TDs and Senators have forgotten to first stop and think. Perhaps the Councillors and party members will act as a corrective.

Simon’s only last Quixotic hope is that they do and that they manage to persuade some Fine Gael TDs and Senators to quietly change their minds in the secrecy of the ballot box.

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

Earlier: Going, You Know, Like, Forward


Need more DereK?

William Campbell (right) interviews Derek about Brexit and other STUFF in the latest edition of  his Here’s How current affairs podcast.

Listen here

From top: Michael Bernier addressing the dáil last week; Derek Mooney

Last Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator in the Brexit process, Michel Barnier addressed the Oireachtas. While M. Barnier’s speech was, not surprisingly, short on detail it still contained sufficient key phrases, including this one:

I want to reassure the Irish people that in these negotiations, Ireland’s interests will be the European Union’s interests. We are in these negotiations together and a united EU will be there for Ireland

to reassure most of the assembled Deputies and Senators that he (and his considerable team of technocrats and negotiators) understand and have Ireland’s interests at heart.

It was a strong performance from the well regarded and highly experienced French politician. To his credit, he not only addressed the Dáil and Seanad, he then sat through some fourteen individual responses from party and groups leaders plus independent TDs and Senators.And he did all this while perched on a seat facing the Ceann Comhairle, just in front of Brendan Howlin and Gerry Adams.

Perhaps this was some bizarre cruel and unusual trial by ordeal set by the Dáil’s committee on procedures and privileges to test his stamina and fortitude? If so, he passed it easily.

Throughout his speech Barnier referred to the importance and significance of the actual negotiations themselves, using the word “negotiate” itself, or a variation on it, about a dozen times, including this important reference towards the end of his address:

“If we put things in the right order, if we negotiate with mutual respect, without any aggression or naivety and are open to finding solutions, there is no reason our strong Europe cannot maintain a strong relationship with the UK.”

The inclusion of the word “naivety” here – along with the word “aggression” – has some significance. Over the past few weeks, and particularly since the announcement of the UK general election, it has seemed that Theresa May and her ministers have been deliberately ignoring the usual dynamics of negotiation.

Speak with anyone with experience in negotiation, be it in labour relations or conflict resolution, and they will tell you how easily things can go wrong when the basic rules and principles are ignored.

They are not that complicated. Negotiations are general seen as either a positive or a zero-sum game and you adjust your approach, as appropriate, to get the result you want.

This requires a lot of preparation – including preparation around two key negotiating process dynamics.

The first of these is “attitudinal structuring” or, in other words, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. It involves getting the other party to start to see things from your point of view, and to begin to change their own attitudes accordingly.

The second one is, “expectation management”. That involves getting your own people prepared for likely outcomes and not running the risk of seeing delivery of any negotiation outcome fail because you over promised and then under-delivered.

On none of these three areas have the UK made any realistic moves. Rather they have insisted on badly playing their already lousy hand of self-dealt cards.

The preparation has been minimal with the boss of the top civil servants trade union bemoaning the fact that May’s government has under invested in the civil service with many senior civil servants are already working six and seven day weeks trying to prepare for Brexit negotiation.

Apart from some the occasional soothing noise from the UK’s Brexit Secretary, David Davis, there has been virtually no attempt to “structure the attitude” of the EU towards the UK in a favourable direction. The traffic has been all in the other direction with senior ministers on May’s cabinet hurling insults and accusations across the channel as if they were rehearsing for a black and white episode of Dad’s Army.

What we have seen from the British Prime Minister and her team is a war on two front, not a preparation for a serious negotiation. The first front, is the one across the English Channel (and the Irish Sea) as they see themselves fighting a verbal war for liberation from a despotic and evil EU empire.

The second is the home front, but this front set along the land border with Scotland and the sea one with Northern Ireland, not downtown Walmington-on-Sea.

Where once May spoke of listening to the Brexit concerns and worries of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and certain parts of Northern Ireland, she now studiously ignores them. It is worth noting that she spent more time electioneering at the Balmoral Show in Belfast last Friday than she had on the ground attempting to get the institutions up and running.

The net result of the hostilities on these two battlefronts is that she has raised expectations as to what she can achieve from Brexit to such a pitch that it cannot be delivered.

Indeed, the stakes are being raised on the other side of the negotiations. As I write this I see that President Macron has announced the appointment of Edouard Philippe as his Prime Minister.

Not only is Philippe a member of the centre right Les Republicains party, a signal of Macron’s outreach to them, he is also – as Mayor of Le Havre – an avowed critic of the Le Touquet Agreement – this could see all those refugee camps move from Calais to Dover and beyond.

While Theresa May has been politically astute in calling the election now and avoiding a more fraught campaign in the immediate aftermath of whatever eventually emerges from the Article 50 negotiations, she has over hyped the rhetoric and overheated the expectations from Brexit.

She has also considerably increased the chances of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. It is why Barnier warns of the perils of “naivety” and “aggression” in negotiations and why it was particularly important for him to do so in the parliament chamber of the EU member state poised to pay the heaviest price for such British folly.

About the only positive thing you can say for this early election is that it may mean that Boris Johnson won’t be Foreign Secretary after June 9th and an actual fully formed and sentient adult may be put in charge of the Foreign Office.
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: Taoiseach Enda Kenny; Derek Mooney

“But as I leave you I want you to know – just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore”

With these words, Richard Nixon departed the political scene, well almost. It was November 7th, 1962. He was concluding what he assumed would be his last ever political press conference after losing the race to become Governor of California. Two years earlier he had narrowly lost the Presidency to John F Kennedy.

While Enda Kenny’s departure, when it comes – possibly over the next week or two – will not be as bitter and waspish as Tricky Dicky’s, there may just be the slightest hint of the same sentiment: just think what we will potentially be missing.
Love him or loathe him, during his time as Taoiseach Enda has been anything but colourless or bland. For all his faults and failings, he showed quickly that he realised that one of the main roles of any Taoiseach is re-assuring the public that there is someone with a plan in charge.

He also grasped that this role as the nation’s re-assurer-in-chief requires you to get out and about and meet people as much as possible. In some ways, Enda has spent the past six years doing a passable Bertie Ahern impression.

Nonetheless, it is where we saw Enda at his best. When you meet him in person, either in a one to one chat or as part of an audience, you realise that Enda genuinely enjoys pressing the flesh.He possesses an ebullient personality, unlike either of his two possible successors, and so he comes across as warm and engaging when encountered personally.

This natural ability and skill was also a potential liability. His desire to have something to say to everyone and to do it spontaneously could lead to problems – as our greatest ever Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, famously observed – the danger with such off-the-cuff utterances is “not the little too little, it’s the little too much”.

Hence Enda’s occasional problems with the actualité. We saw it again last week in Canada when he misremembered discussions about human rights in Saudi Arabia and ended up recounting what he now wished he had said, rather than what he had actually said when sitting with the Princes.

One way his team of advisers had come up with to try to curb Enda’s effusive tendencies was to try to keep him to a script. It worked, but only to a certain extent. If they truly wanted him to him under control then all they had to do was to turn on a camera on.

Nothing was more guaranteed to make him appear wooden and staid than a TV camera. Whereas many senior politicians only truly come to life when the lights switch on and the cameras start rolling, Enda was the opposite. He shifted down the gears. Gone was the bonhomie and the spontaneity and in its place a stiffness of both language and style.

It partly explains why he did not like formal TV debates. It was not his strong suit. But this was not just because of the cameras, it was more than that. Enda is not a details man. Nor is he adept at recalling long tracts of script or prepared lines.

This was clear in his head to head party leaders debate with Bertie Ahern in the May 2007 election. During the pre-debate spin Fine Gael had so reduced the expectations for their man that all he had to do was show up and not set the desk on fire for them to claim a draw.

On the night, many pundits were in awe of Enda as he seemed to hold his own for about the first twenty minutes of the encounter. I recall a senior party colleague calling me about fifteen minutes into the exchange concerned that Enda was doing so well, but their worry was short lived.

By the twenty-minute mark Enda was starting to flag, he was running out of rehearsed material. Meanwhile Bertie, who absorbs and retains facts and figures, was just getting into his stride and used the remaining sixty minutes to leave Enda behind.

Another four years in opposition, including a failed heave against him, and a further six years as Taoiseach has improved Enda’s speech giving ability considerably. He delivered one of his best ever speeches in Canada last week. It was considered and reflective and included a section on the concept of “othering” that I mentioned here in a recent article saying:

“It is happening to the degree that the old battles of right and left might well be over, to be replaced by something that seeks, not to unite us, but to divide us, not only among ourselves, but from what they identify and objectify as the Other. They see the people not for who they are as individuals, but as what they are as an ethnic or faith or economic group.”

It was a well written speech, delivered extremely well. At several junctures, he seemed not to be reading it from a script, but rather delivering it extemporaneously. What just about stopped it from being a perfect speech, was the inclusion of the oft made, but inaccurate, claim that his government achieved the whole recovery by itself – conveniently omitting the reality that two thirds of the correctives had been made by the time he arrived in office, but old habits die hard, I suppose.

In a few week’s (or months) time I will miss having Enda to kick around. I may have a few others to miss too from around the Cabinet table. Instead I will have to focus on the possible successors: Simon, the Enda 2.0 or Leo, the anti-Enda.

Remarkably, both come to the threshold of high office with considerably more ministerial experience than Enda did when he won the leadership. But while both have many years more time spent around the Cabinet table, they come without Enda’s experience of political hard knocks. Their political paths have been charmed and uneventful, well they have certainly been devoid of any great track record or achievement.

Both will doubtless enjoy a political honeymoon and may even feel tempted to capitalise on it with a snap election – whether they will have that opportunity may well be determined by just how down and dirty the race to succeed Enda gets and how much damage will have to be repaired before facing out to meet the voters.

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


Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen: rivals in round two of France’s presidential election; Derek Mooney

Emmanuel Macron, the former Economy Minister under Socialist President Francois Hollande and now independent centrist candidate faces off against the second placed right-winger, Marine Le Pen in round two of the French presidential election in two weeks’ time.

Derek Mooney writes:

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief last night as the first exit poll results from the French presidential election emerged showing Emmanuel Macron as the front runner.

It wasn’t just EU officials and other EU heads of government who were relieved, but also the heads of the polling companies whose predictions turned out to be extraordinary accurate, in many cases within just 1% of the result.

That sense of relief continued into this morning with European stock markets rallying and the Euro rising to a five-month peak with the news that France is likely to have a more centrist pro-EU President Emmanuel Macron.

Only a month ago the polls suggested that Le Pen might emerge as the lead candidate in the first round followed by Macron, with some showing Le Pen as high as 27% and Macron around 25%.

However; the collapse in recent weeks of the socialist party candidate Hamon saw the far left’s Melechon rally and join the leading pack, consisting of Le Pen, Macron and the conservative candidate Fillon, all within 3-4% of each other.

Macron’s youth and relative inexperience became election issues. The first public election that Macron has ever fought will likely see him elected as president. The accusation that “he rose without trace” has been thrown at macron. It is an unfair accusation.

Macron does have some experience having served as economy minister under President Hollande. Indeed, he managed to even reform French labour law, via the eponymous Loi Macron.

As a colleague of mine commented at the time of Macron’s time in office: labour market reform in France is difficult at the best of times and almost possible most of the time.

Macron encountered some stiff opposition from within the Socialist party with about 40 socialist deputies rebelling in protest at his modest proposals to modernise French labour law: including allowing shops to open 12 Sunday per year as opposed to the previous five and making changes on collective dismissals and the provision of a suitable alternative positions for french workers were made redundant.

So great was the rebellion that the President had to invoke a little used article within the French constitution giving the government the power to bypass the National Assembly and push through a law when it didn’t have majority support. It was a rare victory in the history of French labour market reform and allowed Macron to secure a reform measure that was aimed at the opening of the French economy.

For this reason Macron has never been trusted by the Socialist Party but neither he is a Gaullist (now called Les Republicains – interesting aside, the Gaullists were once Fianna Fáil’s allies in Europe). Macron is outside the French party system.

His En Marche! movement is centrist socially liberal and pro-EU with more than a hint of The Third Way/Neue Mitte of Blair and Schroeder.

It is no wonder that Brussels and most other European political leaders are happy to see Macron safely through to Round Two and safe in pole position to win the presidency with about 60/60+% of the vote.

His endorsement by Les Republicain’s Fillon and the Socialist party’s Hamon yesterday sent strong signals to their voters who to back in Round Two – but they will not all follow their advice.

But there is even great reason for EU leaders to feel happy. Marine Le Pen’s strong antipathy towards the Euro and the European Union, not to mention her easy and friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, would have considerably upset relationships in Brussels and sent the EU Commission and Council into a tail spin.

However, as often happens with Brussels, particularly with the current EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, it is possible that the EU may take the wrong lesson from the result and see a potential Macron win as some vindication for a euro-federalist project.

Le Pen’s support much like Brexit and even the Trump win in the USA is partly a populist revival, but it is also a response to globalisation and to the threats to the livelihoods posed by the twin pressures of international labour competition and automation.

Without question, even more than with Brexit, or even with Trump, there are clear elements of racism and xenophobia in Le Pen’s support base, but not every one of Le Pen’s 7.6 million voters is a racist or a bigot.

This will be even more true when she adds to that total in Round Two. By that point, she may have secured another 4 – 5 million votes from those who backed Fillon/Melechon/etc. in Round One. The vast majority of them are just people who are worried and frightened at the prospect of globalisation and see in it a loss of national identity and attachment.

It is a sense that was better expressed by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, during her speech as Tory leader when she said: ‘if you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’.

Yes, we can see that Le Pen’s coarse appeal to patriotism and love of country does verge on the fascistic, nevertheless she does dissemble her true purpose just enough to allow it to strike a chord with many who do not see nationalism and national pride as a dirty word or concept.

Neither is it one that is entirely incompatible with the modern globalised world, nor a Europe working more closely together. To quote EU Council President, Donald Tusk from his open letter to EU leaders from last September:

“The keys to a healthy balance between the priorities of Member States and those of the Union lie in national capitals. The institutions should support the priorities as agreed among Member States, and not impose their own ones.”

Yes, we should cheer if and when Macron is elected in two weeks’ time. But, when that cheering has died down; let us then take a long hard look at the wider lessons from the campaigns in the Netherland, France, in the UK and later this year in Germany.

Let us see then if it is now time to pause: to stop the treaty changes for a while and to let the changes already made time to bed down and gain a wider acceptance.

This pause may be of even greater importance to us as our closest former ally takes themselves out of the EU.

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

Earlier: A Limerick A Day



From top: Simon Coveney and leo Varadkar; Derek Mooney


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2016 general election result showed that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



From top Gibraltar: Derek Mooney

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

Derek Mooney writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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