Tag Archives: Mooney on Monday

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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From top: Former taoisgh Bertie Ahern and John Bruton at the House of Lords; Derek Mooney

The provisions of the British Irish Agreement are not something that the pro-Brexit DUP or anyone else can wish away.

Derek Mooney writes:

Like about 98% of the adult population I rarely, if ever, watch RTÉ’s European Parliament Report. While this has more to do with the ungodly hour at which it is scheduled, rather than any lack of interest in what our MEPs might be up to, last night was an exception.

By chance, I happened to catch the first half of last night… actually it was this morning’s programme… which included a short discussion on the impact of Brexit on Ireland.

On the panel were three Irish MEPs. Two from this side of the border: Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada and Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness and one from the other side of it, the DUP’s Dianne Dodds.

Though the discussion was interesting enough in itself, with both Ní Riada and McGuinness arguing their case well, its real value was the insight that Mrs Dodds feisty contributions gave us into the DUP’s Brexit mindset.

Her comments and the thinking underpinning them allow us to see where the Northern Ireland First Minister is coming from and may even assist in interpreting [First Minister] Arlene Foster’s recent DUP conference address.

When the two MEPS from this side of the border reminded Mrs Dodds that over 56% of voters in the North had chosen to remain in the EU she countered, as many DUP and pro Brexit unionists do, that the North is part of the UK and must be bound by a UK wide vote.

The presenter Tony Connolly followed up on this point, referring to the majority consent provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

He slightly tripped himself up however, incorrectly suggesting that the DUP had signed up to the Agreement. Mrs Dodds was quick to correct him saying that the DUP “did not sign up to the Belfast Agreement” adding that “our party vociferously opposed the Belfast Agreement”.

She is correct on her party’s historic opposition, however her belief – and doubtless the belief of many of her DUP colleagues – that they somehow are not committed and bound by the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement is based on a false premise of their own construction.

They ignore the deeply inconvenient fact that the Agreement was passed by 71:29 by Northern Ireland voters on a massive 81% turnout and that other agreements, which Mrs Dodds cited, that the DUP have since signed up to since are predicated on that Agreement.

They also omit a very significant aspect of the Agreement, one which many of us down here also forget, namely that the document we refer to as the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement is not just the deal reached among the parties in Northern Ireland, it is an internationally recognised agreement between the two Governments.

This point was made forcefully at the UK House of Lord’s EU committee last Tuesday by former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, when he gave evidence alongside former Taoiseach John Bruton on the impact Brexit will have on UK./Irish relations, both political and economic.

As Mr Ahern reminded them, the British Irish Agreement (BIA) is the bedrock of that settlement.

Even though it appears at the start of the document; the portion we think of as the Good Friday Agreement (it is referred to as the multi-party agreement in the document) is actually the annex to the British Irish Agreement. Not that its position matters greatly, as the BIA commits the two Governments – as a matter of international law – to its implementation.

The provisions of the British Irish Agreement are not something that Mrs Dodds, First Minister Foster or anyone else can wish away. Indeed, the BIA will have to be a part of the post Brexit treaty between the UK and the EU.

The reason for stressing the significance of the BIA is evident from the first line of Article 1.

It says that both sovereign governments

“recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status…”.

Later in the same Article, it says:

“…it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people;”

These lines are crucial. Though they appear in the BIA in the context of a move to a United Ireland, those core principles apply equally to any change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional status: majority consent within Northern Ireland is required.

The DUP cannot have it both ways on this. It affirms its allegiance to the sovereign government which contracted the agreement and is thus bound by it. It put its case against the deal to the people on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and it lost. Just as it put its pro-leave case to the people of Northern Ireland last June and lost again.

Yes, it is in a bind, which may explain some of the hyperbole from its recent conference, but welcome to politics.

The DUP may not like the fact that the people of Northern Ireland voted against Brexit and would prefer to remain within the EU, but that is the situation and accusing Dublin of talking down the North will not distract from that reality.

The DUP put a pro Brexit position to the voters, though it did so unconvincingly with some senior DUP-ers privately indicating their preference for Remain, and the voters rejected it.

Now it has an obligation to reflect that majority view as well as its own defeated minority view. The “D” in DUP does supposedly stand for democratic, afterall.

Despite Mrs Foster’s playing to the gallery last Saturday with some southern bashing, the DUP cannot construct majorities to suit its political needs, no more than it can construct its own facts.

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 mid-afternoon. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pics: RTÉ

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From top: Swing states that can decide the US Presidential Election; Derek Mooney

The battleground stakes will decide the US Presidential election while Ireland’s political battleground is the new and first time voter.

Derek Mooney writes:

There are now, mercifully, only two more weeks of campaigning left in the U.S. presidential election. These campaigns seem to start earlier and last longer with each electoral cycle.

This one started early in 2015 with Hilary Clinton launching her bid in April, and Donald Trump launching his, descending a golden escalator, in June.

Paradoxically, while the modern presidential campaigns have been expanding in length, they have (until this cycle) been contracting in their reach, with the focus going to the 9 or 10 swing/battleground states seen as potentially winnable by either side.

They are the States that both candidates and their surrogates have visited most regularly. They are where the campaigns have focussed their biggest spends. Voters living in States such as Florida, Ohio Virginia, can expect to receive multiple messages from either candidate seeking their vote.

Live in one of the other 40 or so States and you won’t get much attention.

You won’t get the big campaign visits, the telephone canvassing or the big TV adverts. It is as if your vote is not as important or as valuable, as your State is seen as being firmly and unshakeably in either the Dem or GOP column and not in play.

The same is true in the UK. About 56% of the seats in the UK. are viewed as so secure and safe as to be hardly worth contesting. Both the Labour and Tory parties each have a slew of safe seats where their majorities are so large that they could, in the caustic words of the late Tony Banks MP, run “a pig’s bladder on a stick” and get them elected.

So, just like the US., UK. general elections are fought and decided in a number of swing/battleground constituencies.

This is no coincidence. One of the main reasons for US. and UK. elections being played out in only a portion of constituencies is the voting system. Both use the first-past-the-post system where the winner is the one who gets more votes than the next highest person.

The U.S. presidential system has the added complication of the Electoral College of 538 votes. Each State has a number of votes in the Electoral College, roughly proportionate to its population and these are allocated to the winning candidate, but let’s not make this too complicated just now.

One of the other consequences of using a first-past-the-post voting system is that it usually leads to – and probably enshrines – a two party system: hence the Dems and GOP in the U.S. and the Tories and Labour in the UK.

Our PR system means that every vote counts and that you cannot ignore large swathes of territory or take groups of voters for granted. The multiple seat aspect makes our system even more competitive again. In multiple seat constituencies the campaign battle is often fought on two fronts with the competition occurring not just between parties, but also between candidates from the same party.

As a former campaign manager I can tell you that I often spent as much time and energy tracking the activity of our own party running mates as I did of the other crowds.

This is not to say that campaigns do not target swing voters or battlegrounds areas as in the US or the UK. it is just that they are not as easily identifiable or grouped geographically.

New and first time voters are one such a key battleground as parties know that new voters no longer just vote the way their parents did.

Irish voters have become more willing to change their party allegiance. They are now, to use a phrase a colleague of mine coined some years ago, more politically promiscuous. This is not something new. The trend was evident as far back as the 1990s, though it was blurred by the strength and attraction of the Bertie factor back then.

Voters have to be won over and won back at each election. Their loyalty cannot be presumed from electoral cycle to electoral cycle.

OK, although I have just spent the last 600 plus words trying to explain why we do not have definable electoral battlegrounds here like those in the UK. and the US., let me try a dreadfully unscientific exercise to show where we might have some non-definable, non geographic battlegrounds.

Though the hard numbers may differ, most of the recent opinion polls have shown minimal movement between the parties and groupings since the last election.

The results have been fairly consistent put Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael within an ass’s roar of each other with support levels in the mid-to-high 20s, trailed by Sinn Féin in third place in the mid to high teens, and then by the “others” – who largely stay where they were, or drop slightly.

So, taking this minimal movement as a starting point let me take a huge leap and submit (i.e. presume) that all bar the last seats in the 40 Dáil constituencies can be considered reasonably safe – though I know that such a suggestion will send the incumbents into paroxysms of rage.

So, if an election were to be called in the near future the virtual “battleground” of these 40 last seats would break down as follows (based on who now holds these final seats):

Fine Gael 18
Fianna Fáil 8
Sinn Féin 3
Labour 4
Others 7 (Inds, Ind Alliance, AAAPBP, Green)

Fine Gael’s total here is somewhat overstated as it held some of these final seats against another FG candidate. If you crudely correct for that (by going to the second last seat in each case) you get the following “battlegrounds”:

Fine Gael 13
Fianna Fáil 8
Sinn Féin 6
Labour 4
Others 9 (Inds, Ind Alliance, AAAPBP, Green)

This still leaves Fine Gael potentially quite vulnerable. It is far more susceptible to a swing against it than any other party, with the exception of the Labour party which has 4 out of its 7 seats in this potential battleground. Fianna Fáil is in a stronger position with about 82% of its current lot of seats looking secure. The figure for Sinn Féin is about 74%.

Obviously this back of the envelope exercise ignores a range of critically important factors including election timing, retirement of sitting TDs, automatic re-election of the Ceann Comhairle and, of course, how the next election campaign is fought and how big is the swing, if any.

This is just intended as a very general indication of the virtual battlegrounds which may be in play.

The good news is that these battlegrounds are so virtual and undefinable that every vote will count.The bad news is that because every vote will count, when the next election comes you can expect to be asked for that vote several times over, unlike the good people of the least swing State in the U.S. Kansas.

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 mid-afternoon. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

 

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, centre, poses for a photo with Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster, left and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, prior to their meeting, Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Monday July 25, 2016. May met Northern Ireland’s leaders in Belfast Monday in a bid to allay Northern Irish concerns about Britain's vote to leave the European Union. (Charles McQuillan/PA via AP)

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From top: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, with Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster (left) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, prior to their  post-Brexit meeting at Stormont Castle in Belfast, Northern Ireland,on July 25; Derek Mooney

The onus now lies on the Irish government to take up the slack and communicate Ireland’s special island case across Europe in the interest of the 26 counties and in the interest of the North too.

Derek Mooney writes:

On Friday the Politico.eu website published details of the UK’s Brexit Cabinet Committee, including a who’s in and who’s out of which Cabinet Ministers had made it on to this powerful committee.

As Politico noted, controversially the secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not given permanent positions around the decision-making table. Instead they may attend committee meetings “as required” by the Prime Minister.

The significance of this omission should not be lost on us here. Not only is the British government struggling to come up with a clear and consistent negotiating position, it increasingly seems that issues relating to how Brexit will affect this island are now way down the priority list.

Within days of her ascent to high office, Theresa May went to Edinburgh to assure the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, that the Scottish government, along with devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, and Wales, would be fully ‘involved’ in the negotiations with the EU.

She did the same when she travelled to Cardiff and, eventually, to Belfast, as I discussed here at the time.

The UK government is now resiling from that commitment with its position shifting from having the devolved Administrations “involved” to only having them “consulted”. This is the phraseology the UK Brexit Minister, David Davis was using when he spoke in the House of Commons last week; telling an SNP MP:

“…we will consult and have detailed discussions with the Scottish Administration, and those in Wales and Northern Ireland, before we trigger article 50…”

On Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show, Scotland’s First Minister said she found it “frustrating, if I can be diplomatic about it” that Theresa May’s promise of being fully involved had not been honoured so far and suggested that she wants to see progress on this at a meeting of the heads of the devolved administrations with Prime Minister May next Monday.

Where the Scottish Government has been vigorous and active in its preparations, the Northern Ireland Executive has been languid and passive. Up to this weekend the only real action on Brexit preparations that the Executive had taken as a coherent unit was to write a letter to the British Prime Minister.

Not that the two main parties in the Executive: The DUP and Sinn Féin, have managed to do that much individually either.

Just before the summer the DUP leader and First Minister, Arlene Foster, managed to briefly scupper the Irish Government’s proposal of an island forum, while Sinn Féin did its usual trick of organising a few street protests calling for a border poll, neatly masking its masterly inaction in office.

This situation did change a little over the weekend with the Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s James Martin Pacelli McGuinness, telling the Guardian newspaper that the EU should grant Northern Ireland special status.

He also said that the big challenge is “whether the government in the north and the south can come to a common position… about what we want to see come out of these negotiations.”

Doesn’t that presume that the executive in the North can come to an agreed position first?

Well… better late than never, I suppose.

I am sure that Mr McGuinness’s final discovery of a position yesterday had absolutely nothing to do with the Northern Ireland Assembly debating an SDLP motion today that there should be legal recognition of the unique status of Northern Ireland to safeguard the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

The NI assembly is debating that motion as I write. Sadly, as with many major issues in the North that debate is being conducted in broadly sectarian terms with the SDLP, Sinn Féin and Alliance supporting the case for special status and the DUP opposing it. The UUP says it kind of supports the idea, but just not to the extent of actually voting for it.

The debate, or at least the portions I heard, are very far out of kilter with the views of the voters. Over 56% of voters in the North supported remaining in the EU, but the numbers get even more interesting when you look at the voting preferences of those who voted.

According to a major (sample size 4,000) Ipsos-MORI poll, conducted on behalf of Queen’s University, over 92% of those identifying themselves as SDLP supporters and 86% of those identifying as SF supporters, voted to remain. The numbers for Green and Alliance party voters are equally high at around 80% each.

On the other side only 30% of those identifying as DUP voted Remain, though the figure was much higher, at 46%, for the UUP.

The higher UUP figure may be due in part to the UUP leadership urging a Remain vote in the referendum, though it may also suggest that UUP voters are more middle class, as middle class unionists were more likely to vote Remain than Leave.

So, where does this leave us?

For starters it tells us that the many on the Unionist side are content to leave the views of 40% of their own supporters and the majority of the entire population of the North go unrepresented.

It also show that they will be facilitated in this by the meek response of an Executive, including McGuinness and co, who seem ill-prepared for consultation about, never mind full involvement in, actual negotiations.

The onus now lies on the Irish government to take up the slack and communicate Ireland’s special island case across Europe. This is in the interest of the 26 counties and in the interest of the North too.

The government’s “all-island Civic Dialogue on Brexit” which will meet on November 2nd is a reasonable start, though dropping the word “forum” from its title was a pointless concession.

But it is only that: a start. There is a great deal more work to be done if Irish interests are to be protected and safeguarded.

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 mid-afternoon. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney