Tag Archives: Mooney on Monday

16/01/2014. Launch Online Of Military Service Material (1916-1923). Pictured (LtoR) An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and Commanding Officer P.Kennedy in charge of the Military Archives at the launch for the first time of Online Of Military Service Material (1916-1923) in the GPO in Dublin this evening. The Military Services Pensions Archive project is a conerstone in the Government Decade of Centenaries 2012-2022 Commemorative programme and the collection numbers of almost 300,000 application files for pensions. Photo: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

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From top: Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny with Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave at an event in the GPO in Dublin in 2014; Derek Mooney

This heave is different or at least it appears different. Unlike heaves of the past it has been occasioned by an actual political event,

Derek Mooney writes:

No one does heaves like Fine Gael does heaves. None of your subtle behind the scenes manoeuvring for them. When it comes to getting political blood on the plush Axminster the good folks at Fine Gael are major exhibitionists.

They have had plenty of heaves over the past forty years or so: most of them ill-judged, poorly timed and glaringly unsuccessful. The December 1972 heave against Liam Cosgrave is a good example of all three.

Fine Gael’s liberal wing wanted rid of the conservative, law and order Cosgrave. They complained that the party had failed under his leadership to capitalise on Fianna Fáil’s post Arms Crisis trials and tribulations, but the final straw was Cosgrave’s efforts to get FG TDs to back the government’s controversial Offences Against the State Bill – something they implacably opposed.

Cosgrave was effectively saved from the plotters by a loyalist bomb on Sackville Place that tragically killed two CIE busmen. The explosion took place just hours before the Dáil vote on the Bill. The Dáil adjourned to allow discussion between the parties.

When it resumed, Fine Gael withdrew its opposition and abstained as Bill was voted through in an all-night sitting. Three months later Cosgrave became Taoiseach leading Fine Gael into government with the Labour Party.

Fast forward to 1980s and 1990s and we enter the golden age of the Fine Gael heave. The drama and intrigue within the Fine Gael parliamentary party was so intense that RTÉ ran a TV documentary series in 2003 about the period entitled: Fine Gael: A Family at War.

For about two decades the folks in blue were regularly sharpening their knives as they awaited the opportunity to dispatch their leaders. While Dr Garret Fitzgerald managed to escape their clutches his successor, Alan Dukes, had a less happy fate.

Dukes took over from Fitzgerald after the 1987 defeat. While he started out well, Duke’s Tallaght Strategy – a less formalised precursor of the current Confidence and Supply Agreement, which facilitated Haughey’s minority government – was not too popular with FG TDs.

One TD, Austin Deasy, was so incensed that he at first resigned in protest from the party only to return in 1989 and try, unsuccessfully, to oust Dukes. Deasy was a serial heaver, launching his first one first against Garret in 1982 and finishing up with his failed November 2000 one against John Bruton.

Dukes survived, but not for long. In a snap election in June 1989, Fine Gael regained only 5 of the 19 seats they lost two years earlier. The whispering campaign against Dukes was back with a vengeance with one back bencher remarking that if it was raining soup Dukes would be out there with a fork.

Things came to a head in late 1990 when the party’s candidate in the presidential election came a very poor third behind Mary Robinson and Brian Lenihan Snr.The result had hardly been declared when Fergus O’Brien, who had been demoted by Dukes, tabled a motion of no confidence.

This was followed by a flurry of Fine Gael TDs rushing to the nearest journalist to unburden themselves. Dukes could not withstand the onslaught. Within days he resigned and was succeeded by John Bruton.

Now the Fine Gael heavers shifted into top gear. It seemed as if there was a heave brewing every few months.

Bruton survived five leadership contests during his eleven years at the top. The sixth one, in January 2001, led by two political heavy weights Jim Mitchell and Michael Noonan succeeded in toppling him. Noonan took the top job, beating Enda Kenny, but his reign was short lived. FG’s defeat in the May 2002 election was so calamitous that Noonan resigned on the night of the count. He was succeeded by Enda Kenny.

As you can see from these examples and the June 2010 heave against Enda outlined in my Enda’s 3am question is still unanswered Broadsheet column: most of them fail. The ones that do succeed have the oblique backing of the person who hopes to succeed and are usually attempted when the party is in opposition – not in government.

This later point is perhaps not so relevant today. Fine Gael spent most of the 80s and 90s in opposition and were not in office long enough to have the time to consider it. It was these long periods of opposition – and powerlessness – that led to the heaves. The breaking point, in most cases, being a bad election result or a series of poor opinion poll results.

This heave is different or at least it appears different. Unlike heaves of the past it has been occasioned by an actual political event, namely the chronic mishandling of the Sgt McCabe debacle and the confusion about who told who said what and when and if they told the Taoiseach or just one of his Advisers.

But it would be foolish to think that electoral considerations are not also a major factor.
While Enda Kenny has made it clear that he does not intend to lead his party into the next election, the abiding fear among Fine Gael TDs was that events would overtake them and that Fianna Fáil would pull down the house of cards before Enda quits and they find themselves facing an election with Enda still in place.

Up to a few weeks ago, they assumed that Fianna Fáil was neither ready nor willing to trigger an election until 2018 – but a series of good polls for Micheál Martin’s soldiers of destiny has convinced already rattled Fine Gael TDs that Fianna Fáil was preparing itself to call time on the government.

The problem with this scenario is that it shows Fine Gaelers thinking like Fine Gaelers, not like Fianna Fáilers. Fianna Fáil knows well that voters tend not to reward parties who trigger unnecessary elections for partisan gain.

Martin’s FF eschews the “cute hoor” tag that once bedevilled the party. When it eventually moves against the government it will be seen clearly do so on an issue of policy, not personality or partisan gain.

On a more practical front, 20 of Fianna Fáil’s 45 TDs are first timers. They are just starting to settle in after two or three years of intense campaigning to win those seats. They are not ready or prepared for an election yet. Most are now watching the turmoil in the FG ranks and trying to work out whether the election of Simon or Leo – or neither – means the election will be in May, June, September or later.

Meanwhile the rest should reach for the popcorn, scan our WhatApp to see if Charlie Flanagan is messaging us and just enjoy it all.

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

File photo. The Government will publish the details today of a Commission of Inquiry into claims that senior gardai mounted a smear campaign against a whistleblower in the force. Yesterday Indpendent TD, Clare Daly called for the Garda Commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan, to stand aside for the duration of the Inquiry. Prominent whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe has claimed he was targeted in a smear campaign by senior members of the force. He is supported in his claaims by the former head of the Garda Press Office, Superintentent David Taylor. The Government today announced the Inquiry would be carried out by Supreme Court Judge Peter Charleton.23/7/2015. Garda Passing Out Parade. Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny with Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald (L) and Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan for a garda passing out parade in the Garda College in Templemore in County Tipperary. 97 students graduated. Photo: RollingNews.ie

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From top: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald (left) and Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan at Garda College in Templemore, County Tipperary; Derek Mooney

Many of the principal characters in this melodrama were more concerned with protecting their own positions with carefully scripted narratives than helping Maurice McCabe.

Derek Mooney writes:

The current political storm that could topple this government or, at the very least, see the end of one or two ministerial careers is not one single crisis – it is two crises that have become so intertwined in the public – and the medias – mind, as to appear as one.

Worse still, it is the lesser of the two crises – the political one, the one revolving around the questions about Fine Gael’s future leadership – that is getting all the attention and airplay. This is understandable in part, due to the ongoing and evolving drama of who said what to who and whose head is set to roll.

Though the political crisis is serious enough in its own right, it is still the lesser of the two and pales in comparison to the greater crisis: the poisonous culture and ethos in the senior and upper ranks of an Garda Síochána.

That is the immediate crisis that should be gripping us all. It has run on for far too long, the government has been grappling with this issue since 2014 to little or no actual effect.

As The Irish Times‘ Conor Lally, wrote:

“…a gulf is emerging in the Garda organisation, according to informed sources at every level. There is one camp within senior management – a small number who are seen as O’Sullivan’s people. And then there is everyone else. And the O’Sullivan group is regarded as having lost control.”

Not that this crisis started with Commissioner Nóirin O’Sullivan. It long predates her appointment as Commissioner, even as Deputy Commissioner, as can be seen from Broadsheet’s comprehensive timeline of events cataloguing Sgt McCabe’s more than 10 year struggle to get accountability in An Garda Síochána.

Indeed, the poisonous in-fighting and fractious nature of relationships at the top of the force is further illustrated by a series of tweets last night by another crime correspondent, the Irish Daily Star’s Mick O’Toole.

including this one where he talks of the shameful briefings against Nóirin O’Sullivan and people close to her, describing them as bad as the briefing against Sgt McCabe and this tweet where he talks of disgraceful stories planted in certain papers specifically to damage her and people close to her.

These charges and accusations need to be fully investigated and the apparent venality, if not corruption at the top of the force exposed and expunged. The failed and flawed reports, investigation and inquiries of the past few years have not succeeded in doing more than scratching the surface – it is likely that the only way forward is to have an external criminal investigation.

We also need to set a new path forward.

The principle of civilian control of the uniform services is a vital one and needs now to be exercised. We need the type of real reform and accountability for An Garda Síochána that we demanded for the old Royal Ulster Constabulary and achieved via the adoption of the Patten report.

While there have been several important and significant reforms to Garda organisation and powers over the past two decades, we need our own Patten Report now to offer An Garda Síochána the new beginning it needs and the lift to morale that its members deserve.

Turning quickly back to the lesser crisis, the statements, comments, corrections and clarifications coming from an Taoiseach as well as Ministers Fitzgerald and Zappone highlight the political dysfunction and lack of communications at the heart of government.

If their accounts are to be believed then the “relevant” ministers were so disengaged and disinterested that it never occurred to any of them to ask Minister Zappone why Sgt Maurice McCabe was meeting with her, who had requested the meeting, why was he meeting with the Minister for Children and – more importantly- to ask afterwards… how did that go?

Sadly, it seems that most, if not all, of the principal characters in this ministerial melodrama were more concerned with protecting their own positions with carefully scripted narratives than they were in actually getting to the core of what the hell is going on with this latest instalment of the smearing of Sgt McCabe.

The Tánaiste seems so determined that the media and the public believe her self-serving version of events, including her account of the meeting with Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan, that it hasn’t occurred to her that her own account portrays her as a Minister who is disconnected from the details of her own direct responsibilities, almost to the point of negligence.

The test of our “new politics” is that it should be focused on policies and outcomes not personalities and process. The answer to this crisis is not a head or an election – it is action. Failure to meaningfully and decisively deliver that action should result in an election.

At the heart of the McCabe smear was the sustained maligning of a decent man doing his job and the consequential denial to him, by senior Garda officers, of the presumption of innocence.

While it may be satisfying, and offer some ‘poetic justice’, the denial of the presumption of innocence to the Garda Commissioner is not the answer to the McCabe smear or the crisis in An Garda Síochána.

While I may have doubts or questions in my own mind about the Commissioner’s role in the mistreatment of Sgt McCabe and indeed Supt Dave Taylor, all I know it what I have read in print and online – and that is not all Gospel.

Commissioner O’Sullivan is not the source or the core of problem with An Garda Síochána, neither is an Tánaiste – but with each passing day we must start to wonder if either can ever be a part of the solution.

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

Rollingnews

2/2/2017 . Stephen Donnelly Joins Fianna Fail. Pictured (LTOR) Stephen Donnelly (Glasses) with Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin TD talking to the media outside Leinster House this afternoon after Stephen announced today he was joining Fianna Fail. He has been appointed the partys Front Spokeperson on Brexit. Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

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From top: Stephen Donnelly (left) and Micheá Martin; Derek Mooney

With the Stephen Donnelly ‘coup’ Fianna Fáil is not so much winning back the support of disgruntled ex-FF voters as it is convincing non-committed voters that it is the best option at the next election.

Derek Mooney writes:

Having used last week’s column to critique Enda Kenny’s leadership of Fine Gael, it is only fair that I use this week’s one to throw a jaundiced eye over Michéal Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil.

Around this time last year Martin was preparing to face his biggest political test as leader, the 2016 General election. Though we forget it now, the omens did not look so good at the time. A Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes opinion poll published on this date last year had Fianna Fáil on just 20%.

This was a far from auspicious start to an election campaign where most pundits and commentators were predicting a return of the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour government, although with a considerably reduced majority.

Fianna Fáil was set to make some gains, even a repeat of its disastrous 2011 performance could see it gain a few extra seats, the question though was whether it could win enough extra seats to make itself relevant.

Just one year on and the party’s position at the centre of Irish political is now far more secure than most imagined possible. Not alone that but Michéal Martin’s grip on leadership is by far the most secure of all the current party leaders: Enda Kenny has Leo and Simon C snapping at his heels. Brendan Howlin has Alan Kelly stalking the corridors while Gerry Adams has the past.

The past year has been a good one for Martin. His media performances have been convincing and he conveys the impression of a man who is on top of his game and happy to engage in public debate.

This positive feeling towards him has been reflected in his own approval rating and in his party’s slowly increasing polling numbers. Last week’s coup in winning Stephen Donnelly TD to FF’s Dáil benches further suggests that Martin’s Fianna Fáil is on a continuing upward trajectory.

Martin’s newest TD arrived fully on message. In the face of an understandable chorus of disapproval from the pundits for his own very cutting past criticisms of Fianna Fáil, Donnelly could construct a reasonable and coherent narrative for his joining the Soldiers of Destiny, offering two main reasons:

First, that he saw a party “going back to its social democratic roots, emphasising a stable tax base, support for business, investment in public services and communities, and a shared prosperity” and Second, that he has witnessed the party working hard over the past six years to move on.

There is, of course, a third reason: the fact that he sees Fianna Fáil as the party most likely to form the next government and Martin as a future Taoiseach.

Donnelly may be right, but Fianna Fáil still has a big test to face before these things become certain – and it seems that Martin see Donnelly as a key player in facing that test.

The decline in Fianna Fail’s support started long before 2011 or even 2009, it started at the end of the 90s as the Irish electorate started to change.

Fianna Fáil’s wins in 2002 and 2007 were not about Fianna Fáil simply rallying its voters out to back Bertie and back the party, they were about the increasing number of non-committed, non-party affiliated voters backing the party they saw as being the most economically competent.

This is why the fall in support in 2011 was so great – the decline in core support that had started in the 90s had been masked by an increase in we might term “promiscuous” support.

Fianna Fáil is not so much winning back the support of disgruntled ex FF voters as it is convincing non-committed voters that it is the best option at the next election.

There are some committed core supporters, as evidenced by 2011, but this traditional loyal pool of voters has been falling and it continues to fall. Fianna Fáil is not unique in this, it is happening everywhere and it a phenomenon that you cannot simply address with smarter graphics, bigger and better campaigns and stronger local organisation. Fine Gael is in the process of discovering this.

Post-election surveys, including the 2016 one, suggest that Fianna Fáil support is lower in the sections of society that are growing, i.e. younger voters and those with higher education.

This is a problem that the party needs to address now. It has succeeded to win back some support from older voters and some of its more traditional base, but to what extent did it actually win back that support as opposed to merely reaping the rewards of Fine Gael losing it?

Are Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – and perhaps the remnants of the Irish Labour party – caught in a political zero sum gain, where one party can only gain when the other party[s] lose?

I suspect the situation is not quite as dark as this and the combined support of the three parties has the capacity to grow and get back into the mid/high 60s, but it can only do so when we return to some sense of stability and faith in political and politicians begins to grow. This does not presume, however, that all three parties will continue – the lesson of the past decade is that there are no certainties.

In the meantime, Martin’s own immediate destiny is dependent on reaching out to educated voters and new voters and convincing them that Fianna Fáil capable of successfully managing the economy.

The addition of Stephen Donnelly and his positioning by Fianna Fáil over the past few days suggests that Martin gets 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

Rollingnews

Earlier: For Your Consideration: The Day Stephen Donnelly Joined Foster and Allen

Meanwhile…

donnelly

Ah here.

Thanks Antoine D’Alton

15/02/2016.Pictured (L to R) Leader of Fine Gael An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD with Fine Gael Minister for Health Leo Varadkar at the Centric Health & HSE Primary Care Centre in Dublin today, at the launch of Fine Gael Plan for Health, Investing in Our Health Services. Photo: RollingNews.ie

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From left: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar launch the General Election 2016; Derek Mooney.

Replacing Enda without a major reappraisal of what Fine Gael stands for is to miss out on what the last election told us about the attitudes of the electorate and the state of politics in Ireland.

Derek Mooney writes:

“I have had to ask myself that key question, the 3 am. question, if we are in government and there is a national crisis, if there is a sovereign debt crisis for example and [then Governor of the Central Bank] Patrick Honohan rings the Taoiseach – who do I want to answer that phone, I want Richard Bruton to answer that… The people are saying to us they don’t have confidence in Enda Kenny.”

This excoriating quote comes from Leo Varadkar on RTÉ’s Primetime during the failed June 2010 heave against Enda Kenny.

He was not the only one questioning Enda Kenny’s capacity for leadership. On the day before the crucial parliamentary party vote Richard Bruton told RTE’s News at One that:

“I unfortunately no longer have confidence that Enda Kenny can provide the leadership that this country needs…”

While they, and many others, within Fine Gael, thought that was the time to dump Enda, the majority– slim or otherwise – of their parliamentary colleagues did not. The attempt to dump Enda failed.

The insurgents learned an important lesson six and a half years ago: do not underestimate Enda’s tenacity. While they were going on radio and TV in dribs and drabs to wound him, Enda and his supporters were working one-on-one with each individual TD, Senator and MEP to do, or offer, whatever was needed to secure the votes.

The mutineers learned that Enda is not an easy man to get rid of – not then and perhaps even not now. Back then they hoped that a series of bad polls for Fine Gael, even falling behind Labour in an Irish Times poll (them was the days!), might cause Enda to fall on his sword. They were wrong.

While he is now a lot closer to the end of his leadership than he was in 2010: Enda – and his team of loyal lieutenants – are still determined that they alone will decide when the end is nigh.

The understandable furore over Enda’s handling of the recent 3am Sinn Féin coalition question has hurt him. It has also hurt Fine Gael and has placed the issue of leadership firmly on the agenda.

Coming as it did just as another poll showed Fianna Fáil moving ahead of FG did not help the mood. But is this really enough to topple him right now? Or, to put it another way, if the mess that was the February 2016 Fine Gael election campaign was not sufficient grounds for changing leader, is this?

The problem for Fine Gael is not Enda Kenny, or at least it is not just Enda Kenny, it is bigger than that. The paradox that saw FG lose one third of the seats won in 2011 and still remain in office means it has not yet had come to terms with losing the 2016 general election. Consequently, it has not yet learned the lessons of that defeat.

Read the two post-election reports the party published in August 2016 and you will see what I mean. Both focused on communications and organisational minutiae while missing the bigger issue: what does Fine Gael stand for?

Recommendation 1 in the parliamentary party’s Pathways and Opportunities report states:
Briefing documents need to be one page, and they need to be brief…

While TDs focus on messaging problems may, perhaps, be code for Enda’s lack of communications skills, it is still misdirection.

FG did not see its number of seats drop from 76 to 50 and its vote share collapse from 36% to 25.5% because of the size of its briefing documents. It did so because of their content.

While it is probably unfair to expect reports, which were destined to be published, to gift their political opponents with any noteworthy critical analysis, it is not unreasonable to expect them to show some modicum of awareness of the core problem, even if only the usual platitudes.

Even outside the reports, we are not hearing any significant querying or questioning of Fine Gael’s purpose and vision beyond some whispering about who should be the face on the posters. According to a former Fine Gael TD. even this is not going to go anywhere until whoever wants the top job is willing to “put up”.

Switching Enda for Simon C or Leo or even for Frances, Paschal or Simon H – without a major reappraisal of what the party stands for is to miss out on what the last election told us about the attitudes of the electorate or the state of politics.

Rather than focusing on briefing notes and communications they should be deep diving into the serious analysis coming out from the last election.

This includes a recent report from Dr Deirdre Tinney and Dr Stephen Quinlan looking at populist influences in that result: particularly in terms of anti-elitism and distrust of politicians. This is the type of material that all political parties should be considering, not just Fine Gael.

As for the Sinn Féin comment that triggered this latest palace wobble: we will never know what An Taoiseach was thinking when he declined to resolutely rule out any coalition with Sinn Féin.

Perhaps he just misspoke? He wouldn’t be the first leader to have done it, though this explanation is unlikely considering how many times the question was put to him.

A more likely one is that he was trying to send out some subtle signal, but just forgot the subtle bit. Maybe he was trying to draw Mary Lou McDonald out on her comments that Sinn Féin would be open to have a “conversation” around a junior coalition role in the future.

Or, could it be that he and his advisers have concluded that their strategy of continually attacking SF is simply not having the desired effect and it is time to change tack and damage them more by pulling them in closer?

The fact that answer could be anywhere along a spectrum from wanting to consider SF as a future coalition option to wanting to cause them maximum damage indicates the scale of the problem Fine Gael faces about its lack of clarity, direction and identity.

While most of the pretenders could probably manage to appear less confused and confusing than the current leader, I am yet to be convinced that any of them possess his tenacity and steeliness or, more importantly, that the underlying reality would be that much different with someone else in charge.

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

Rollingnews

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

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

Derek Mooney writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top pic: Getty

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

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

Derek Mooney writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Significantly adding at Point 11 that:

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

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

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

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

Pic: Hannah Gay

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

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

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

Derek Mooney writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, who will blink?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rollingnews

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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