Derek Mooney: Change The Record, Mary Lou


From top: Mary Lou McDonald at last year’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis last year; Derek Mooney

There have been a few Fr Ted references here over the past few days, so let’s start off with another one. Remember that episode of Fr Ted where the lads need to raise money to fix the water leaks in the parochial house?

You know the one, they destroy the car Bishop Brennan gives them for the raffle and thus have to rig the draw to ensure that Dougal’s ticket wins it. Ted gets Fr Billy “SpinMaster” O’Dwyer to do the disco before the draw, but there’s a problem.

Fr Billy has only one record with him and it’s “Ghost Town” by The Specials. Undeterred, the Spinmaster plays it over and over and over again, oblivious to the fact that the crowd have stopped listening.

I like Ghost Town. Not only is it a good song, it is a serious piece of popular social commentary, but even the loyalist Special fan would concede that forcing anyone to listen to it over and over again could turn them against it.

This is something that Sinn Féin’s “spinmasters” Mary Lou MacDonald and Michelle O’Neill could do well to bear in mind.

Like Fr Billy, they have a flashy new rig complete with powerful amps and speakers, but they too have only one record to play. Theirs is the “unity poll call” and they belt it out over and over, because just like Fr Billy, they have nothing else to play.

But the more they go on playing and replaying it, the more they risk turning people against a really fine tune that should be heard by a wider audience.

If we have learned nothing else from the referendums held on these two islands over the past three years, we have surely learned that they only succeed when you prepare for them.

The lesson of Brexit is that you do not ask people a confused and confusing question about which a full and detailed discussion has not taken place.

In Brexit, the British held the vote first and then spent the past two years debating and analysing what it was they voted-on and agreed.

They went into the vote at a time when there was plenty of polling warning that people were not just ill-informed about the benefits of Britain’s EU membership they were startlingly misinformed about them.

A 2016 Ipsos MORI survey, conducted three months before the Brexit vote, showed, among other things, that British people wrongly thought there were three times as many EU immigrants in the UK than there really are.

Jump forward to just last week and you find a poll conducted for Queens University Belfast that shows just 21.1% of Northerners absolutely ready to vote for Irish unity post Brexit.

That is nowhere near the figure required, though the situation is not quite so bleak as the same poll found support for remaining in the United Kingdom at only 50.3%. Even so, it is hardly a great starting point from which to launch a unity/border poll.

Meanwhile, 69% of Northern Irish voters would favour remaining in the EU if there was another Brexit vote. Up from 56% in June 2016.

So, what is the point of Sinn Féin proposing a Border Poll now? Even if we were to have one – and it is not in Sinn Féin’s gift to grant – it would clearly fail. Both sides would divide further and then retrench.

Where does that get us?

Would we not be better focusing on an issue where the majority of Northern Irish voters have common cause with vast majority of Southern voters, in opposing Brexit?

As former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said at the Oireachtas Committee on Brexit just over a year ago:

“…the last thing I want to see as a result of Brexit is any talk of border polls… Having a sectarian or political headcount is the last thing that we should do. Yes, there should be the provisions for reunification for the future…

…There will be a time for it, and we should all work as hard as possible to get to that time and convince people and win them over, but do not insert the issue into this debate.”

As I have set out here many times since the June 2016 vote, Brexit changes the political dynamic on this island and changes relationships between these islands – that includes relationships within the United Kingdom, not least between Edinburgh and London.

Re-unification is on the agenda, but so far it is primarily on the nationalist side. As the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood has stressed, if we take this calmly and constructively we have the scope to give it a much broader reach, offering not only Unity but also a return to the European Union for the majority in the North who want it.

None of this is new.

“Ireland is too small a country not to be seriously handicapped in its economic development by its division into two areas separated by a customs barrier.”

These are the words of Taoiseach, Sean Lemass TD at the Oxford Union on October 15th, 1959. His speech, entitled One Nation, was part of debate on Irish reunification. In that speech he described as “eminently practical” the idea that

“…Irish reunification could be considered on the basis of an arrangement under which the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland would continue to function with their present powers, while an all-Ireland Parliament would exercise the powers in relation to that area now exercised at Westminster.”

In other words, Stormont would continue. In saying this Lemass was just repeating what De Valera had stated many times since 1921.

This is something that, six or seven decades later, Mary Lou and Michelle’s Sinn Féin is still unsure about. Its 2016 policy paper: Towards-a-United-Ireland says unity “…could mean:-continued devolution to Stormont and a power-sharing Executive in the North within an all-Ireland structure”

This “could” is offered alongside a “may” in the suggestion that:

A new, united Ireland may require constitutional safeguards and protections for the political identity of unionists who must be assured of their place and political influence in any new dispensation.

It surely will, at a minimum. The policy paper is worth reading as it does attempt to list the possible benefits and advantages of re-unification – and there are many. Where it fails is that it doesn’t go much beyond that.

Though the document looks weighty, with lots of pictures and nifty design work, the text itself won’t take you long to read: at under 4700 words it isn’t even four times the length of what I am writing.

Sean Lemass famously summed up his Northern policy in three key words:

“Patience, tact and goodwill.”

Demanding a unity poll every other Sunday demonstrates none of these.

Reunification is too important an aspiration to be reduced to a slogan or a logo.

The Brexit being pursued by Johnson, Gove, Rees-Mogg and Farage has made unity an idea whose moment has been brought forward, let’s not destroy that advance by having our own Brexit style ‘vote first, plan later’ fiasco.

Though I know your others records are badly scratched, damaged and warped, for the sake of the rest of us who really like this one, you gotta change this record, Mary Lou.

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


35 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: Change The Record, Mary Lou

    1. Cu Cullan

      Would that Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party..? Maybe better, Fianna Fáil – the ReNua party..

    2. Abaddon

      You should change the record, Mooney.

      You find that poll believable? Less than half the nationalists that voted in the last election in the 6 counties would vote for a united Ireland!


      If you and your ilk in FF actually started working toward a UI instead of sniping at the only party that has consistently argued for it, it might be much closer!

      With FF getting that kind of analysis is it any wonder they’re on a slide or that they bankrupted the country!

      1. Bonkers

        Hmm I smell something fishy. Like in the last 10 days we have had an opinion poll showing SF to have overtaken FF and that Mary Lou has a higher approval rating than Michael Martin. Mary Lou played a prominent role in the referendum campaign while Martin decided not to spend a cent of FF money on putting posters up to campaign for a Yes vote. And this happened while 31 parlimentary members of his party actively campaigned for a No vote. Martin would not allow the FF name to be even printed on a poster beside the words Vote Yes while his soldiers were out campaigning for a No.

        These are all current topical issues that Derek Mooney could have written about today but he has not. I wonder why he instead decided to write a piece about SF whilst ignoring the elephant in the room?

  1. Kay

    I think this lad has a soft spot for ff and Bertie the bollix in particular. Btw You can smell the fear of sf dripping from every word.

    1. MaryLou's ArmaLite

      We can dumb this down.

      FF are the bestest, FG and especially SF are the worstest.

    2. realPolithicks

      ^This, FF are panicking as they watch SF pass them by. This guy is just a FF mouthpiece.

  2. Christy Nolan

    A FF Advisor from 2004 -2010? Says it all.
    Get the boat and abort yourself Derek

    1. Glenda Geraghty

      ^^^ this. northern nationalists (and southern ones like Derek and Mary Lou too) seem to assume that the south will simply accept them with open arms post a 50%+1 ballot up north. I fuppin seriously doubt it. bunch of mad nordies, and a load of orangemen? no thanks, the border stays for me

          1. johnny

            shur what’s a 30% exaggeration Rob huh,when one’s pursuing an agenda and spreading fake BS stats around:)

          2. Rob_G

            Is £9-11bn per year that much more sustainable than £13bn per year?

            And I don’t ever recall you ever supplying a source for any of of the half-baked rhetoric that you put forward as an argument – you’re welcome, btw.

          3. johnny

            pst Rob ‘rhetoric’ by its nature is unsourced,facts well see above:)
            welcome for wha-pointing out your wrong,vastly inflated,plucked out off thin air, numbers,I already knew the answer duh!

          4. Rob_G

            What’s your point, caller?

            You helpfully pointed out my figures were incorrect, I supplied the correct ones… now what? Are you going to argue against the substance of the point at all?

          5. johnny

            by utilizing fake numbers you’ve no credibility,you’d simply just make stuff again,so NO,but have a great evening Rob:)

          6. Rob_G

            ya I mean a piffling £9bn a year we could afford no bother – you have a nice evening too, johnny.

    2. Rob_G


      In the recent abortion referendum (and of course the marriage equality one also), does anyone really think they would have sailed through as easily with an extra +/- one million religious conservatives voting?

  3. Joe cool

    Derek. When you sat there advising a government that ran the country into the ground. You shouldnt be allowed any opinion. Abd no, im not a shinner

  4. Nigel

    Derek Mooney looks a bit like Dark Money if you don’t have your glasses on. Just saying.

    1. rotide

      Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Mooney The Wise?

      I thought not. It’s not a story Fianna Fail would tell you. It’s a Shinners legend. Darth Mooney was a Dark Lord of Fianna Fail, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the county councillors to create life… He had such a knowledge of the media, he could even keep the ones he cared about from voting for blushirts.

  5. johnny

    The hyperbole is truly cringe inducing,when was this the 1950’s-“Sean Lemass famously summed up his Northern policy in three key words…” who,what FF bubble are you in,Lemass enabled the most degenerate,venal and corrupt politician in Irish history,Haughey!
    Famous ah stop Dereck its ridiculous stuff-you guys are like the Brits desperately trying manage the decline,while deluded thats its not happening.
    Michael D giving the Harri Holkeri Series lecture this morning at Queens,great stuff and no out off date pop culture references!
    Buy a DAC player Derek,come join us in the new century,is even one your ‘quotes’ from this one ?

    “History obviously loses when it is sought to be deployed as propaganda, as it were, in a competitive battle of recalled grievances. If studied, however, with ethical intent as to openness, not only to the foundation myths of the others life version, but also with understanding towards the possible sources of its inaccuracies, it can endow us not only with a deeper understanding of the present dispensation of things and the political, economic and social structures in which we are enmeshed, but can deepen our empathy for the perspective of others, which is so vital if we are to live together. ”

  6. Johnny Keenan

    We’ve moved on from Fr Ted analogues.

    Some FF paedos are very far away and some are very very near.

    Let’s deal with them in your next column perhaps.
    If you’re looking for research start with the Murphy Ryan and Cloyne reports.
    FF are implicated up to their necks.

    Your not talking to a docile apathetic FF and paedo ridden Ireland now.

    So show some respect and give us some kind of intelligence.

    A humble piece acknowledging the result of the referendum was what was expected but you decided to pull the old FF trick of look over there.


  7. Mé Féin

    Fianna Failure Mooney doesn’t like Sinn Fein. How’s that for a broken record?

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