Derek Mooney: Unless Someone Votes No, We’ll All Be Done Slowly


From top: Newly-elected Green Party TDs in Leinster House on February 2; Derek Mooney

I‘m sure I’ve mentioned that I am a great fan of the former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating. before now. While Keating’s punchy but moderate centre-left politics attract me, it is his feisty, quick witted, no nonsense approach that seals the deal.

The internet is full of classic Paul Keating political quips and put downs. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) has collected some on this webpage.

In one memorable 2007 radio interview alone Keating described John Howard’s Treasurer (Finance Minister), Peter Costello, as “all tip and no iceberg”, before launching a fusillade at his former Liberal Party opponent and successor as Prime Minister, dismissing the balding Howard as the “little desiccated coconut” adding that he was clinging on to the role like “grim death” and was “araldited” to the prime minister’s seat.

Keating’s most infamous put down came soon after he had succeeded his mentor, Bob Hawke, as Prime Minister.

Keating started the slow countdown to the election deriding the opposition’s “Fightback!” economic plan. In parliament, the Liberal leader and Fightback! architect, Dr John Hewson tried goading Keating, saying:

“if you are so confident about your view of Fightback, why will you not call an early election?

Seeing Hewson smirk after posing the question is like watching a lamb gambol to the slaughterhouse. Keating savours the moment. He leans into the microphone to ensure his response is heard clearly about the din, and says:

“The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly. There has to be a bit of sport in this for all of us. In the psychological battle stakes, we are stripped down and ready to go. I want to see those ashen-faced performances; I want more of them. I want to be encouraged. I want to see you squirm out of this load of rubbish over a number of months.”

What wouldn’t Fianna Fáil, or most other Irish parties, give right now to have a leader with that level of belief, conviction and passion.

Curiously, the Keating line with which I planned to open this week’s column, is not from Keating, at all.

In “Labor in Power”, the ABC documentary series charting Hawke and Keating’s 13 years in office, Keating quotes a former ALP (Australian Labor Party) leader’s assessment of party membership and loyalty:

“You haven’t really been in the ALP until you have been expelled from the ALP, at least once”

Though I haven’t been expelled from Fianna Fáil… well, not yet, as far as I know, I did come perilously close to it a few years ago.

I had gone on to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland in November 1994 to call on the then Taoiseach and leader, Albert Reynolds to consider his position.

The charge levelled at me was the catch-all “bringing the party into disrepute”. As it turned out Mr Reynolds was gone as both Taoiseach and leader before anything was done about me.

The complaints disappeared. At least I hope they did. Who knows, maybe those old charges are just resting in a file in Fianna Fáil HQ, waiting to be dragged out whenever I transgress again.

In that case I hope no one around the current leader is reading this morning’s column or any of the last seven or eight ones I have written, for that matter.

For the past week or so I have been working with a group of other ordinary Fianna Fáil members to campaign for a No vote on the Programme for Government (PfG).

I have explained here why I am voting No and why I have a problem with the particular government configuration, so I do not propose to rehash those arguments here again this morning.

By this day next week we will know the outcome of the three votes. Most expect Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to vote yes. I suspect they are right, especially given the massive pressure being brought to bear to secure a yes, but I also think the margins will be tighter than expected, a lot tighter.

But, as interesting as the FF and FG races may be, it’s on the third race that the spotlight will fix tighter. The Green Party’s requirement for a two-thirds majority gives their no side a major advantage, but there are two things that makes a Green defeat even more likely.

The first is the campaign the no side has mounted, as typified by Neasa Hourigan’s impressive speech at their recent marathon online seminar.

The second is the campaign being mounted by Varadkar and Martin to sway their less than convinced memberships.

Every time they try to persuade their members that the Green’s 7% per annum emission cuts won’t kick in until after 2025 or that Tarbert LNG plant and the M20 Cork/Limerick motorway are not going to be sacrificed, they succeed in driving a few more Green delegates into the No column.

So, is a Green rejection of the PfG really likely?

Yes, I think it is and I have been saying this for weeks.

Is it the worst possible outcome?

Well, seeing that I am urging my own party to also reject it, it is fairly evident that I do not.

Whether the No vote it comes from Fianna Fáil or the Green Party, or both, rejecting the PfG is not just rejecting the fruits of the negotiations it is rejecting a process that has not just seen a several parties excluded,

it is it rejecting a process that is curiously built around partial rejection of the Dáil itself.

I say this as the dog that has not barked during this whole process is Dáil Éireann. Because, not only will we know the results of the three ballots by this day next week, we will potentially know the direction of travel following those results as the Friday results are likely to be followed by a full, socially distanced, plenary session of the Dáil, at the Dublin Convention Centre.

It will be this Dáil’s 23rd sitting day since Thursday February 20th. more importantly, will only the third time it has meet in full session with all TDs present since that date. That is only three occasions for all 160 TDs to meet together in the 135 days since polling day

Clearly these are different times and members and staff in the Oireachtas are entitled to the best health and safety protections, but it is frankly ridiculous that the Dáil has not been permitted to operate remotely via Zoom/Skype. Even the outdated House of Commons managed to find a way to meet in full, but in safety.

The restrictions on Dáil sittings have created an air of artificiality about the whole government formation process. Though past processes have not hardly included T.D.s at every step of the process, neither have they seen so many effectively side-lined whether voluntarily or in-voluntarily.

How could any Taoiseach, caretaker or otherwise, even considered requesting a Dáil dissolution when the Dáil has only had one opportunity over a period of 123 days (counting from Feb 20th to today) to fully involve itself in the election of a Taoiseach.

It is the Dáil, the full assembly of TDs from all parties and none, who elect the Taoiseach. It is the choices and decisions of the people’s 160 TDs that matter, even more so than several 100 swing voters in the Green party.

While yesterday’s papers were full of grim warnings from Fine Gael sources of the dire consequences of either the Greens or Fianna Fáil rejecting the deal, the political reality is that the 160 TDs together have the capacity to address those consequences.

It will be neither easy nor elegant, but this is what we elect our TDs to do. Indeed some of our 49 already elected Senators will head to Court this week to attempt defuse one of the most significant consequences: getting the Seanad to even convene.

This is not to underestimate the scale of problem. Indeed, it would not be unfair to call it a crisis, but political crises usually have political solutions.

One of the most worrying consequences of the Dáil failing to act on Saturday would be the possible collapse of the Special Criminal Court from June 29 and the implications of that for major gang feud cases. This is something that should worry us greatly, no matter what party we are in.

But how did we get to this point?

Why were government formation machinations allowed to roll on so long as to collide with this deadline? Was no one aware of this political buffer? Or, could it be that talks were strung out because some people were acutely aware of it?

These are question for a few weeks hence, right now our focus should be on the party votes, the Friday counts and the urgency of creativity and action on Saturday next.

Otherwise, it is all of us who’ll be done slowly.

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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46 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: Unless Someone Votes No, We’ll All Be Done Slowly

  1. bisted

    …you have to hand it to the blueshirts…despite coming a dismal third in the election, they’re in a win:win situation…they’ve given Mehole enough rope to hang himself, either in or out of coalition…pity Delboy has burnt all his bridges…

  2. Cian

    It is the Dáil, the full assembly of TDs from all parties and none, who elect the Taoiseach. Technically, but….

    It is the choices and decisions of the people’s 160 TDs that matter, even more so than several 100 swing voters in the Green party. Patently not true. While the TDs are the ones that actually vote for/against the new government, the Green party TDs will vote based on their own internal vote.

    I assume that if the FF party supports this they will invoke the whip to ensure that all 37 TDs vote for this? So it isn’t the individual TDs that matter – but the party.

    Saying that it is possible that the FF No supporters (O’Cuiv?) might defy the whip and vote no bringing the whole coalition down.

  3. Joe

    The idiot FFer’s are allowing themselves to be boiled slowly like a frog on a pan by FG and such is Michael Martin’s addiction to be a temporary taoiseach he is happy to allow the destruction of his party, As for Eamon Ryan and his cohort they are happy to defecate on climate justice and housing for the veneer of cheaply painted bicycle lanes. A new election is needed now.

    1. Cian

      A new election is needed now.

      Do you think there will be much of a change if there were another election? FF will have a new leader. SF will get a few more seats, Greens and independents will lose a few, FF/FG might claw a few extras.

      It is extremely unlikely that any one party will get a majority – so we will be back in coalition territory. Depending on the final numbers it will most likely be back to:
      – SF & FF (& independents)
      – SF & FG (& independents)
      – FF & FG (& independents)

  4. Joe Small

    Its a bit disingenuous from Derek. He know that we have one of the strictest party whip systems in any democracy (much stricter that in the UK) and he also knows most TDs are a just backbench fodder whose main talent is running a professional constituency office that makes their voters feel like they’re being listened to.
    I read Derek’s articles every week and I still have no idea what his preference for a stable Government is. I suppose that’s testimony to his career in political communications.

    1. Rob_G

      also, getting down to brass tacks – if FF force another election now, does Derek really think that the electorate will thank them for it, and that they will do better this time around?

      1. bisted

        …is it possible for Squee to reject a call for another election at this time…can he order an interim government based on d’Hondt…or an indefinite continuation of the existing government?

        1. Cian

          The constitution is silent on this – it doesn’t seem to say anything about what happens if after an election there isn’t a new government formed.

          The President can’t order the Dáil to do anything: e.g. “order an interim government based on d’Hondt”.

  5. GiggidyGoo

    “…..does Derek really think that the electorate will thank them for it…..”
    I don’t know why this phrase consistently is paraded out, as if the electorate filled in a form to say that they wouldn’t like another election.

    Maybe the electorate will thank them for it, now that they have seen exactly what FF and the Greens and FG stand for and can thank their lucky stars a government with those three can be averted?

    1. Nigel

      Yeah, at this point the electorate is pretty unfamiliar with FF and FG, but wow, wait’ll they find out!

      1. GiggidyGoo

        Well, they’ve certainly found out Michey Martin and his goal. Much the same as Eamon Ryans mind you. Office + power – only

          1. GiggidyGoo

            Never heard that phrase before. Doesn’t make sense. (Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard it)

          2. GiggidyGoo

            No thanks. You hardly need me to come up with an explanation for some odd phrase you’ve come up with, that you don’t even know what it means yourself.
            Smundkarf di Elektis

          3. GiggidyGoo

            Wouldn’t take much for you, in fairness, to write a post where the only excuse for it being not intelligible, is that you failed to dumb it down further.

  6. Johnny

    “In that case I hope no one around the current leader is reading this morning’s column or any of the last seven or eight ones I have written, for that matter.”

    yeah Derck an emergency meeting at HQ was called over your musings in the ‘sheet the govt hangs in the balance, how do you spell narcissism……….

      1. Johnny

        Morning Papi-i even picked a song from your era in the competition:)

        I paid the cost to be the boss
        Look at me you know what you see
        You see a bad mutha

        Got some of that awesome outdoor grown-Humbolt Counties finest-just packing a bowl blasting some tunes making coffee..

        But seriously a radio show in 1994 – I mean can someone please do a intervention and explain its 2020!

          1. Johnny

            Its morning I’m smoking a nice bowl of the finest grass available, its sunny I overlook water,Blue Mountain coffee is brewing, your like a little puppy following me around yapping from to post to post looking for a little pet and attention I get it, but do you have be such a little silly all the time….. its a little unbecoming I’m embarrassed for you that you have so little to contribute except snark.

          2. Papi

            In a post where you call someone a narcissist, you then describe yourself as ” a bad mutha” with not a hint of irony.
            Couldn’t make it up, juice box.

  7. Vanessanelle

    What has Fianna Fail become

    In all honestly now lads

    As recently as December – barely 8 weeks before a General Election
    Michéal Martin said no to a Unity Vote / Border Poll

    If that didn’t make him redundant there and then with the Soldiers of Destiny
    it definitely did their Republican mission and basis for being

    Wanna know why Sinn Fein did so well lads

    Fianna Fail by way of the biggest affront to Irish Democracy, the Confidence & Supply Agreement, made Mary Lou and the lads the Opposition and Sinn Fein the Party of Irish Unity

    So stop trying to make it about the Greens
    First it was Brexit, then it was the Pandemic
    Excuses Excuses

    Fianna Fail and their members and barkers need to stop protecting Michéal Martin

    When tis the likes of Eamonn O’Cuiv
    An oul’ throwback to the Ballrooms of Romance, who would want nothing more than to bring the Church back around the table, repeal Repeal, and park himself into the Áras with his rosary beads is the voice of dissension in Fianna Fail, then you know its over.

    The biggest and best opportunity Fianna Fail had to prove that Soldiers of Destiny isn’t a p155 take was to enter Coalition with Sinn Fein

    This, from the late Frilly Keane, is an extract from something posted over FOUR years ago

    It may look like Mickey and his backseat bhoys are doing everything they can to run away from the banner they still use “The Republican Party” with their NO NO NO to any mention of a Coalition with the other Republican Party. But I actually think they’re scared sh1tless. Not so much about the prospect of Martin Ferris giving one’a them a good clatter, but that they will be found out.

    Found out for the Empty Shirt, H.dips, Jobs for the Boys, Dynasty Seat Fillers, Galway Tent Brigades they really are, and not the Republican Party they got too grand for. The Republican Party they’re afraid of standing up for. The Republican Party they’ve forgotten they once were. The FFs are a scared of where they are from. (That makes them BlueShirts btw)

    1. Nigel

      Exactly. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE GREENS. It’s about the other parties feckin about while fires break out everywhere. At least FG didn’t mither and maunder over in the corona response – with notable exceptions – if they had a lick of sense they’d look around and notice there’s more than that going on right now that needs the same sort of responses.

      1. bisted

        …trouble is…it is about the greens…they are on the verge of voting to prop up a right-wing government for another five years…deja vu…

        1. Cian

          “right-wing government”
          No. A centrist government (leaning right) which will require the (left leaning) Greens. That should be balance it.

        2. Nigel

          It’s almost as if the people keep voting for those guys! While the other guys fail to get their act together to form an alternative! And everyone’s going to blame the Greens for a century of Civil War politics versus a power-shy left and a scary pack of strident, but equally power-shy nationalists! Deja vu indeed.

        3. Vanessanelle

          No Bisto

          Derek and all the FF apologists and enablers are making it about the Greens, and all the others too at this stage

          Rather that taking a harder look at themselves

          Imagine this
          If Michael Martin had answered Yes to a Unity Poll last Christmas, and had it in Campaign bumf, and took a debate question on it
          Then buddied up with Sinn Fein, which the majority of its remaining members want,
          and form an election pact

          what would they be looking like today?

          They’d be leading the 33rd Dáil
          and Leading the regeneration of Social Housing Stock – because that’s actually what they’re good at – local level developments, initiatives and regeneration

          Instead they are actually the Fine Gael mudguard, not the Greens,

          Fianna Fail are finished if this proceeds with Micheal Martin
          Fine Gael and Sinn Fein will absorb what’s left of them

          And nobody should be surprised to learn that a lot of the middling to mediocre eFFer will be very at home in Fine Gael

          Sinn Fein is a natural home for the traditional old school eFFer anyway, and they are also likely to scoop up the clusters of left groups that are only there now courtesy of the SF Surplus, that won’t be there for them the next time

          1. bisted

            …sorry V…something changed a few years ago and the FFers finally purged their republican credentials…they tried to side with the SDLP in the north despite the shinners beating them and their nationalism into almost oblivion…I agreed with you at the time that a republican coalition was inevitable and that the shinners/FF should be embracing it but Mehole says no.
            FG are now in a much stronger position, from a much weaker electoral base, than the FFers were four years ago…the greens can be kingmakers and go for to sleep for five years…the greens compromised their position as part of the movement for change regardless of how the membership vote…a vote for green is a vote for FFG…

          2. Cian

            [FF] buddied up with Sinn Fein, which the majority of its remaining members want, and form an election pact
            Have you any evidence for this?

            And nobody should be surprised to learn that a lot of the middling to mediocre eFFer will be very at home in Fine Gael
            This statement is just as true if you replace FF and FG with any two random parties.

          3. Vanessanelle

            In fairness MM ‘in talks’ with the SDLP was a false flag
            Remember he wasn’t a bit impressed that the talks had been started by O’Cuiv and the Kerry lad, Senator Mark Daly
            AFAIR FF HQ referred to the two lads meeting with SDLP people as ‘rogue’

            Would ya pull the other one
            Come down into the real world
            Where ome of us don’t need to stand on anything other than our instincts, old fashioned cop on and knowing what’s going on at Cumann level within the grassroots.

            I realise you post to order
            Please note that I don’t

          4. bisted

            …I agree…the tiff between Dev and Mehole seems like a false flag…I’d say Shayna knows a lot more from the other side of the story but won’t tell…

          5. Vanessanelle

            It originates from pre 2011 when Eamonn wanted to run for the Áras
            And Michéal stopped him

            Which even now
            Remains a bad decision for the Party

            Then Eamonn stacked the 2017 Ard Fheis and got the motions around supporting Repealing the 8th roundly defeated
            One paper at the time referred to the delegates voting against Repeal as in droves 5 or 6 to one

            to give Eamonn O’Cuiv his due
            He is an unrepentent Republican, and I admire him enormously for that
            and especially for all the work he did with the Prisoners Wives, and with getting Republican Prisoners medical care, such as cancer treatments in more than one case, on the private as Mrs Windsors Prison Services were failing them, not even referring them to NHS services.
            naturally this was all pre GFA and during the Thatcher/ Major years

  8. Mal

    I really thought this post was by Derek Mooney off of “Mooney Goes Wild”, I was waiting for him to explain how this deal will affect Ireland’s biodiversity and I was wondering how he was allowed to speak out about party politics when he’s an RTÉ employee…

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