Derek Mooney: You Can’t Expel Me… I’ve Already Quit


From top: Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Leo Varakar, Minster for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in the Convention Centre Dublin for the announcement of the members of the new Cabinet on Saturday; Derek Mooney

Last week I suggested there was a possibility my Fianna Fáil membership could come to an unseemly and abrupt end for daring to challenge the leadership orthodoxy on the programme for government.

I wrote that particular section with a tongue (my own, I should point out) firmly planted in my cheek. The observation was at best, flippant and at worst, facetious. It was not intended as a prediction. More than once I was just a click away from deleting the entire paragraph as I tried to edit 150 words out of the piece.

Little did I imagine as I hit “send” that that one week later I would find myself no longer a member of the party I joined over 42 years ago.

Let me clear. I am not in this position because anyone asked, cajoled or compelled me to leave, but because I decided by myself and for myself that my time in Fianna Fáil had sadly come to an end, for now.

As is often the case with significant personal decisions it was not down to one single cause. Instead it was a confluence of mixed and varied elements that were finally tipped over on the scale by a seemingly harmless comment.

The most obvious element in this mix is my opposition to the Programme for Government (PfG) and the government formation configuration it sustains.

I have written about my objections to and difficulties with the PfG several times, so they are were rehearsed here. Suffuce to say that I favour either a national or unity government model for two year period to deal with the crisis.

It is why I campaigned for No in the Fianna Fáil member’s ballot and why I voted No. sadly, I and my colleagues only managed to convince 26% of our fellow members to do likewise.

While this No percentage is a considerable multiple of the percentage within the parliamentary party, decisions are made by those who win, not by those who most improve.

This defeat itself was not sufficient to persuade me to leave. Just as the abject failure of the party leadership to grasp the opportunities presented by the partnership agreement with Colum Eastwood’s SDLP also failed to drive me out – though I have to concede that did bring me perilously close to departing.

The bizarre and odd straw that broke this contrary camel’s back came via an appearance on last Friday’s RTÉ One 6.01 news by the now Taoiseach, Micheál Martin. He was there to speak about the expected announcement of the Fianna Fáil membership vote.

Answering a question about the mandate for the program for government within Fianna Fáil Martin spoke glowingly about respecting the people who had campaigned for no within the FairerFuture group. A group of which I was a member.

Dismissing the interviewer’s impudent description of our group as dissident, Martin said there had been a “very energetic debate” at all levels of the Fianna Fáil party, hailing the process as proof that “democracy in our party is alive and well.

It was this throwaway comment that saw me off the premises. It is one thing trying to fool yourself and those on the side lines, but it is another one entirely to try to fool those directly involved.

Winning an election gives you the right to pursue your agenda, it does not confer the right to rewrite the story of the process and to cast everyone else in the roles to which you wish they could be assigned. (You wait until you are appointing Cabinet and Junior Ministers and to do that – but that is another story).

I will not recite a litany of real and perceived problems with how the party hierarchy responded to our campaign. Some are too complex to neatly sum up in a few words, others are petty and juvenile. The bottom line is that the current Fianna Fáil leadership seemed truly incapable of grasping the idea that there could be an alternative interpretation or analysis of the PfG, other than its own.

It seemed that the party bosses could not comprehend a scenario where any case other than that favoured by the leader could be argued or presented.

I have no doubt that their outlook contained no malice. They had no problem in seeing that members had an absolute right to say No, it was just that they could not see how or understand why anyone else in the party might be granted use of the party machinery and apparatus to present a counter argument to the leadership orthodoxy.

It most assuredly is not the Una Duce, Una Voce approach that supposedly held sway in the 1980s. This is more like Una Duce, Una Versione. One leader, one approach.

It is an approach that puts cohesion and solidarity above all. There’s “us” and only “us”, as if no “them” can be allowed to emerge. The fact that this benefits the current leader and his coterie is just coincidental.

It is a false notion of party unity that undermines the purpose and rationale of a political party. The fact that the leader goes on TV and radio and hail this una versione notion of internal democracy in an earnest and genuinely sincere manner is a signal to me that its time to hop the fence.

Let me digress here slightly. The Una Duce Una Voce stuff was never the reality. Not only does the phrase come from a joke that backfired at an off-the-record press briefing, but there was always an alternative focus of opinion to the great leader within Fianna Fáil.

Yes there was Haughey holding centre stage and making sure the lights and microphones were focussed on him and the occasional loyal spear carrier, but there was also a Colley or an O’Malley waiting in the wings, eager to supplant him.

There were two sides to all issues and arguments. This made things difficult and fraught as the battles were more often about personality than ideas, but even so a genuine policy debate could break out, the odd time.

Today’s institutionalised reluctance to encourage open debate is also to be seen in how the parliamentary party was asked to approve the PfG.

Most Fianna TDs and Senators only got the document about two and a half hours before they went into a parliamentary meeting. This surely is the political equivalent of going to buy a car only to find the salesperson has covered the contract with their jacket and insists you sign through the buttonhole now.

So what, says you, weren’t they being kept updated on what was in it all along? Seemingly not. The parliamentary party meeting immediately before that one was five weeks earlier. It was conducted by phone conference, as if Fianna Fáil TDs don’t possess Zoom, and was later described to me as more like listening into a broadcast than participating in a meeting.

So, here I am outside Fianna Fáil, but with no desire to join any other party instead (sure who in their right mind would have me?). It is quite possible, indeed it is highly likely that I will return to Fianna Fáil at some point in the not too distant future when the party hierarchy and apparatus has rediscovered and reconnected itself to the worth and value of having open debate and contrary opinions within a political party.

I am perhaps being unfair to our new Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, in supposing that such a development will require a change of leadership.

But I must go by the evidence of my own experience over the past few years – and that tells me that this situation is not going to improve or change under Martin.

I am not comfortable with the situation in which I find myself, but happy with my decision.Now I can test the validity of the transposed Aussie political claim (substituting FF for ALP) that says:

“You haven’t really been in Fianna Fáil until you have been drummed out of it… at least once”. 

Thus far, it feels right.

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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26 thoughts on “Derek Mooney: You Can’t Expel Me… I’ve Already Quit

  1. D

    Never understood why Derek a member of a conservative party wrote for liberal broadsheet. Good news, one less Fianna failer

    1. Rob_G

      Yes, the very idea of anyone encountering any opinions that don’t accord with their own beliefs is abhorrent to me, also.

    2. goldenbrown

      hey D
      reconsider your strategy because it’s flawed if you’re not up for listening to all the blather especially your opponents
      sure unless you’re clairvoyant how the hell else will you ever get to understand what they’re thinking and work out how to counteract it?

  2. Daisy Chainsaw

    Now you know how most of us have felt for years when it comes to the corrupt stink hole that is FF.

    1. Paulus

      If you’re quick, (and free), Daisy you’ll catch B Ahern on Sarah Mc Inerney shortly. This will be his third appearance on the airways in a short while. The Bert’s rehabilitation continues. He can’t still be holding out hope for The Park…can he?

      1. goldenbrown

        it’s kinda bonkers BUT what it demonstrates to me is just how little we’ve moved on in politics and journalism really if he remains a relevant and venerable VIP despite everything he’s done

        a bit like Blair still he appears to have plenty of customers and is unweighted by his past

    2. scottser

      exactly this.
      derek, you seem like a well-meaning, self-aware sort of bloke. what you were doing in FF is beyond me; say goodbye and don’t look back.

  3. Formerly known as

    I like the Ausie ALP reference. There is a very similar political culture here in Oz. Nepotism isn’t quite as common here but it does exist.

  4. Gearóid

    I don’t often agree with Derek, but read his articles every week.

    Can somebody please copyedit this and repost it? I couldn’t get past the first few paragraphs this week with all the grammatical errors and typos.

  5. Ghost of Yep

    “I will not recite a litany of real and perceived problems with how the party hierarchy responded to our campaign.”


  6. Sten

    You supported FF through all the decades of deep corruption that our country and it’s people are still paying for every minute of every day. We pay explicitly through interest payments on debt but also through lives broken through inadequate healthcare, lack of support for our most vulnerable, emigration, lack of trust in our political class, rising populism etc etc. But it’s the party’s hierarchy’s response to your challenge on the pfg that drove you out.

    It seems to be a died in the wool FF characteristic that the corruption is water off a ducks back but the personal ego hit delivers reaction.

  7. Kate

    RTE reporting from the Convention Centre was clinically stage managed ; I wondered at the time were all TD’s present or did they vote in a conference call?! It’s downright dangerous to democracy that free speech is denied and seeds of ill will are sewn.
    Good Luck, Derek!

    1. John

      Did you even watch the coverage Kate?
      What free speech was denied? It was on the telly all morning with loads of the TDs speaking.
      Purely from a professional speech delivery point of view Michael Lowry was probably the best speaker with Danny Healy Ray being the worst, although Mattie gave him a run for his money there.
      They even did the vote live with the camera crew doing a great job in zooming in on everyone for he roll call.

      1. Kate

        Admittedly I didn’t see all the coverage….but I did hear the speakers that you have referred to. The Healey-Rea duo spoke of a young boy in severe pain and his urgent scoliosis operation delayed by a further 130 days due to condif ….off topic and opportunic as always. Was there a geek out of FF /FG members other than two newcomers at the front who nominated Mehaul? If broadcasted I didn’t see it. .

  8. bisted

    …read about half of this suicide note before I realised that you could die of old age before reaching the end…another bagman throws the toys out…

    1. Johnny

      ..imagine the panic in Mount St…they probably just working on a statement right,i mean this has be a big blow to FF,I’m sure the phone is ringing off the hook with offers…

  9. Anthony Sheridan

    “democracy in our party is alive and well.

    So let me see if i have this right: After 42 years membership of the most corrupt party in Irish history, where lies, corruption, betrayal, arrogance are the order of the day…you resign over a remark by the current leader that ‘democracy is alive and well in the party…..Here’s my advice…get yourself a nice pot of tea, sit in front of a mirror and have a serious chat with yourself…..You never know, you may wake up to reality…

  10. :-Joe

    Give me a break…. I couldn’t even make it to the end without sighing, eye-rolling, shakiong the head etc. and all at the same time.
    – I can’t stop, I’m still doing it as I write this!…

    The other comments above have covered the majority of my thoughts better than I would have articulated. However there is one thing I have to say and ask you.

    For maybe once and the first time in your professional working life, would you ever cop on to yourself derek?
    The auld F-f/g duopoly needs to be taken out the back and put down, with a flame thrower preferably, as soon as possible. Let a new single conservative or so-called “right wing” party rise from the filthy, stinking, obnoxious, smouldering corrupted carcass that hopefully it soon will be.

    You know what to do, instead of joining the F-g/- half or just returning back to the same F-f/- half by the next election, go the important step further and prove that you’re not just a charlatan playing personal games but a serious man of character.

    I’ve said it before but I think you need to write a book or a blog, maybe even anonymously(for even more for your own personal benefit) and not for attention or reward.. Write about what you really know about your life spent in the bowels of the corrupt F-f/g duopoly for the establishment status quo.

    A detailed political history as seen and understood first hand by a once foolish, deluded, greedy, spin-merchant… turned whistleblower and now a brave, principled, tenacious champion of the public good above and beyond the private profit of minority elites. a.k.a A responible citizen and real journalist or politician. – i.e.The opposite of the F-f/g duopoly membership.

    Do the right thing derek.. Anything, instead of writing more of this pathetic, vain, self-indulgent, fantasy nonsense.. It’s never impossible or too late to change direction in life and you’ve already taken the most difficult first step…

    Do it , anything is better than more of this spin. Otherwise, I can only wish you the same fate as the rest of the F-f/g spoofers and chancers that only encourage more greedy, corrupted hypocrites… A cult of failed ideology, who never cease to miss an opportunity to take advantage of any situation, always inflicting unnecessary abuses on the majority of people.

    :-J –

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