Author Archives: Derek Mooney

 From top: Boris Johnson at the Pendulum Summit  in Dublin last January; Derek Mooney.

So, it’s Boris. I suppose, if I want to be true to the spirit of Boris Johnson, I should have written two columns on the outcome of the Tory leadership election and not just one.

One for if he wins. One for if he loses. Both claiming with equal and absolute certainty that I knew this would be the outcome.

Instead, I have opted to do it the old-fashioned way and write just the one piece after the result was confirmed.

Today’s selection of Boris Johnson, by 66.4 per cent on an almost 90% turnout of the Tory party membership, as the new leader and next prime minister is hardly surprising. At least has not been that surprising since round one of the MPs vote to pick the two final candidates.

His confirmation as Prime Minister of the slowly disuniting Kingdom of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland tomorrow afternoon will at the same time, paradoxically, change nothing and everything on Brexit.

It changes nothing in terms of the actualité, none of the details of Brexit have changed. The EU 27 remain as committed to the letter and spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with Teresa May’s government as they have ever been.

The EU 27 has repeatedly said clearly and unambiguously that they are not willing to re open any of the issues agreed in the divorce arrangements, most especially the Irish Backstop.

Johnson’s hope that the issue of the Irish Border (and the Backstop) might be put on hold and shifted from the Phase I negotiations on the divorce to the phase II talks on the future trading arrangements will not be entertained.

The EU has already made this abundantly clear.

It has been listening to what Johnson and Hunt have been saying during their leadership bids and it can see that neither has said anything to suggest a readiness on the part of the UK to make serious proposals to break the logjam and avoid a no-deal Brexit.

But they also know that this change of leadership in Britain is still a major political moment.

While the dismissal by many of Johnson’s rival, Jeremy Hunt, as just being continuity Teresa May, was cruel there was more than a little truth to it.

The election of Boris Johnson is in some ways a repudiation by the Tory membership of Teresa May, though perhaps more of her style than her substance.

Johnson is the antithesis of his predecessor. Where she was assiduous and sharply focused on detail, Johnson is a broad strokes guy, whose disdain for consistency is only surpassed by his passion for and belief in the power and force of rhetoric.

Johnson understands the theatricality of politics better than almost anyone else in British politics. He has shown considerable skills at both playing and using the media to pursue his ambitions. Across his political career he has sought to at all times portray himself as the person he thought the majority of voters wanted.

He has the classic politician’s need to please and be liked. The tool he uses to achieve this is himself: his personality, his persona, his humour and above all his rhetoric. Here I refer to classic rhetoric.

Aristotle defined it as “the faculty of discovering, in any particular case, all of the available means of persuasion” while Plato described it as “the art of enchanting the soul.”

We saw a short burst of this in Boris’s remarks upon being declared elected this morning. He spoke of energising Britain, of getting Brexit done on Oct 31st, of returning the spirit of can do and of pinging away the guide ropes of self-doubt and negativity.

It was Obama meets Trump: part Yes We Can, part Make Britain Great Again.

But the future of Boris Johnson entirely hinges on delivering a Brexit that works.

And this is where the opportunity lies. The new leader with his command of language and the power of rhetoric now has a moment, that is rare in politics, where he can take the lead and do something his predecessor serially failed to do and that is to define Brexit in terms that are deliverable.

He can use the occasion and power of coming days to define Brexit in a way that allows him to eventually get the Withdrawal Agreement passed and move the focus of his negotiations with the EU27 to the political declaration that accompanies the withdrawal agreement.

That is where he has scope for setting out the shape and nature of Britain’s future trading, security and political relationship with the European Union.

As a historian, a rhetorician and above all as a devotee and biographer of the great British political rhetorician of the 20th century Winston Churchill, Johnson will know the potential power of this moment.

He has a chance to exit the morass that May allowed to develop around Brexit and to use his mandate from the membership to direct their attention to a place where a workable Brexit can be delivered.

If he signals that he is willing to seize the moment – and it is a very big if – then the EU27 can respond by moving its focus to the political declaration and moving the agenda forward to how it sees its long-term relationship with the UK.

Indeed it did so this morning via a tweet from {Eu Brexit negotiator] Michel Barnier, saying:

We are ready also to rework the agreed Declaration on a new partnership in line with #EUCO guidelines.

But the ball still lies firmly in Boris’s court.

To his credit, the Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, also sent an early signal on last Sunday’s Andrew Marr show.

There he explained that the Backstop is an insurance policy which we all hope will never have to be drawn down and which can be replaced by the alternative arrangements the Brits want, just once they can be shown to work in practise.

The next few days will tell a lot.

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


Earlier: Shoo-In

From top: Derek’s Summer reads part 2; Derek Mooney

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Published late last year, this book from the doyen of American presidential biographers, Doris Kearns Goodwin, asks whether the leader make the times or do the times make the leader.

She does this by considering the backgrounds and life stories of the four US presidents she has written most about: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson and examines how they each came to recognise the leadership qualities within themselves and how they went on to use these in office.

It’s a fascinating examination of how political leadership once worked and suggests that it could be that way again. The other reason this is on my list is because I am a fan of Goodwin. I’d happily buy an anthology of her notes to the milkman, if published.

Alarums and Excursions, Improvising Politics on the European Stage by Luuk van Middelaar

The best critique I have read of this book is that it’s “…neither a partisan defence of the European Union nor a pessimistic prophecy of doom, but a cool analysis of the role of European institutional structures and of key personalities.” From what I have read of this so far, it is a far summation of Van Middelaar’s approach.

A former adviser to Herman Van Rompuy while he was the EU Council President, Van Middelaar writing is far more vibrant and engaging on paper than his former boss was in person.

First published in Dutch and then in French the title comes from an Elizabethan stage direction that prepared actors for an onstage skirmish and to make battle noises. “Alarums and excursions” according to the author, conveys “the feverish mood when action becomes imminent”. Not a light read, but an essential one for anyone interested in EU affairs.

Twitter and Tear Gas, The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci

Published about two years back, this book from Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina, sometimes described as a scholar-activist, has been widely hailed as the definitive work on the power of influence of social media in modern protest movement. In the book Zeynep considers how the social media and the internet both helped demonstrations in places such as Turkey, Mexico and Egypt get off the ground but also makes them harder to sustain.

The headline on the Washington Post’s review of her book sums its message up well: “Twitter and Facebook helped spark protest movements then they undermined them.”

The Psychology of Social Media by Dr Ciarán Mc Mahon

The second book on social media on this list is this short and well researched volume from Dublin based psychologist Dr Ciaran MacMahon. It does – to use the hackneyed phrase – exactly what it says on the tin. It explains how and why so much of our daily lives have come to be saturated by popular and absorbing social media platforms.

Ciaran does this by first posing a series of questions and then answers each in precise detail with reference to various examples. The Psychology of Social Media explores how so much of our everyday lives is played out online, and how this can impact our identity, wellbeing and relationships.

It looks at how our online profiles, connections, status updates and sharing of photographs can be a way to express ourselves and form connections, but also highlights the pitfalls of social media including privacy issues.

An Act of God by David Javerbaum,

The good news about this book, it that you kind don’t have to buy it to enjoy it. The second fiction book on my list, it is less a book and more a multi-platform experience. It is a book, originally published in 2015, as The Last Testament: A Memoir, which has since been turned into a hilarious stage play. Both of these in turn are anthologies of the best posts from the twitter account: @TheTweetOfGod.

Written by a former head writer at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart it is God’s latest instalment of the Testaments (and Qur’an) based on his experiences of mankind over the last few centuries. Written in biblical verse (how else could God write?) he opines, over 400 pages, on every aspect of universe from updating the Ten Commandments to Simon Cowell and Caitlyn Jenner. You can get a flavour of the style from checking out the currently pinned tweet:

In an ideal scenario the President of the United States and the worst human being in the world would be two different people.

Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech by Jamie Susskind,

Possibly the heaviest and most demanding read on the list. It also carries the burden of being reviewed and highly recommended in the Irish Times last December by, Finance Minister, Paschal Donohoe. Notwithstanding this, Susskind’s book follows on from the two other volumes dealing with Social Media and is a must-read for anyone interested in the great political debate of the 21st century: how will digital technology transform society and politics?

Susskind approaches the debate with both the expertise of a lawyer and a deep understanding of the digital world. His analysis is informed by the maxim that “how we govern, store, analyse, and communicate our information is closely related to how we organise our politics”.
As much of our daily lives are governed by algorithms as they are by laws made in parliaments.

The issues of data collection, privacy and freedom are so closely intertwined in today’s world that discussion of one has significant consequences for the other, yet these are largely in the hands of private big tech firms. Yet, Susskind’s outlook is not dystopian, not least because challenges policy makers and opinion formers on how free societies can still retain control.

Yesterday: My Summer Political Reading 2019 (Part 1)

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

Derek Mooney (above) and some of his Summer reads (top)

I have the hotels and flights booked so it must be time for my annual summer political reading list. Below are some suggested titles along with short reviews of books that should be of interest to those who follow politics.

As with the previous two lists I have done for Broadsheet the books are mainly factual, though this time I have tried to go for less heavy reads than past years.

The list is broken up into two parts (concluding tomorrow) and in no particular order, though it does start with books with a more domestic focus.

Feel free to disagree with any of my choices in the comments section below and maybe suggest what books you have packed or downloaded for the summer break.

Enda the Road: Nine Days that Toppled a Taoiseach By Gavan Reilly

This first one is no-brainer (I know there’s an obvious joke here, but I am a kindly soul in the summer, so will pass on making it). I simply cannot recommend Gavan’s book highly enough. It is not just superbly well-written, it is also well researched and offers a balanced yet pacey and entertaining telling of the final days of the Kenny leadership. Essential reading for anyone seriously interested in Irish politics, it is also a good intro for those who want to get to know more about it.

Frenzy and Betrayal: The Anatomy of a Political Assassination by Alan Shatter

While the dustjacket blurb describes it as a “compelling, dramatic and unique insight into the most shocking series of corruption scandals to rock the Irish political system in decades” the pages in between the covers tell the story of a smart and savvy politician who perhaps over estimated his skillset and contributed as much to his demise as his detractors.

Nevertheless, Irish ministers are not in the habit of writing about their time in office in this level of detail, so this is an important and rare insight into how one of the most important and guarded departments of state operates.

A Shared Home Place by Seamus Mallon

This book is part memoir, part manifesto and written with the help of Andy Pollak. While Seamus Mallon appears to be telling the story of sad and tragic life lived in the most difficult times in Northern Ireland he does this to offer the background to the book’s real intent: a proposal for how both traditions on this island can manage to live together in this shared home place and space.

Not for the first time in his political career Mallon takes the less easy road and sets the challenge to those of us in the majority on this island to make the changes necessary to accommodate the other.

The Friends of Harry Perkins by Chris Mullin

One of the few works of fiction to make it on to this list, this sequel to Mullin’s bestselling A Very British Coup could be said to offer a better sense of how political life in post-Brexit Britain might turn out than some non-fiction works.

In the highly entertaining and gripping A Very British Coup, Mullins – a former Labour MP and junior Minister under Blair – chronicled the entrenched institutional opposition faced by his fictional prime minister, the far left Harry Perkins, as Perkins attempts to cope with the economic and industrial chaos that engulfed Britain in the 1980s.

Thirty-five years on and with Britain facing another social and economic crisis, Mullin has created a new character, Fred Thompson, a former Perkins aide and his successor as MP, and we get see the difficulties besetting a near-future Britain through his eyes.

Part 2 tomorrow.

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

From top Paul Kehoe, Minister for State at the Department of Defence; Derek Mooney

A few weeks back I discovered online that one of my favourite London pubs, the Coach and Horses on Greek Street in Soho is about to change hands.

The pub is both iconic and historic – and not just because I’ve been swigging pints there on visits to London since the early 1980s.

It has been the watering hole of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Louis MacNeice, Graham Greene and countless other journos, actors, artists and Bohemian hangers-on.

The pub is just across the street from the offices of the British satirical magazine, Private Eye, and has hosted many of the Eye’s infamous off-the-record lunches in an upstairs private dining room.

The design and layout of the main bar was immortalised as the set for the play based loosely on the life of one of its most infamous denizens, the notoriously unsober Spectator and Sporting Life humourist, diarist and columnist, Jeffrey Bernard.

One anecdote, and there are many about Bernard, tells you almost all you need to know about the man. In the late 1970s he was offered a very generous advance for his autobiography.

He promptly wrote to the letters page of the New Statesman announcing that he had been asked to write a book about his life and would be very grateful if anyone could write to tell him what he had been doing between 1960 and 1974. Funny, self-deprecating and totally dissolute.

Sometimes Bernard would become so ensconced in the Coach and Horses that he would neglect to submit that week’s “low life” column. On such occasions his editor would insert the legend: there is now “low life” column this week as Jeffrey Bernard is unwell.

Jeffrey Bernard is unwell, a euphemism that became his calling card.

Not that non-submission of copy was the only grounds for not publishing his work. On some occasions Bernard would remember to submit a column but the editor would still choose not to run it, instead running a banner proclaiming: Jeffrey Bernard’s column does not appear this week as it remarkably resembles the one he wrote last week.

Which is all a very roundabout way of getting to the topic of today’s Broadsheet column – though to my credit this is borrowed more from one from early June not last week.

In essence, what I am about to say now is a restatement of what I said in Poor Kehoe has To Go, a month ago.

Four weeks back I wrote that it was long past time for Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe to be moved out of that department and moved somewhere… anywhere… else. I suggested that he might trade places with Minister of State David Stanton, currently in the Department of Justice.

The stumbling and bungling by Kehoe over the past few weeks, especially the last few days have only served to strengthen the case for Kehoe to go.

As Broadsheet highlighted yesterday he has seriously put his foot in it offering contradictory reasons as to why two naval service ships are currently on reserve and cannot put out to sea. A mistake he compounded by going on to TV, radio and social media to repeat it several times

Kehoe’s version is not just at variance with the reasons set out by senior naval officers, it has since been debunked by his boss, the Cabinet level Defence Minister and Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar – though not before the Taoiseach managed to confuse matters even further by not knowing how many ships are in the Irish naval service fleet (hint: the answer is 9).

Don’t forget Leo Varadkar is the Minister for Defence, Kehoe is merely the junior minister, albeit one more regularly in contact with officials.

So, why shouldn’t Kehoe simply be sacked? Well, not because he hasn’t messed up. He has and managed to do it publicly over the last few days. But he shouldn’t be sacked as that only serves to single him out as a scapegoat.

Though Kehoe has been at the Department of Defence for eight years (since Fine Gael came into government at 2011) and has as much ownership of the current state of defence dysfunction as it is possible to have, he has never been the source of the mayhem. He has never ever been the senior Minister there.

For almost every day of his stewardship there has been a succession of cabinet level Defence ministers who had the ultimate responsibility in law and in fact for the policy side: from Alan Shatter to Simon Coveney to two Taoisigh: Enda Kenny and now Leo Varadkar.

All have been part-timers, each also held responsibility for another significant government department.

Shatter: Justice, Coveney: Agriculture, Kenny and Varadkar: Taoiseach. Almost none of this fab four gave defence the level of attention it needed at cabinet table discussions, especially when up against the departments of Finance and Public Expenditure, while Kehoe simply never had the political clout to win against the lads in Merrion Street.

Kehoe was given an impossible task, his error was in accepting it knowing the limitations. His secondary error was in staying on too long. The far greater mistake was in knowing all this and still putting Kehoe in the position. The blame for this bigger mistake lies with Kenny and Varadkar.

Instead of just blaming everything on Kehoe and having a quick pre-Summer political hullabaloo that is over in a few days, the way to move forward constructively is for An Taoiseach, to borrow a phrase from the naval service note, “…to consolidate and regenerate… cut our cloth” and reassign Kehoe.

Minister of State, Stanton, be on standby.

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


From top: Gerry Adams (right) helps carry the coffin of Kevin McKenna, the former leader of the IRA from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s at his funeral in County Monaghan on June 27; The funeral of civil rights activist, former MP and one of the founding members of the SDLP, Ivan Cooper at St. Peter’s Church in Derry on June 28; Derek Mooney

Last week two lesser known but nonetheless extremely significant figures from the last half century of Northern Ireland’s history died.

While the pain, grief and sorrow and felt by the friends and family of both men was equal, the tributes given, at their respective funerals, to the lives they led and the key roles they played in forming today’s Northern Ireland could not have contrasted more.

While those tributes reflected the diverged paths they took, one in bringing communities together, the other in dividing them, champions of both would claim that each man was motivated equally by the pursuit of equality and civil rights.

The tributes, coming within days of each other, did more than point to the differing lives led, they also highlight the still glaring differences in interpretation of the origins of the troubles in Northern Ireland, but also to the conflicting views on where Northern Ireland goes next, and how.

Speaking at the graveside of the former Provo chief of staff Kevin McKenna in Monaghan last week, the former Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams TD, stood alongside his successor Mary Lou McDonald and sought justify the Provo’s 30 year campaign of senseless violence and terrorism.

Adams told the mourners that they were “right to fight” as the provisional movement’s cause was to end British rule in Ireland, violently.

Maybe Adams was suiting his words to the crowd, or to his party’s drubbing in elections both North and South, either way his words fly in the face of his assertion, only a year ago, that the Provo’s cause was the achievement of civil rights for all in Northern Ireland and that the war was foisted on it.

Whichever is the truth, it simply can’t be both.

Not that anyone in that cemetery was going to mention this incongruity to Adams, no more than they would ask: well, if the provos were so right why didn’t you join them?

Adams’ repeated assertion that the provos had not come to the war, but that the war had come to them is part of a long-standing campaign by this generation of Shinners to re-invent and re-write the history of the North from the mid-60s onwards.

Labelling their terrorist campaign a war is just one small part of the self-justification, the whole effort is based on a lie, a falsehood – namely that there was no alternative.

There was an alternative, only it was more than a mere alternative, it was the democratic route to progress. One of primary figures behind it was laid to rest last Friday in Derry.

In contrast to Adams’ rewriting of modern Irish history, the tribute given at Ivan Cooper’s funeral spoke of compassion and hope for the future.

That tribute, given by Church of Ireland Archdeacon of Derry, Robert Miller emphasized the journey that Ivan Cooper had taken and the important role that Ivan had played in uniting communities by fighting, non-violently, for the civil rights of all.

Rev Miller told the mourners gathered for Ivan’s funeral (which included me) that to truly celebrate Ivan Cooper’s life we must echo his voice, and be…

“…utterly, unequivocally committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland… So, let’s make Ivan’s vision a reality. Let’s make politics work.”

They were sentiments echoed by President Michael D Higgins, who attended Ivan’s funeral service. Speaking afterwards, President Higgins said that:

“…to his very last breath Ivan believed in hope and believed in possibility and believed, in fact, in taking the pieces of hope and turning them into something positive for everybody in a very inclusive way.”

So, which vision and which writing of recent Irish history are we to use as we face into the coming years where the future of Northern Ireland will loom large on the political agenda?

Brexit has done more than make the Irish border an issue, it has made Northern Ireland an issue, just as it has made the break-up of the whole United Kingdom a serious possibility, indeed a probability if Boris Johnson ends up in Number 10.

In an excellent analysis piece last Saturday, the Irish Times’ Fiach Kelly warns that the main threat from a no-deal Brexit crash-out is political and constitutional, not economic and that the Irish politics needs to wake up to this.

But even a soft, managed Brexit with some form of withdrawal agreement and political declaration would put Northern Ireland firmly on the political agenda here and its place on that agenda is only likely to rise as Scotland moves closer to a second independence referendum.

It is arguable that Irish voters are already ahead of the main parties on this one. Whatever its flaws and failings on party support levels, the RTÉ/TG4/RedC exit poll found significant support among Irish voters for a united Ireland.

In the exit poll 65% told pollsters that they would vote in favour of a united Ireland if a referendum was held tomorrow. This was at the same time that they told Sinn Féin Cllrs in the ballot box that it was time for half of them to go.

It looks like the Ivan Cooper view of how we got here and, most importantly, where we go next, shall indeed overcome.

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

Pics: YouTube/Rollingnews

From top: Enda Kenny promised a referendum to extend the franchise to vote in Presidential elections to the Irish diaspora in Philadelphia, USA, March 2017; The results of a global poll conducted by the Constitutional Convention and contained in its fifth interim report of 2013; Derek Mooney

If last week’s reports are right – and the Taoiseach has said that they are – then all of us will be heading back to our local polling stations sometime in October or November.

No, it won’t be to elect new Dáil and a new government… well, it does yet not seem that will be the reason, but who knows what may change over Summer?

For now, it looks like Irish citizens across all 40 Dáil constituencies are about to be invited to vote in yet another referendum. This one on extending voting rights in future presidential elections.

[I mention the 40 Dáil constituencies, as voters in four of them will likely be voting in by-elections occasioned by the election to the European Parliament of TDs: Billy Kelleher, Frances Fitzgerald, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace.

Confirming the reports in the Dáil last week the Taoiseach said that Cabinet has signed off on legislation to “extend voting rights for presidential elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and around the world” and that he plans to have it debated before the Dáil rises for its summer recess [planned for July 11].

He also said that the government has produced a 100-page, detailed paper on how it is going to work. I sincerely hope it has, but why are we still waiting to see it?

It is not as if this idea has not been sitting in the government’s inbox for years. Over five and a half, according to my calculations.

Back in November 2013 the then Constitutional Convention (the forerunner of the Citizens’ Assembly) produced its fifth report which recommended that:

(i). Irish citizens resident outside the State  and (ii). Irish citizens resident in Northern Ireland, should both have the right to vote in future Presidential elections.

It is a good report that strongly makes the case for both reforms. At just over 60 pages in length, it is doubtless the source text for much of the material in the 100-page document that the Taoiseach mentioned, so why has taken almost six years to come up with the other 35 plus pages?

The Constitutional Convention’s Fifth Report deserved a lot more attention than it received. It examined the issues and difficulties associated with granting extended voting rights.  It puts many of the concerns that some have raised in recent days to rest.

The section by Dr John Garry of QUB on the impact that Northern Irish voters might have on an election outcome is especially useful in scotching some of the wilder claims. Claims that my good friend. Dr David McCann, succinctly addresses in this short twitter thread.

So impressed and beguiled was the last government by the Convention’s Fifth Report that it delayed discussing it in the Dáil for two full years. Remember, this is a report from a body that the Dáil itself established in July 2012 to explore these questions and make recommendations.

Even after two years waiting the government could only allocate two measly hours on a dreary Thursday afternoon in January, just three weeks before the 31st Dáil expired, to discussing issues of major constitutional reform that the Convention had spent months examining.

The January 14, 2016 Dáil debate discussed the fifth report and four others. If you could call it a discussion. The most senior government participant in the proceedings was the subject of my last Broadsheet broadside: Minister of State, Paul Kehoe, T.D.

The report was then marked for prompt inaction as Fine Gael got ready for its 2016 electoral drubbing.

The fifth report was dispatched back into a drawer until An Taoiseach Enda Kenny found himself in need of something exciting and colourful to announce while in the US preparing for his first and last St Patrick’s Day meeting with The Donald in March 2017.

And so, standing in Philadelphia, just weeks before he was to stand down as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny announced that there would be a…. drum roll please… referendum on extending voting rights in future presidential elections… I wrote about it here at the time.

Back then I said that I was:

“…far from thrilled or enthused by what I have heard from the Taoiseach and his Ministers over the past few hours. Surely such a major constitutional change should be accompanied by detailed research and argument, not followed along by broad range of options for consideration to be published a month or so later.”

Two years on from Enda Kenny’s 2017 announcement, which itself was three and a half years on from the Constitutional Convention’s Fifth Report and it is plain to see that the government has still not yet fully internalised what this proposal will involve.

Once again, we see a big announcement with no supporting documentation.

This cannot be the way we do serious constitutional reform.

The proposal itself has a great deal of merit, even though it seems odd to focus on giving presidential votes to citizens living abroad before having a universal franchise for the Seanad.

That said, why is it that these proposals are only touted when a government in heading into its final months?

This is a slow motion re-run of the total hash the government made of last month’s plebiscites on Directly Elected Mayors in Cork and Waterford – something I warned about in this Broadsheet piece.

As I have said here before, all this smack of being what you do when you want to look like you are reforming something, rather than actually reforming it. I would call it style over substance but calling it style is to attribute to it a solidity it simply does not possess.

The electoral and political reform we need – and need now – is to establish a fully independent, stand alone, electoral commission with teeth.

By that I mean doing more than just moving a handful of APs and HEOs from the franchise unit in the Customs House to some glass fronted open plan office in D4.

An election commission has been long promised, but it only became a vaguely real prospect when the Government announced, last December, that it would be conducting a three-month public consultation on how it might work.

In fact, the report of that public consultation process is due around now but, given this government’s record for letting such matters slip, I’ll not hold my breath.

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

From top: Presentation of 1916 medals to members of the AirCorp at Baldonnell Airport by Minister of State Paul Keogh; Derek Mooney

It takes a rare political talent to make the Irish defence brief controversial, yet the hapless Paul Kehoe appears to have somehow managed it.

Stories of declining morale, chronic low pay, skills shortages and personnel retention problems fill the airwaves, and still the crisis worsens. Defence force strength which should today stand at 9,500 has been hovering perilously below 8,500 for months.

The 9,500 figure is itself misleading. The 2000 Defence White Paper set the number at 10,500. The reduction in 2009 to 9,500 was only intended as a temporary measure, yet it has entered the political psyche as some fixed upper limit.

While very little of the blame for these crises attach personally to Kehoe, realpolitik dictates that the time has come for him to move on. Kehoe must go.

His misfortune is to have been kept on at the same department for eight years and made endure the consequences of his own inaction. A fate his various colleagues at health and housing magnificently avoided.

His is the sin of omission not commission. He has not done something wrong; he has just done nothing. He has not done the same thing that so many of his ministerial colleagues have also managed not to do, namely exercise any political responsibility or accountability.

Like many of his colleagues, he has confused what appears in his own press releases with reality. He has fallen for the media spin that was only intended to beguile the public.

But things are not made true just because the press release saying so appear unfiltered and unchallenged in the newspapers.

To illustrate this point, let me go back five years to when I was lobbying in Brussels on the employee data aspects of GDPR: the General Data Protection Regulation.

This hugely complex piece of draft legislation was introduced by Viviane Reding, she was both EU Justice Commissioner and a Commission Vice-President. Note, it was a Justice/Home Affairs matter, a point that shortly becomes relevant.

Fast forward to July 2014. Enda Kenny’s mid-term ministerial reshuffle sees a rake of new Ministers of State appointed, including Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy who becomes both Minister of State for European Affairs and Minister of State for Data Protection.

This appointment is hailed as significant. The government is spinning… sorry… signalling that Ireland is taking data protection very seriously and assigning it to a specific minister.

The message was clear so, naturally, the assumption amongst interested observers, including yours truly, was that Murphy would be taking the political lead for Ireland in the important EU discussions on GDPR – an issue of vital importance to Ireland given the number of IT and Social Media companies HQ-ed here.

But how would this work? When appointed in July, Murphy was only formally assigned to the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs but not to the Department of Justice which handled the GDPR negotiations in Brussels.

Attempts to raise this curious anomaly were doggedly resisted by government for four months until two very specific, written parliamentary questions were tabled to An Taoiseach for reply on October 7th 2014.

A few hours before the reply was due to be published, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny slipped quietly into the Dáil to announce:

“…that the Government today assigned Deputy Dara Murphy as Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality with special responsibility for data protection. This is in addition to his responsibility for European affairs and data protection at the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

A couple of hours later the following one-line PQ reply was issued:

The Minister of State for European Affairs with special responsibility for data protection is being assigned to the Department of Justice and Equality and will attend Justice and Home Affairs Councils as appropriate.

The fact that he had not been properly appointed back in July was brushed aside. It was as if the previous four months of non-appointment had never happened. It didn’t matter to Fine Gael that he did not have the legal authority to deal with Data Protection as a policy, all that mattered was that it looked like he did.

Though the opposition sought to raise the issue, no one was interested. It never appeared in the newspapers or on the news bulletins, so it must never have happened? Right?

Ok, in the greater scheme of things this specific mistake may not appear to be a big deal, but it is emblematic of how ministerial responsibility is very much an afterthought for Fine Gael in government.

It is how you can now have a cabinet level Defence Minister (i.e. An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar) who has the authority for, but has no interest in, defence policy and a Minister of State who exercises neither authority nor responsibility for it beyond assiduously attending his meetings and taking the salute at military reviews.

Kehoe has simply shown the same ministerial indifference as those with greater seniority.

He has served as the junior to two Taoisigh and two senior cabinet members, Coveney and Shatter. Sending him to the back benches while allowing others to stay would be scapegoating.

Besides, this Government is now so near its own endpoint that it could not sustain the fallout from a difficult ministerial dismissal.

So, while Kehoe is too associated with the mess to be able to meaningfully address it, the most sensible option is to make a one-for-one swap between Kehoe and one of his junior ministerial colleagues.

But who? Might I suggest David Stanton TD, the junior justice minister, as a good fit to replace Kehoe?

Stanton has a solid reputation for speaking his mind and has served, albeit briefly, as Fine Gael’s opposition Defence Spokesperson. More importantly, he is a former officer in the Army Reserve, something that may help personnel and their families have some personal confidence in him.

While switching junior ministers is far from the ideal solution – that would require a full-time Defence Minister at Cabinet level, committed to producing and implementing a Defence White Paper that took national defence seriously – replacing Kehoe with a substantial figure who comes with real understanding of the problem and the political impetus to seriously address the vexed issues of retention and pay would be a very welcome first step.

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

Earlier: No Defence


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald; Derek Mooney

It is almost exactly two years since Leo Varadkar was selected as Fine Gael leader. On June 2, 2017 after a two-week contest involving FG members and councillors, but primarily TDs and Senators, Varadkar was declared the winner.

He beat Simon Coveney with 60% in a weighted ballot in which TDs and Senators had 65% of the total vote, the membership had 25% and councillors had 10%.

While Coveney won the popular vote among the membership (he secured 35 per cent in the membership ballot), Varadkar got the backing of 51 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party.

Six months later, in January 2018, Mary Lou MacDonald was announced to absolutely no one’s surprise as the sole candidate to succeed Gerry Adams. Adams had announced that he would step down after four decades as Sinn Féin leader at a special Árd Fheis the following month.

Where MacDonald was content to calmly succeed her leader at any time of his choosing, Varadkar had been determined to displace his. But, regardless of how they came to the job, they each came to the job with a major political asset: they were the antithesis of their predecessors.

Where Enda Kenny was a Nokia 6310 using, meat and two veg, dinner in the middle of the day man, Leo Varadkar was iPhone8, avocado toast and green tea.

Where Adams was remote, grizzly, hard faced with a whiff of cordite his favoured successor was engaging, eloquent with a whiff of Chanel Chance.

They came with something else, the expectation, if not the promise, that they would greatly improve their parties’ fortunes and lead both to even greater electoral success.

For Fine Gael that meant recovering the levels support that Kenny had won for them back in 2011, but then lost in the local election of 2014 and the disastrous general election of 2016.

When Varadkar took over in June 2017 Fianna Fáil had been consistently ahead of Fine Gael in the polls by anywhere between 2% and 5% for the previous 12 months.

The TDs who elected him, and as we have seen it was primarily the TDs not the members who backed Leo had the expectation, nay the demand, that Leo improve their fortunes fast and get them back to soundly defeating their Fianna Fáil rivals in the ballot box.

For Sinn Féin the task was clearer and – it seemed – more straight-forward. It was to continue the party’s inexorable progress and show that there was no glass ceiling through which it could not pass.

Mary Lou seemed to offer Sinn Féin a way to break with its past and make itself attractive to a middle class whose backing it needed if it was to develop its support in double digits.

And it looked, for most of 2018 and early 2019 as if both were succeeding. Within weeks of his coming to office Fine Gael’s poll numbers started to dramatically improve: the much-hailed Leo leap.

By Summer 2018 Fine Gael was 9pts ahead of Fianna Fáil in the polls. The same poll showed Mary Lou’s Sinn Féin only 2pts behind the Soldiers of Destiny.

It was like a pincer move with the two new leaders set to each take such a chunk off Fianna Fáil that they may soon see that party off the field and be ready to do direct battle with each other.

Not only was that not to be, the early poll gains started to gradually slip away leading to the point, a few weeks ago where some polls had Leo’s Fine Gael behind Fianna Fáil.

As I said here at the end of April: “We will know which one is right in just over three weeks when we have the results of the Local and European elections.”

And now we do. The electoral gains promised by both Leo and Mary Lou have not only failed to materialise, they have gone the other way. Both leaders have managed to take their parties’ fortunes back to an earlier point.

Sinn Féin is now back in single digit support: 9.5%, but even worse than that; it has lost almost half of its network of local councillors. Sinn Féin’s inexorable march forward is now a messy retreat, which has spread north of the border with its European vote falling there by over 3pts.

On the face of it, MacDonald’s party has fallen furthest, but have no doubt that Varadkar has had even bit as bad a day, he just masks it better.

While he and his close colleagues will point to European Election results, particularly in Midlands/North-West as absolute proof that the Leo leap is real and Leo can still deliver for Fine Gael, the TDs who put him in the job know that success in general elections is based on progress in local elections.

Fine Gael has picked up some extra support in the Locals, but only because it had a bad, a very bad, local elections in 2014. Leo had a low base on which he could very easily build, but he didn’t.

Fianna Fáil not only continues as the biggest party in Local government across the country it is – remarkably – the biggest single party on Dublin City Council.

Fianna Fáil’s vote share is now 2.5% higher than in the 2016 General Election whereas Fine Gael’s is down – albeit marginally.

Varadkar is now presiding over the same level of poor performance for which his backers once bayed for Enda’s scalp. Isn’t he lucky he doesn’t have a Leo Varadkar coming after him?

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


From top: Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste, Simony Coveney, and Minister for Local Government, John Paul Phelan at a Town Hall event earlier theis month in Cork  to discuss local government reform and directly elected mayors; Derek Mooney

On Thursday voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls to elect three members of the European Parliament. Given the dominance of Sinn Féin and the DUP the focus will be on the contest for the last seat between the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood and Alliance’s Naomi Long.

While a win for either will be a win for progressive politics, many at the top of Sinn Féin are hoping Long makes it, though their voters may not agree.

On Friday, voters down here will find themselves confronted by three ballot papers when they get to the polling station.

Not only do we get to choose Ireland’s 13 MEPs (two of whom will sit on the reserve bench until Brexit is resolved) we also get to elect 949 City and County Councillors from the almost 2,000 candidates on offer across the State.

And, as if all that responsibility was not heady enough, most voters (i.e. Irish citizens) will also get a third ballot paper, asking them to approve or reject two specific changes to the constitutional provisions on divorce.

But wait, there’s more.

Some very lucky voters will get a fourth ballot paper. These are the voters residing in Limerick, Cork and Waterford, who are eligible to vote in the local elections. They will get to vote in local plebiscites on whether those cities should have directly elected mayors from 2022.

Galway voters were also due to be asked their opinion, but that plan went off the rails late last year when some technical issues about merged council management systems compelled the government to drop it.

[Compelled is a polite way of saying that Senators, at the behest of Galway’s councillors – also known as Seanad voters – forced the government to back down or be defeated.]

Voters in Dublin will probably not get to vote on the issue until 2021 or 2022, as the Government has opted to kick that thorny issue to a Dublin citizens’ assembly, which may be set up before year’s end.

Almost two decades after the first proposal to have a directly elected mayor for Dublin was mooted and this Government is hoping to send it for consultation. Tempus non fugit.

Not that I am complaining about the delay. At least it means that this bad idea is still a distance away from being implemented in Dublin.

I have written here several times about my reservations… no, let me more direct… about my total opposition to the idea of a directly elected mayor for the greater Dublin area. I am not opposed to the directly elected mayor model, but having one for an area that comprises a third of the country raises major issues of scale.

My most recent tirade was in the aftermath of the knockdown, drag-out, ego fueled electoral contest that was the 2018 Irish Presidential election. I warned how we needed to heed the lessons of that election and realise that having an election for an office with a pulpit and a budget, but neither power nor responsibility could descend into a mess.

Before that, in July 2016, I argued that Dublin needs to have powers and responsibilities devolved from central government so we can plan for the future of the city, but that having a directly elected super-mensch was not the answer.

The boundary of the domain of any directly elected Dublin mayor would be the same as the GAA boundary, covering the four existing Dublin local authorities: Dublin City Council, Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown, South County Council and Fingal.

It is a huge population. But just saying it does not adequately convey the scale. Take a look at this 2019 Euro-constituency map of Ireland. The red bit on the right would be the area under the aegis of a directly elected Dublin mayor.

Now imagine that instead of the red section, it was the yellow part, Midlands North-West, that was to have its own directly elected major. Imagine that this region was to have its own directly elected leader with an electoral mandate second only to the Presidents, but far and away in excess of that of the Taoiseach of the day.

Do you think something on that scale would work politically or administratively?

It would be a recipe for political gridlock with a directly elected Dublin Mayor claiming to speak for about one third of the country, questioning and challenging the policies of the elected government.

The scale is simply too big and too cumbersome for us to go to such a “strong man” model of governance. A situation only exacerbated by the position having relatively little power.

Under the model proposed for Cork, Limerick and Waterford the additional powers and responsibilities that the new directly elected (or executive) mayors would exercise would previously have belonged to the Council Chief Executives (previously called City and County Managers).

But the problem with local government is Ireland is not about the share out of authority between local officials and councillors, it is about the share out of powers between local authorities and central government.

Reform of local government should be about the devolution of powers not the maintenance of the local power imbalance. The situation will favour the Customs House as much after any shift to elected mayors as it did in before it.

This proposal is what you do when you want to look like you are reforming sorting rather than actually reforming it.

This view is not eased by how the whole process has been handled in recent weeks and months. While there is an URL, it just links to the page on the Departments website and that is hardly designed to entice voters to come and find out more.

While the Taoiseach acknowledged in the Dáil at the end of March that there was an information vacuum and that many voters in the three cities were unaware of what they were being asked to vote on, he still insisted that “eight weeks is enough time”.

With three days to go it looks like his confidence in being able to inform everyone in eight weeks, never mind persuade them, was misplaced.

For the ultimate benefit of the people of Dublin I hope the three cities reject the proposal on Friday and cause the government to think again.

If they accept them, and there could be an interesting dilemma if some cities pass and others reject the proposals, well it is not the end of the world. Local government in all three will continue to function after the first mayors are elected in 2022 just as it had before.

The problem is for Dublin. The city is grinding to a halt. We are pricing new businesses and start-ups out. Dublin has become too expensive to live and work in and too cumbersome to get around by public transport – don’t get me started on the ongoing work of fiction that is Transport for Ireland’s Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI).

Meanwhile, we wait for a meaningful and workable plan for real Dublin city governance that doesn’t look and sound like policy-making by google search.

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

Pic: UCC

From top: President Higgins inspects troops at the 1916 Leaders’ Commemoration in Arbour Hill Cemetery, Dublin last week; Derek Mooney

Beyond the Fringe” was a 1960s British comedy revue that was seminal to the rise of British satire… well, according to Wikipedia, it was.

Even if you never heard of the show, you will know its cast. They were: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennet

The revue had lengthy sell-out runs in London’s West End and Broadway and introduced several classical comedy sketches. One in particular has been coming to mind over the past few weeks.

It opens with a group of obsessive devotees gathering at the top of a mountain. They are counting down to midnight and, they believe, the end of the world. Their shaman tells them of what is to befall the world and assures them that they will be safe. Meanwhile the individual followers sheepishly wonder about mundane things like who brought the tinned food… and the tin opener.

The countdown nears its climax. 3… 2… 1. [Spoiler Alert] There is silence. Nothing happens. Unperturbed, the shaman concedes:

“this wasn’t quite the conflagration I’d been banking on… same time tomorrow lads, we must have a winner one day”

And so it is with Sinn Féin, Ming, Daly et al. With the same fixated zeal as the lads on the mountain they are once again predicting the end of neutrality

Mercifully, it is not nightly, though their incantations do seem to come around with a regularity curiously attuned to the electoral cycle.

The fact that every single other prediction of neutrality’s demise and the imminence of EU militarisation have turned out to be utter bunkum or – as the Liberal Democrats might say – bollocks, doesn’t seem to stop them.

Over the past few weeks they have been desperately trying to shoehorn the words PESCO, EU Army, EU militarisation into every answer to every question.

It’s a tactic that worked in Nice I and Lisbon I and they seem to hope it will scare folks into keeping them in the European Parliament. Fool me once, hey?

Other practitioners of the dark arts such as Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage and the folks at Cambridge Analytica would be so proud.

So, our motley crew of doomsayers press on, hoping that facts don’t matter and will be brushed aside in favour of their alternative facts.

But facts do matter. One hard fact that matters a lot, as it debunks the scaremongering, is to be found at Art 29.4.9 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. It vetoes any possibility of Irish involvement in EU common defence:

“The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State”

This was inserted, by the people. The statement is explicit. It constitutionally prohibits our participation in EU common defence.

The idea of Ireland been dragged into some form of EU militarisation or an EU army is such a whopper of a lie that it could be painted on the side of a big red bus and driven around by Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.

What these people need to get their heads around is that like-minded EU countries can and will talk about defence cooperation and increasing their spending on defence. They will act on it too. It can hardly come as shock seeing that 22 (Incl UK) of the 28 EU member states are members of NATO.

But our insistence that other EU member states acknowledge our right to opt-out of Common Defence, means that we cannot then deny them the right to decide for themselves if they want to opt in.

Merkel and Macron have indeed said that Europe must “take more responsibility for its defence and security” especially given Trump’s disparaged the European members of NATO.

It is a debate and a development to which we should pay attention. No one is saying that this is something we should ignore. But the point is that we are not being dragged, pulled or pushed into anything. There is no clandestine Brussels scheme to entice, cajole or force us into any type of creeping EU militarisation.

We have our veto. Our Constitution affirms Ireland’s “adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination”.

We are multilateralists. We believe in the international rule of law. Our military neutrality not only means we will not be part of a military alliance, it also means that we decide how our troops are deployed and how much we spend on defence (an issue to which I shall return).

The Triple Lock on overseas deployments for 12 or more troops is still the basis on which we decide how our troops are deployed, as it has since the first UN peacekeeping mission 61 years ago.

Our troops are only deployed where there is a UN mandate, a Government decision and Dáil approval.

There has been no diminution in any of these things despite decades of our being told that the end of all of them is nigh.

The folks who say our neutrality is under threat are the ones who also said that it would be destroyed forever by joining the EU (then EEC) or by passing each and every EU treaty. But it hasn’t.

Sinn Féin said that the Lisbon Treaty would lead to an increase in Irish defence spending. It is the exact opposite. It has gone down since then – but this is not something we should treat as a virtue, especially as over 70% of Irish defence spending is on pay and pensions. The remaining 30% is supposed to be on training, defence equipment etc., but the percentage is now lower.

Instead of all the fatuous scaremongering how about a proper grown-up debate on Irish defence spending?

How about we talk seriously about real defence issues here like fair pay, declining morale, and the chronic personnel and skills shortages across the Defence Forces.

How about an evidence-based debate on the role of the Defence Forces play in on-island security and the central role they should be playing in protecting our vital infrastructures such as hospitals, transport and information systems from cyber-attacks and info ops. This is not about future risk. Ireland is one of the EU member states most targeted for cyber-attacks now.

These are the defence issues we should be discussing, but instead we get rehash of Ming’s greatest misses. Sinn Féin slumps in the opinion polls here and loses seats on Derry and Belfast City Councils and suddenly it goes into full alarmist, dog whistle mode.

As someone who strongly believes that military neutrality is the right policy and that the Triple Lock is essential, I am affronted by the assault on both from people spuriously claiming to be their defenders.

Their mendacities are a greater threat to our military neutrality than any loose talk of an EU Army because they risk convincing voters that the policy is already lost and is no longer there to be maintained.

When you stop and think about it, the best way to reaffirm our military neutrality is not by backing the ones who claim it is already gone, but by voting for MEPs who will strongly make the case for it.

That means having MEPs in European Parliament groups such as Alde (Fianna Fáil), S&D (Labour) and the Greens, who support the Triple Lock and drop the those who tell their mates on the EU fringes that all here is lost.

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