Author Archives: Derek Mooney

From top: US President Lyndon B Johnson (right) and with his Supreme Court choice Abe Fortas, June, 1968, :  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Thornton Manor, Cheshire last Thursday

Visitors to the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) presidential library in Austin, Texas get to have their photos taken against a life size photo of the 6’ 4” LBJ leaning over them, appearing – figuratively – to bend them to his will. It is called “The Johnson Treatment”.

The original photo featured LBJ’s soon to be US Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas. It is just one of many photos of LBJ applying the eponymous “treatment”, once described by the pre-eminent Washington political columnist, Mary McGrory, as…

an incredible, potent mixture of persuasion, badgering, flattery, threats, reminders of past favours and future advantages.

In a fascinating interview at the John F Kennedy library, LBJ’s speechwriter (and husband of the great presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin), the late Richard Goodwin tells how LBJ worked his “treatment” on the segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace after the Selma marches. Wallace had come to the White House, Goodwin recounts:

“…Wallace comes in, and of course Wallace is about 5 feet 2 and Johnson is 6 feet 4, and so he’s got a big edge on him. And so, he says, “Governor, come in.” So then Johnson sits him down on the couch, where he sinks another three inches, and Johnson sits on the edge of a rocking chair, and leans over until he’s about one inch away from Wallace… he knew the beauty of invading someone’s space, and he did it.”

As Goodwin explains, LBJ set to work on getting Wallace to allow greater voter registration for Black Americans in his State. LBJ finished up saying:

“I don’t want you to think about 1964, I want you to think about 1984. We’ll be dead and gone then. Now you got a lot of poor people down in Alabama, a lot of ignorant people, a lot of folks that need different jobs. You could do a lot for them, George, what do you want after you go? Do you want a great big, marble monument that says, “George Wallace: He built?” Or do you want little piece of scrawny pine laying there across the soil that says, “George Wallace: He hated.”

LBJ gets up and leaves. Wallace is then given the statement Goodwin has prepared announcing what LBJ wants him to do. Wallace dutifully gives it to the press corps, later saying: “[If] He had me in there another hour, he [would have] had me coming out for civil rights.” He was incredibly overwhelming.

Though not remotely in the same league as LBJ in terms of ability, substance or persuasiveness, those who have met Boris Johnson remark on how effusively personable and charming he is face-to-face.

Like many modern politicians Boris Johnson hates to be hated. He desires to please and impress the person in front of him, be it by flattery or self-deprecation.

Where LBJ used his power as well as personal skills, traits and experiences to bend others to his will, Boris Johnson has just one tool: charm. A charm that the former editor of the Daily Telegraph Matthew d’Ancona, described as

“…a confection, a stage act with roots in his true nature but with many affectations and contrivances. He is, one should never forget, “Al” (for Alexander) to his loved ones. “Boris” is a persona: it is his populist Conservative version of Ziggy Stardust, The Rock or Borat. It is a means to an end – and a potent one.

One of those potent ends was getting into Number 10 and it has so far worked. A sad reflection on the state of UK politics today but, as the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins puts it, “charm is politics’ deadliest weapon”.

Boris’s charm has not only landed him the top job, it has obscured many to the reality that Johnson (in the words of Simon Jenkins):

“…emerges from his biographical record as incompetent, lazy, dissolute and a liar, yet the public’s response is that he is “our kind of liar”.

While there are rumours about what Boris said to Leo when they met alone in Cheshire last Thursday, including tales of a one-page note produced from Boris’s inside jacket pocket that set out the British proposal, only two people know for sure.

That said, I do not think it is too unreasonable or far-fetched to imagine that the full 90 minutes was not taken up with the finer points of customs union systems or consent mechanisms.

While Leo Varadkar can claim a decent grasp of such detail, it is a boast the British Prime Minister cannot make. This is the same Boris Johnson, after all, who was caught bluffing dreadfully about trade tariffs on live TV by Andrew Neil.

It is therefore difficult not to suppose that those 90 minutes of private talks focussed less on specifics and more on the general politics of their two situations.

How could it not? Here were two politicians, leaders of centre right parties who have assisted each other in the past, each now facing an election. How could they not discuss and explore the politics of what they each face, especially when it is so intertwined and dependent on what happens with Brexit.

Though some Irish pundits were wary of Leo’s heading to the meeting, it was Johnson who had the most to lose. Boris Johnson went in on the backfoot, especially after the debacle of a “senior Downing Street source” (i.e. Dominic Cummings) briefing The Spectator that the UK government was ready to punish those EU countries who back an extension beyond October 31 and that the Taoiseach “doesn’t want to negotiate”.

Besides this briefing being politically illiterate (an extension beyond Oct 31 requires EU unanimity, so any threat to punish those who backed it means all 27) it also wrong-footed the British government’s own efforts, even if they are only about avoiding blame for a no-deal.

Johnson went into the Leo encounter with no choice other than turning the charm up to a spinal tapping 11. From Boris’s less nuanced perspective he would be sitting alone with the one man who held the key to unlocking his Brexit difficulty.

Johnson (wrongly) sees Irish support for the Backstop as the main obstacle to his securing a withdrawal agreement he can get through the House of Commons. Wrongly, because binning the Backstop is not in Ireland’s gift. The EU believes in the Backstop’s purpose, the avoidance of a border across Ireland, as much as we do.

The task Johnson set himself was enormous. Charm Leo to backing down on the Backstop. If he could do that then he could offer to help ease Leo’s political woes through the removal of the threat of a hard-crash-out-Brexit.

Leo arrived under no such pressure. Unlike Boris, who did not grasp that they could not simply talk the Backstop away, Leo absolutely knew they couldn’t. His mission was twofold. Deny the Brits any chance to blame him for refusing to talk and just listen to what Johnson’s officials had to say and appraise Brussels.

This Leo and his officials did. But he did just a little bit more. He came out looking and sounding way too happy. While their joint statement was broadly positive and talked of possible pathways, it was still bland. So, where did all the post meeting hype and press talk of significant movement from British side and changing the picture substantially come from?

Was it just Irish political optimism stemming from what the officials discussed or did the Boris attempt at his own Johnson treatment have some impact? Did Leo succumb, even briefly, to Johnson’s charm and blandishments?

Even if he did, there was never any risk of it turning into anything real, though his excess of positivity did briefly deflate the hopes of those in the UK wanting a second referendum, as well as grossly inflating the desires of those in Leinster House wanting a snap election.

But while charm may be a weapon, it is not a currency. Something confirmed by the briefings coming from Brussels last night and this morning.

The signals, so far, are that no significant progress has been made and that the Brits need to move further on Northern Ireland to secure a Withdrawal Agreement by week’s end. Johnson has backed himself into a corner from which charm alone cannot release 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.  His column appears here every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pics: Getty/Noel Mullen via Rollingnews

 

From top: UK prime Minisister Boris Johnson; Derek Mooney

Opening his Sunday morning BBC1 show yesterday, Andrew Marr wondered if Boris Johnson’s cunning Brexit plan was to pretend that he has a cunning plan to cover the fact that he doesn’t have a cunning plan.

Mr Marr has a point. Most of Johnson’s cunning plans have thus far failed. His ruse to prorogue parliament was demolished by the Supreme Court, and he has still to win a single vote in the House of Commons.

He entered Downing Street at the head of a government with a majority (via the DUP) of one. Now, thanks to his handling of the grandest of the Tory grandees, it has a majority of minus 42.

Yet, despite these failures and setbacks, Johnson is doing well in the polls. The Tories now enjoy a steady lead over the Labour party of anywhere between 7% and 13% (YouGov polling).

As with John F Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban missile crisis, it seems that the worse he does, the more popular he gets.

This is Johnson’s cunning plan. A speedy election putting the Tories back with a solid majority, no longer dependant on the DUP and ERG. Johnson believes in nothing as deeply as he believes in his destiny to lead.

Much of the analysis of Johnson’s recent Backstop replacement pitch has concluded, wrongly in my opinion, that it is solely motivated by a desire to deliver a No Deal Brexit where the EU gets the blame.

There is some truth to this analysis, but the proposal has more depth to it than just this. We do ourselves no favours by not considering its underlying strategy.

Without question the latest British proposals do not satisfy Irish or EU demands for the protection of the Good Friday Agreement, but they are not intended to. The British have moved, not compromised, and have done it for a reason.

The proposal are not about dismantling the Backstop per se, it is about turning back the clock and rerunning the negotiations with the benefit of hindsight.

When the negotiation process started in April 2017 the UK and EU agreed it would be done in two phases. The first phase would deal with the “divorce” issues arising from the UK leaving the EU and would have three distinct elements:

* Guaranteeing citizens’ rights for EU citizens in the UK and vice-versa;

* Settling the UK’s financial commitments;

* Ireland and Northern Ireland specific issues.

Only when full agreement on these three topics was reached could negotiations move to Phase 2. Phase would deal with the future relationships between the EU and UK.

We are still at the Northern Ireland element of phase 1. 

Hard line Brexiteers, including some in Cabinet, opposed May agreeing to this timetable and sequence seeing it as a grave tactical error.

They saw the requirement to agree Irish Border issues in Phase 1 as depriving them of having the border as negotiating leverage in the future trading talks in Phase 2.

Now that the Brexiteers hold sway in Number 10 they are determined to unpick the process. The latest British proposal is their attempt to turn back the clock and move the resolution of the Irish border from Phase 1 to Phase 2.

While they may claim that kicking the fine detail of Irish border arrangements past the withdrawal agreement is because the issue is so complex and tied up with future EU/UK trading relationships, it is all about leverage.

It is why Brexiteers like Rees-Mogg and Mark Francois have fetishised the Backstop. This had nothing to do with concern for Northern Ireland, the consent of Stormont or the precious union, but had all to do instead with Britain, i.e. England, competing with the EU after Brexit as a Singapore-Sur-Thames.

The Backstop never posed a threat to Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, but Brexiteers knew they needed a highly charged argument on which to focus if they were to undo May’s denial of the border as leverage.

They quickly identified the Backstop as that focus and set about hyper charging a straight-forward matter into an issue of constitutional consequence.

How could the Backstop be such a threat when it has only ever been an insurance policy to ensure the commitments (at Paragraph 49 of 2017 EU/UK joint report) made by the British government to support the all-island economy and North/South alignment were honoured. It says:

In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

The chances of the Backstop ever being invoked were intended to be quite low. It is only come into effect if the UK went for maximum realignment and divergence from existing EU rules and regulations.

We now know that this is precisely the route Johnson, and his financial backers, plan to go. He even said it in his August letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk, twice even:

“…the laws and regulations to deliver them will potentially diverge from those of the EU. That is the point of our exit and our ability to enable this is central to our future democracy.”

“…we cannot continue to endorse the specific commitment, in paragraph 49 of the December 2017 Joint Report, to ‘full alignment’ with wide areas of the single market and the customs union.”

His solution is to therefore offer vague and hazy, last minute proposals in the hope that an EU eager to avoid a no-deal speedily inserts them into Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement in place of the existing Northern Ireland protocols.

It’s a risky strategy. He may feel he can pull it off by stressing to the EU that he can get his version through Parliament and that the EU will get the twin benefits of (i) avoiding the mayhem of a no-deal-crash out and (ii) a future British negotiating partner (post UK election) with a majority to deliver what they agree at talks.

It is not a totally unattractive package, but Johnson is still the one who gets the most. He secures his position for five more years, goes down in political history as the man who delivered Brexit, but most importantly he gets the leverage he vitally needs in Phase 2.

He knows the EU is committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement and he is happy to do that in Phase 2 in return for a trade deal that benefits England.

The ease with which he has proposed two borders is the giveaway. The border in the Irish Sea to protect the EU Single Market is a hint of how much further he is prepared to go. The Customs Border across the island is just there to be negotiated away.

Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay was keen to remind Marr yesterday that:

“…we are talking about 1% of the total UK-EU trade, so there needs to be a degree of proportionality about this.”

The 1% refers to Northern Ireland trade.

Barclay and David Frost, Johnson’s lead Brexit negotiator have spent weeks touring EU capitals, including Dublin. They have heard Irish concerns on protecting the all-island agri-food sector and heeded it, hence the Single Market protections they have foisted on the DUP.

What the DUP seems to have not yet realised is that this is all just a ploy.

What Johnson wants and needs is a Phase 2 process free of any dependence on the DUP or their Brexiteer allies.

Then he can deliver the Northern Ireland only backstop that May agreed, or something similar, but at a much higher price.

It’s quite a smart strategy from an English Tory point of view, but it is not one that will work. It won’t work because it repeats the same basic mistake that the UK has made since day one, it misreads the EU and fails to understand how it works.

Still, you cannot help admiring Johnson’s sheer brazenness in trying it.

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

Pic: PA wire

From top: Bus queue in central Dublin; Derek Mooney

Benny Hill observed: you can sit on top of a mountain, but you can’t sit on top of a pin. Classical Roman poet, Ovid, put it a little more philosophically, remarking that: “dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence”, but it was the late Albert Reynolds who put it best, saying: it’s the little things that trip you up.

You know the type of thing, the everyday irritants that eventually get to you and send you over edge.

For me, last week, it was the total mess that is Dublin’s public transport.

Bad enough that the fares are prohibitive – Deutsche Bank’s 2019 annual survey of global prices and living standards declared Dublin the second most expensive city for public transport in the world – but does it have to be so unreliable too?

With only London having higher fares, Dublin is now more expensive than Amsterdam, Chicago, New York, or even Tokyo, ask a Fine Gael Senator if you doubt that last one.

We have managed to fashion a public transport system with higher fares than Tokyo’s and reliability levels not much above Manila’s.

This was brought home to me with a trio of bus fiascos.

The first came on Monday afternoon via a short bus trip to Blackrock [County Dublin]. I live along the Stillorgan Road (N11) bus corridor, reckoned to be one of the best served routes.

The bus to Blackrock is the #17, now operated by Go Ahead Ireland. The journey there was unremarkable, the problem came with the journey back.

After doing my various errands I was ready to head home around 3:30pm. I checked the TfI (Transport for Ireland) App and saw that the next #17 was due in 3 mins. Great, I thought, and I headed to the Frescati shopping centre bus-stop and waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

I tweeted the details a few days later. Long story short: a 1 minute wait on the App, turned into a 16 minute wait in real time. Across that waiting time the App showed the #17 on a serial loop of: “1 minute away”, “due”, “1 minute away”, disappeared, reappeared and back to 1 min away.

What is the point of having a real time display, apart from giving Scottish stand–up Larry Dean a very funny routine, if it is only going to have an Einstein’s relativity connectiveness to real time?

Incident two was more old school: the old stealth bus ploy. This is where the bus exists on the App and the display-board, just not in this dimension.

It was on Friday. I was meeting a colleague in town at 2.30pm and headed to catch a bus around 1.30pm. I got to the stop and saw that a 46A was due in 5 mins. “Grand”, I thought and waited while I watched the arrival time on the display count backwards from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 minutes. The fact that this process took just over 10 minutes is not part of my complaint, just an interesting aside.

The display eventually showed the 46A as “due” or “ann”. I headed to the kerb to greet it. Anyone familiar with this stretch of the N11 will know that it is relatively straight, so you can see the bus coming from a good distance back. You can even see the preceding stop. I could also see that there was no 46A there.

I reasonably assumed if it was due at our stop it must be due there too – assuming there is no break in the space-time continuum between stops number 2068 and 2096.

But there was no sign of it. After a few minutes the announcement of its imminent arrival disappeared from the App and the time-display. A minute later two “out of services” buses passed.

According to the Dublin Bus timetable, the 46A runs every 8 minutes during the day. I was now at the stop for 18 minutes, so I rang the Dublin Bus helpline. They told me that the next bus was due in 8 to 10 minutes but had no idea about any the whereabouts of the earlier one.

A bus arrived 10 miutes later. What should’ve been a 6-8 minute wait turned into a 30 minute one, but at least I could get on the bus when it did show up.

This was not the case on Saturday night. The two of us were heading to the National Concert Hall. As we planned to grab a few drinks before the show we got to the bus stop at 6.20pm. we thought this would leave us plenty of time. Oh, our naivety.

Arriving at the stop we saw on the display that a #145 bus was due in 12 minutes. Rather than drag you though the minute by minute of the next hour or so, I will give you a highly condensed version.

The bus which was due in 12 minutes arrived 30 plus minutes later, not that this mattered as it was so already overcrowded that it was not taking on any passengers. Neither was the next one which followed it some 12 minutes later.

Checking the TfI I found that Dublin Bus had cancelled four successive buses due to run between 6.30pm and 7.06pm (see screen grabs here and here). So, instead of the six buses due in that time, there were just two, hence why both were so slow to arrive and overcrowded.

By the time it dawned on us that getting a bus was a forlorn hope and we started to look for a taxi, most of the fifteen or so other people at the stop had decided to do the same thing, just as the dozens more at the other stops had probably also decided.

Not only were there no free taxis available to hail along the N11, there were none responding on FreeNow (the taxi app successor to Mytaxi, about which I have moaned here previously).

Net result: over one hour wasted at a bus-stop and €67 wasted on two tickets for the NCH that were not used.

In the greater scheme of Dublin’s dysfunctions these things hardly rate a mention. None of what I have chronicled here is as remotely soul destroying as this city’s appalling housing and rental crisis, nor as harrowing as the state of our public health service.

But, the fact that such stories of the unreliability and inadequacy of public transport, privatised and semi-state, barely register should itself be a concern.

There is now almost no area or facet of Dublin’s infrastructure that is not close to breaking point.

I regularly hear from clients and colleagues about the difficulties they encounter in attracting young talented people to come live and work in Dublin as people are hearing about the spiraling cost of living and declining quality of life here.

We are pushing so much of this city’s infrastructure so far beyond any reasonable point of endurance that we put Dublin’s future as a good place to live in grave risk.

I am very proud of my city and want to continue feeing that way, but to do this politicians and policy makers from across the spectrum will have to come up with radical plans to make this a viable place in which people can both live and work.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Social Protection and Employment Affairs Regina Doherty

Twenty years ago (last Sunday) the first ever episode of The West Wing premiered on US TV.

Though anyone who has ever served in government can confirm that The Thick of It or Yes, Minister are more realistic portrayals of life along the corridors of power, The West Wing still represents the ideal, the way we would like to think it is.

This is due, in part, to the excellent characterisations, but it is mainly down to the quality of writing. The dialogue not only fizzed, it was informed by actual policy debates.

There were prescient. Much of it is still cogent despite all that has happened in the intervening two decades.

Take this Sam Seaborn discourse from Episode 9 of Season 1. The President’s aides are discussing the views of possible contenders for a Supreme Court vacancy when Sam says:

“It’s not just about abortion, it’s about the next 20 years. In the ’20s and ’30s it was the role of government. ’50s and ’60s it was civil rights. The next two decades are going to be privacy. I’m talking about the Internet. I’m talking about cell phones. I’m talking about health records and who’s gay and who’s not. And moreover, in a country born on the will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?”

Two decades later and privacy is still a critical political issue. We don’t always refer to it as privacy, sometimes we call it data privacy or protection, but it is the same thing.

Use the word “information” in place of “data” and you realise how fundamental it is to life in this ever more digitalised world.

Two statistics highlight the vital importance of Data Privacy/Data Protection to Ireland.

The first is that 40% of all of the EU’s personal data is stored here.

Think about that. We account for 1% of the EU’s population, but we store 40% of its personal data.

That makes data a critical economic issue for Ireland – one that is set to increase post Brexit. A hard Brexit would dramatically limit data transfers between the EU and UK (UK would be outside the scope of the EU’s data protection regime).

Data is not just an issue for the big tech giants or social media platforms. Data processing and transfers are commonplace and essential to all businesses, large and small. The digital revolution has transformed all our lives.

Yet a series of serious, glaring, unforced errors by this government show that the folks around the Cabinet table have not yet grasped the critical national importance of data protection.

(Though not as serious as the examples to follow, let me also refer you back to my story about the mess made in 2014 of the appointment of a Junior Minister for Data Protection)

This is not just an issue that the EU can deal with and leave us alone. This is an issue and a moment where we must stop being the slowest mover.

The ongoing saga of the Personal Services Card is a case in point. I have no issue with the State having social welfare ID cards. It makes sense and works efficiently for most who use it.

But one of the core principles of data protection is that personal data is only used for the express purposes for which consent was given. Data expressly given to Welfare is for the use of Welfare. It is black letter law.

It is the rule we insist is applied to private companies who hold our data and the standard must not be lower for the State or any of its agencies.

The Taoiseach’s glib response to the negative report on the PSC from the State’s Data Protection Commission, saying that he will just change the law is not just infuriating, it is idiotic.

To quote from the Data Protection Commission’s statement:

A total of eight findings are made in the report. Three of those relate to the legal basis issue; the remaining five relate to issues around transparency. S

even of the eight findings are adverse to positions advanced by the Department, insofar as the DPC has found that there is, or has been, non-compliance with the applicable provisions of data protection law.

So, in seven out of the eight areas examined, the DPC found that the State had breached its own laws.

It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to come back and say… meh, I will change those laws.

We cannot allow the message to be sent to the rest of the EU, never mind the world, that the Irish State has a laissez-faire attitude to the protection and integrity of personal data.

The message we should be sending is that we have rules, strong rules and that we are ready to enforce them equally against all entities, public or private.

It is this area, implementation and enforcement, that brings me to the second key data statistic I wish to discuss.

Earlier I mentioned that 40% of the EU’s personal data is stored here. That makes us an increasing cyber target. Last year Ireland was the sixth most cyber-attacked country in the EU.

According to the European Parliamentary Research Service every day more than 6 million data records are stolen or lost worldwide and over 4,000 ransomware attacks are launched.

These attacks cost the European economy hundreds of billions of euros. They not only affect corporations and private entities, they affect critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, transport and information systems.

And what is Ireland’s response to this incresaing threat to a sector that is growing daily in its strategic importance? Almost nothing.

As a senior IT security specialist remarked some months back, we leave the protection of critical economic resources infrastructure to a few private militias.  Facebook, Google etc. spend hundreds of millions on their data security systems while the State struggles to put even the barest protections in place.

The National Cyber Security Strategy is now over two years out of date. It should have been updated in 2017. Work only started early this year and, according to the Department’s website:

“An updated National Cyber Security Strategy will be published later in 2019”

We have no central cyber agency or national security agency. Our Defence Forces are the experts at national defence and should have the central role in national cybersecurity, but they are being pushed aside instead.

Under the civil/military co-operation process set out in the above mentioned 2015 national cybersecurity plan, there is an SLA (service level agreement) in place for Defence Forces support, but the Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe has rendered this meaningless, telling Jack Chambers TD in the Dáil that:

“The Defence Forces provide seconded specialists to assist with the work of CSIRT-IE when resources allow.”

We know from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report that the cyberunit in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is not fit for purpose and the Defence Forces cannot fulfil its SLA obligations due to the depletion of qualified defence force staffs across this and many other specialist areas.

Cybersecurity and Cyber resilience are areas where Ireland can and must be to the fore, but instead the government is making us a backmarker. More The Thick of It than the West Wing.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar wth members of the Parliamentery Party at the annual FG Autumn Think-In, at the Garryvoe Hotel in East Cork last week; Derek Mooney.

Conventional political wisdom used to say that the parties in government welcomed long Dáil recesses.

Not only did they free Ministers up from having to hang around Leinster House answering awkward questions, on and off the record, from smartass opposition TDs, irritating journos and panicking backbenchers, they were a time for the government parties to get back on message and hopefully get their poll numbers up.

The idea was that Dáil sittings broadly tend to favour the main opposition parties when it comes to opinion polls, as their insolent haranguing of the Taoiseach is featured nightly on the TV news.

Dáil recess means no Dáil TV coverage and no Dáil TV coverage means less of a platform for the opposition to catch the news cycle.

The high visibility, and audibility, of the Taoiseach over the summer would suggest that his team subscribe to this wisdom. He was seen to be out and about. His appearances at the Kennedy and MacGill Summer Schools and the West Belfast Féile an Phobail went down well.

He was well received by the audiences at all three and got plenty of column inches and airtime on foot of them. Not to mention his bravura Athena performance greeting Boris Johnson at government buildings two weeks ago.

The Taoiseach had a good summer. He used the Dáil recess to maximum effect. With no Dáil platform for Micheál Martin and with Mary Lou MacDonald still reeling from the decimation of the Local and European elections, not to mention the brewing row in Northern Ireland on the direction in which she is taking the party, the Fine Gael media operation virtually had the place to themselves.

All of which makes the latest Red C polling numbers so worrying for Fine Gael.

They show Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael neck and neck in the run up to an election which the Taoiseach says is no more than eight months away, but which many suspect will be done and dusted by then. (As an aside – the Taoiseach first publicly confirmed the May 2020 election timeline at the Kennedy Summer School.)

The poll confirms something I discussed here at the end of April. Back then I was writing about a B&A/Sunday Times poll.

At that point 45 out of the 46 polls conducted since July 2017 had Fine Gael ahead of Fianna Fáil. The B&A/Sunday Times poll was the first national opinion poll to put Fianna Fáil ahead.

I wondered if those results would be repeated in the May 2019 local elections and said, if they were, that they would mark the first big shift in public opinion since Leo Varadkar became FG leader and Taoiseach in June 2017.

The Local elections broadly confirmed the B&A/Sunday Times poll. They saw Fianna Fáil get 27% of the first preference vote, ahead of Fine Gael on a little over 25% and Sinn Féin on just under 10%. And now we have this Red C poll to confirm the trend.

What will worry the Fine Gael strategists even more than their disappointing poll numbers is the emergence of new domestic issues where the government is seen to be floundering and ineffectual.

They already had the twin sagas of housing and health, now they have the beef crisis and the Personal Services Card debacle.

I do not include Brexit on this list, not because it is not a potential crisis of immense proportions, but because the backroom strategists will not see it as an electoral negative for Fine Gael right now.

As Red C’s Richard Colwell argues in his analysis of the latest poll:

“Fine Gael have been seen to perform well throughout the negotiations and are seen as safe pair of hands with regard to Brexit… Even a third of Fianna Fail voters see Varadkar as the best option to lead on Brexit.”

At a time when the domestic political agenda is slipping away from him and his government is perceived as a do-nothing administration, Brexit could be perversely seen as one of the very few bright political spots on Varadkar’s horizon.

Almost everything Varadkar and his government do over the coming months must factor-in Brexit. But as they are not in control of Brexit. Their scope to yield political benefits are, at best limited. All Varadkar can do is manage his political responses to events.

This includes the holding of the four by-elections following the election of Billy Kelleher, Frances Fitzgerald, Mick Wallace and Clare Daly to the European Parliament.

The opposition would like to see the four by-elections held before Christmas, ideally in November.

Whether the government would be equally as thrilled is another matter, though it knows it cannot forestall their holding and it is probably better to get the pain of three or four defeats in one day out of the way sooner rather than later.

Indeed there was talk up to a few days ago that they might be held alongside a referendum to extend voting rights in Presidential Elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and beyond (the Bill providing for such a change has just been published by the government).

These plans seem to have hit the rocks. It is said that the detailed work to implement such a change is behind schedule.

This may be fortuitous. It was not the wisest move to think about holding a referendum to extend voting rights to the North, even if only just in presidential election, just at the moment when the Brexit debate is at its most febrile.

But when is there ever a good time to talk about anything when Brexit looms on the horizon? Not anytime soon, it seems.

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

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the taoiseach’s office at Government Buildings, Dublin yesterday; Derek Mooney

Boris Johnson came to call on us,

He wanted to tell all of us,

Brexit won’t put a wall ‘round us, it’s frictionless.

Not so, says Leo back to him.

We’re waitin’ for some facts from ‘em,

So it’s the Backstop we’ll be backing then, Athena.

Take him up to Monto, Monto, Monto…

If you listen closely you can just hear the ghost of George Hodnett groan at the thought of his comic folk song “Monto” having my pitiful new verse inflicted upon it.

Nonetheless, commemorating the visit of the reigning contender for the twin titles of worst and last ever UK Prime Minister to our fair city, in verse does somehow seem appropriate.

To be fair, Prime Minister Johnson did not make a show of himself… well, not by his recent standards. His remarks were coherent and almost relevant. They bordered on emollient:

“I have one message that I want to land with you today, Leo, that is I want to find a deal, I want to get a deal”.

The pity is that none of what he said amounted to a plan. Instead we got the usual Johnson line about the UK never imposing checks along the border, but nothing about how this plays out in the no-deal Brexit for which so many in his party yearn.

Johnson had even less to say about the other direct and dire consequence of an October 31 no-deal Brexit, the imposition of Direct Rule in Northern Ireland on November 1. Such a unilateral move would torpedo the Good Friday Agreement.

Through a mixture of waffle, grimaces and curious arm exercises Johnson ignored Tommy Gorman’s direct question on direct rule.

An Taoiseach did not.

Varadkar was candid, saying: “the Irish government will oppose the reintroduction of direct rule were that to happen”, adding that it would be contrary to the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.

The introduction of Direct Rule in Northern Ireland has been a live issue for months, particularly since a leaked April memo that quoted UK cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, as saying:

“The current powers granted to the Northern Irish secretary would not be adequate for the pace, breadth or controversy of the decisions needed to be taken through a no-deal exit. Therefore we would have to introduce direct rule.”

Sedwill’s analysis was later confirmed by the former Deputy Prime Minister David Lidington MP at a Westminster parliamentary committee and again last week on BBC radio’s Today Show.

Let’s be clear. A unilateral move by the British to impose Direct Rule would up-end three decades of progress. Ireland cannot countenance a British solo run. No ifs, buts or maybes.

While An Taoiseach did say yesterday that he would want a consultative role for Dublin under the Good Friday Agreement, as with previous comments he did not indicate how Dublin would act to protect the Good Friday Agreement from such an egregious attack.

His caveat that “ultimately, it will be the responsibility of the sovereign government, which is the UK, to manage affairs in Northern Ireland” goes the opposite direction. It risks allowing Johnson to surmise that Ireland will “wait and see” and may only respond after the fact.

We do have options, after the fact, powerful ones. As Varadkar told Johnson yesterday:

“…the story of Brexit won’t end if the UK leaves the EU on October 31st or January 31st…We all have to deal with issues like tariffs and state aid, ratified by 28 governments.”

It is a repeat of what the outgoing EU Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker told the European Parliament last April:

“…whatever happens, the UK will still be expected to address the three main separation issues.

· Citizens’ rights would still need to be upheld and protected.

· The UK would still have to honour its financial commitments made as a Member State.

· And thirdly, a solution would still need to be found on the island of Ireland that preserves peace and the internal market. The UK must fully respect the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. [My emphasis]

“No-deal” does not mean no commitments. And these three issues will not go away.”

Both statement are reminders to the UK that negotiations after a no deal Brexit will focus on the same issues, but with one important difference; they will not be run under Article 50 of the EU Treaties. That covers EU members quitting the EU.

As a third country outside the EU future talks would be conducted under Article 218. This is the 27 member-states and the European Parliament a veto over any UK deal. It’s a higher bar than Article 50.

That means a future Dáil could reflect on the damage done by the UK to, borrowing President Juncker’s phrase, the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement when considering the deal.

But our approach is not limited to responding after the fact.

There is an active option available now to both governments, though Irish statecraft will have to drag or cajole the Brits to get to it. It is to resurrect the detailed partnership proposals (Plan B) announced by Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair in their joint statement of April 6th 2006.

Their response to the political challenges to devolution was to take their shared stewardship of the Good Friday Agreement seriously and declare that:

We are beginning detailed work on British-Irish partnership arrangements that will be necessary in these circumstances to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement, which is the indispensable framework for relations on and between these islands, is actively developed across its structures and functions. This work will be shaped by the commitment of both Governments to a step-change in advancing North-South co-operation and action for the benefit of all.

The timeline section (Annex D) of the St Andrews Agreement repeated the warning to all parties that there was a Plan B alternative to simple Direct Rule:

“…failure to agree at any stage, and the Governments will take forward new partnership arrangements on the basis previously announced.”

This time around it is the British government, a minority British government at that, which needs to heed this warning. As has been the case at every crisis point in Northern Ireland over the past twenty plus years, the only way forward is partnership between the two governments.

That remains the case now even though one of the parties is opting to take itself outside the wider partnership within the EU.

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

Rollingnews

 

Boris Johnson (right), then UK Foreign Secretary, with Simon Coveney at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin, November, 2017; Derek Mooney

This day last week Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Tory party. Profiling him here I described Johnson as the incoming Prime Minister of the slowly disunifying United Kingdom.

A few days later the SNP leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, described Johnson in even starker and bleaker terms hailing him as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Comments over the last few days suggest that Blackford may well be close to the truth. Last I hoped that Johnson might use his admiration for Churchillian rhetoric to define – for the first time ever – what Brexit means.

Johnson had a very small window in which to set out a deliverable form of Brexit and give Britain a transition period during which it could have the best of both worlds.

Within minutes of stepping into Number 10 he made clear that he was not merely going to reject that opportunity, he was going to go the other way.

He chose to fill his Cabinet to overflowing with hard-line vote leave ministers and advisers from the Vote-Leave campaign, as if the three years since the referendum had not happened.

Here, at last, was the vote leave government that his brilliantly botched bid for leadership failed to deliver when Cameron quit as Tory leader three years ago.

The problem is that a lot has happened in the intervening three years.

Not that you’d know this from his comments since taking office.

In his first statement to the House of Commons last Thursday, Prime Minister Johnson not only said that he was making the abolition of the backstop as a full pre-condition for any discussions with the EU, he also gave an insight into how he saw relations between the EU and UK in the future. He said that he hoped for

“…a friendly and constructive relationship, as constitutional equals and as friend and partners in facing the challenges that lie ahead.”

The phrase “constitutional equals” is significant and has been since repeated in other guises, including on his trip to Scotland yesterday when he told reporters that:

“they [the EU] understand that the UK and the EU are two great political entities and it is possible for us to come up with a new deal that will be to the benefit of both sides”.

All of this echoes something I wrote here almost two years ago. In September 2017 I posited the view that:

The Tories want a new arrangement where the UK is the equal of the rest of EU 27-member states put together. The Tories ideal post Brexit outcome is an open marriage… so the groom can have a few external relationships with former conquests such as India and Malaysia.

Harsh political and economic realities soon disabused Prime Minister May and her succession of Brexit Ministers of the viability of such a notion, but without much cost to the UK. Boris Johnson will not have that luxury.

Johnson’s view of the EU and UK as equals has echoes of Churchill’s post WWII world view. Fresh from the Allies victory over the Axis, Churchill saw the UK at the centre of three global circles of influence.

Circle number one was the Commonwealth, circle number two was the US, Canada etc (the English-speaking world), circle three was Europe… though Churchill chose to describe it as “United Europe”, a point entirely lost on Johnson.

While Churchill may have seen Britain at the centre of world power, others didn’t, not least the United States whose attitude was best summed up in the withering comment delivered in 1962 by Dean Acheson, a former US Secretary of State:

“Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.

Churchill’s ideal was a very 19th century view of global relations – the old spheres of influence – but it can at least be excused as post WWII rhetoric.

But just as it was demolished by the realities of late 1940s and early 1950s, so too will Johnson’s dreams of some Empire 2.0 fall apart at it first experience of reality.

Several things are clear now as we face into a very turbulent and torrid couple of months.

Number one: Boris Johnson’s cabinet has no intention of governing – it is only there to campaign in an election. Johnson is not extemporising he is working to a detailed, pre-ordained strategy. His jibes and provocations are deliberate and designed to enable him to have an early election.

He wants to enter that campaign portraying himself as a modern-day Churchill, standing alone with the British public and fighting against the EU and a weak-kneed House of Commons to deliver Brexit on October 31st.

Britain’s fixed term parliament act denies him the power to simply go to the public, therefore he must engineer a collapse via votes of no confidence so he can have an election, roll over Farage’s Brexit party, cull dissenting Tories and – all things going to Dominic Cumming’s plan – end up with a parliamentary majority of committed Tory leavers and no dependence on the DUP.

Number Two: There is no such thing as a no Deal Brexit. Even if Britain crashes out of the EU on the 31st of October, at some point in the future – whether it be weeks, months or years, the UK will need some form of deal with the EU.

This is important to us not just because we will want to see a deal, but also because we will have a full veto on any such a deal, as do each of the other 26 member states. The UK will be in an even more disadvantageous position than it is now.

This is a point made in the retweet by the former UK minister David Lidington of a Twitter thread highlighting the many wins for the UK in the Withdrawal Agreement that Johnson now junks, including:

Nick Gutteridge The UK-wide backstop also sets a precedent ahead of future trade talks by giving Britain that quite significant quota and tariff free access to the EU market before negotiations have even begun. As one official put it they see it as ‘a kind of gift from the EU’ in that regard.

Number three: though Johnson says he is steadfastly committed to the Good Friday Agreement, an Oct 31st crash out will likely herald the imposition of direct role in Northern Ireland. The UK Institute for Government warns about this in a recent paper saying that:

“…the government might decide to leave the bill until 1 November and rush it through all stages as a response to the ‘emergency’ in Northern Ireland. That would further undermine confidence and add to uncertainty at what will already be a tense time.”

Finally, Number Four: Brexit was, is and remains a British demand. Britain is asking the EU27 to facilitate its democratic and legitimate exit from the EU, and this it has attempted to do by negotiating a Withdrawal Agreement.

The UK cannot however expect the EU27 to shield and protect it from the consequences of its own actions. Though Johnson may talk and posture as if he has just mounted a coup d’état there has been no change of government in the United Kingdom.

There was no election. Johnson has no mandate and the current British Parliament may be about to make this clear to him.

The idea, therefore, that we urge the EU to capitulate on the Backstop is not merely short sighted, it is politically illiterate. What do we gain by handing an election win to a man and a government who have no regard for how badly any form of Brexit impacts us?

It is galling to watch Brexiteers attacking Ireland using quotes from political pundits and commentators here.

You don’t have to go back through too many of my columns here to see that I have almost no regard for the political abilities of the Taoiseach or his ministers, however on the Backstop the government is right as are the main opposition parties.

Britain is about to enter one of the most divisive and bitter periods in its recent existence. We cannot simply stand by and watch as Johnson torches the neighbourhood in pursuit of a parliamentary majority but we must be measured and smart and must not add fuel to the flames that Johnson fans.

While some around the Taoiseach may see the current turmoil as a way of regaining for Leo the Brexit poll bounce he once had, they would be making the biggest mistake they have ever made.

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

Rollingnews

 

 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

Rollingnews

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