Tag Archives: Derek Mooney

From top: Taoiseach Micheál Martin and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hold a Bilateral Meeting in Hillsborough Castle,Hillsborough Northern Ireland last month; Derek Mooney

It was a week of dead cats and ducks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed his breaking international law in a very specific and limited way dead cat on the table, in the hope that others would be so horrified they’d forget entirely that his government hasn’t the slightest clue what happens when Brexit transition ends.

As for the dead duck… well, as I discussed that at length last week, I will comment briefly on its 10% rating later.

The dead cat drop is an old political ruse. You only do it when you are in deep trouble. You reach for the dead pussy when your back is against the wall. You hope everyone focuses on the festering, fetid, defunct feline and forgets about your bigger problems.

The “dead cat on the table” tactic is proof that Johnson and his confederate Cummings are still more consumed with campaigning, not governing.

Johnson’s dead cat is a smokescreen to crash the negotiations, get a no deal and blame the EU for all the resulting economic damage, and there will be a torrent of damage.  Damage that Johnson knows is wholly due to the no-deal outcome he cannot avoid without suffering major political damage.

At the very least it makes an issue that the average British voter (and let’s be candid here, we are talking English voters, not British) was already finding complex, even more complex. This gives Johnson a hope of getting some traction for his version of the truth.

Remember the comment of Johnson’s political idol Churchill: History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.

In a week of remarkable utterances from Johnson, perhaps the most remarkable was his claim that the EU is trying to break up the UK. Why would anyone in Brussels, Berlin, Paris or Madrid be bothered when Johnson is doing such a spectacularly good job of it, by himself.

Leaving aside his bizarre attempt to characterise Macron, Merkel and Sánchez, all leaders of countries that once had empires, as rabid secessionists, the fact is that Johnson’s UK internal market bill, which the House of Commons starts debating today, further weakens the ties that hold the United Kingdom of great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland together.

The Bill is not only an assault on Britain’s reputation as a country that honours its international agreements, it does the same to its internal ones. It contains a massive power grab against the UK’s devolved governments, particularly Scotland. A power grab that means that important decisions on future infrastructure and other big spending plans would be taken in Westminster, not Edinburgh.

It will, in the words of the SNP leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP:

“…drive a horse and cart through devolution, it will weaken our [Scottish] parliament and put us at the mercy of the Tories”.

Not that the SNP is taking this lying down. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was already preparing herself for yet another big win at the May 2021 Scottish parliament elections.

The SNP has averaged about 54% across the 8 major opinion polls published since the start of February. This is some achievement for a party that has been in government in Scotland continuously since 2007. Its vote has risen at every Scottish Parliament election since 2007.

Where the SNP once modelled itself on Fianna Fáil, Fianna Fáil should now look to the SNP for inspiration.

7 out of the 10 opinion polls on Scottish independence held since Feb 2020 have the pro-independence Yes side ahead by between 3% and 9%. Two polls had No ahead by 1%, while the remaining one said it was a tie.

As I have said here several times (most recently here and here) Boris Johnson has done more for the cause for Scottish Independence than any one. His dead cat accelerates the likelihood of Scottish independence.

This is not something we should fear, but it will have major implications for all of us on this island. We need to start having adult conversations about this now.

The other odd assertion from Johnson is that the EU is still trying to stop Brexit. EU leaders get that Brexit cannot be stopped, not least because Brexit has already happened. Britain left the political institutions of the European Union on January 31 last.

Her Majesty’s Government is no longer represented on the European Council or the Council of the European Union. It no longer has MEPs, nor does it have a Commissioner.

Political Brexit has happened and yet – despite decades of being told by Eurosceptics that they were suffering under the yoke of these EU institutions – the great British public is not feeling any less burdened or enslaved.

The part of Brexit that has yet to happen, the part that will really impact people’s day-to-day, will be changing the EU/UK trading relationship.

Johnson’s arch brexiteer government opted to leave both the customs union and the single market. But leaving both is not a simple matter. It requires careful negotiation, especially when it comes to defining the new relationship.

Johnson cannot alter the basic facts of geography, or maths. The EU is a wealthy, well regulated market with high standards and fair procedures, including dispute resolution. The UK is sitting on its doorstep.

The power balance lies with the EU, simply because it is the bigger partner. The UK has more to gain from getting favourable access to the EU market than the EU does with UK markets. This is basic maths.

Yet the UK not only wants the EU to change its rules to suit the UK’s not yet clear desires and it wants it to do it on the UK’s ridiculously short timescale. There is nothing wrong with the UK having ambitions in negotiations, the problem comes when has delusions based on an outdated notion of British exceptionalism.

Speaking of not facing reality brings us back to the dead duck and its 10% RedC poll rating. Despite everything I wrote last week I expected Martin’s Fianna Fáil to hit the mid-teens in the latest RedC/Business Post poll

It had been a reasonably good week for the Soldiers of the Legion of the Rearguard. Taoiseach Micheál Martin had been on the airwaves a lot, while Minister Stephen Donnelly hadn’t. There were no resignations and no big controversies. Quite the reverse.

Norma Foley confounded her critics by managing the schools return and Leaving Cert results effectively. Two issues which, if they had gone badly, would have ended the careers of more experienced players than Norma.

Yes, the Covid-19 infection figures were on the rise and yes there were harsh criticisms of Martin on the Fianna Fáil parliamentary zoom call, but Martin had signalled that he now had a plan and would announce it tomorrow and the Fianna Fáil call was not until after Red C had done most of its sampling. A coincidence, no doubt.

The Red C numbers were bad. Fianna Fáil’s support was down a full 5pts to just 10%. The worst Fianna Fáil figure in any Red C poll. A 1% drop in support for every two weeks Martin has served as Taoiseach. At this rate Martin and other ministers will not be voting for themselves by February 1 next?

But even these awful numbers mask the full horror. Martin’s party is not only 5% below where it was before it went it government, or 12% below where it was on a very bad polling day, it is a whopping 22% below where it was at the start of the year. Only one in three of those who were willing to consider voting Fianna Fáil in January are prepared to do so now.

It’s an odd form of leadership. Martin’s considered response to all of this is:

“No government can run on opinion polls from month to month, and it shouldn’t.”

This is a long way from what He thought back in 2011. As I pointed out in May, today’s Taoiseach was less phlegmatic then, saying:

“I believe that Fianna Fáil must recognize the reality of the current climate of public opinion… I have reluctantly concluded that, in these circumstances, Fianna Fáil should change its leader.”

Martin has set the bar for the appropriate ministerial response to historically bad polling. By his own standards his current have been woefully slow to act… so far. You can almost smell the Hoisin.

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


Earlier: A Limerick A Day

From top: Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader  Micheál Martin; Derek Mooney

“The office makes the man” is a phrase heard many times before Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny became Taoiseach.

It stems from the notion that you cannot properly envision someone as a Taoiseach (or Prime Minister or President) until they assume the office, as the trappings of office and the authority that come with role help increase their stature.

After all, very few people, apart from Gregory Peck, Martin Sheen or Oprah Winfrey, can truly act and sound presidential without being it.

Before he become Taoiseach, Enda Kenny was portrayed as too gauche and too hail fellow well met to be a commanding Taoiseach. While the personal traits that make him a likeable and approachable politician stayed with him as Taoiseach the added sense of authority that goes with the office lifted him up. His Dáil performances improved. Helped by a combination of simply sitting in the prime seat, to the right of the Ceann Comhairle, plus having a strong team of speechwriters, from both the civil service and the political world.

The same applied to Bertie Ahern. Prior to him becoming Taoiseach there had been a barely one-dimensional portrayal of him as an anorak wearing north-sider who would much prefer to be watching the Dubs play in Parnell Park than attending an EU Summit. His capacity to use the English language like a Rubik’s Cube didn’t exactly help in persuading critics otherwise.

In reality, Bertie was an intelligent and astute politician who possessed an incisive strategic mind. He saw the importance of maintaining visibility in, and a strong personal connection with, your home place. As with Enda, Bertie got the balance right. He ensured that the trappings of office, the extra staff, flunkies, car, were deployed to increase his authority while skilfully avoiding the pitfall of becoming remote.

Bertie became more styled. His wardrobe expanded and improved. Out went the anorak and the ill-fitting jackets, and in came some well-cut and pressed suits, plus a sharp pair of canary yellow trousers for those walks on the beach with the leaders of the G8.

So, is Micheál Martin set to be the Taoiseach that proves the rule wrong?

I fear he is, but this has less to do with Martin’s political skillset than it has with how the arrangement agreed with his immediate predecessor and ordained successor, Leo Varadkar, has diminished the role.

This is something I warned about in the months before this government was formed. It is one of the many reasons why I trenchantly opposed the Programme for Government and am now an ex Fianna Fáil member.

Agreeing to a rotating Taoiseach while also agreeing to having a beefed up office of Tánaiste, now with an added extra Aide de Camp, plus allowing Fine Gael to hold the post of Finance Minister, condemned this arrangement to being a Fine Gael led government in all but name. It also considerably diminished the authority and effectiveness of any non-Fine Gaeler who went first in the rotating Taoiseach arrangement.

Martin and his team of advisers saw all of this, but still decided not only to consent to weakening the office of Taoiseach, they also insisted on going first. This raises questions about their political judgement and their capacity to distinguish between advancing personal and political ambitions.

But here’s the rub, while Martin entered an office whose authority he had diminished, he couldn’t reduce the level of scrutiny and focus that falls on the one at the top. The office does make the man, but it also throws a massive spotlight on the weaknesses and frailties of the office holder.

The flaws and failings that were not so evident when Micheál Martin was opposition leader, not only became apparent upon taking up office, they were magnified.

I do not think that Martin is the compulsive ditherer, incapable of making up his mind or sticking with a plan, as some portray him. The issue, I fear, is with Martin’s constant need to tell us how much he knows. As I said here a few weeks back:

: “…in any given interview, be it on radio or television, Martin is more likely to remind us that he used to be the Minister for Education, Enterprise, Health or Foreign Affairs than he is to set out a clear vision of what he wants to achieve in government.”

It’s as if there is some inner insecurity, a fear of being found out, which must be masked by appearing knowledgeable and spewing out an array of facts and figures. But appearing strong and in complete control is no substitute for being both and Martin has, to his own detriment, agreed to a model that impedes his ability to do either.

Martin is having all the downsides of being Taoiseach without any of the upsides. This cannot end well – but paradoxically an end is all that is in store for him.

Over the last few weeks Fine Gael sources have been busily regaling folks with a story arising from the reported August 18 clash between Martin and Varadkar. According to the Fine Gael Oireachtas members who relayed the tale to me, the Tánaiste was bitterly complaining to cabinet colleagues about how only the Taoiseach’s advisers seemed to know what was going on and they were not telling anyone. “Welcome to our world”, a Fianna Fáil minister disdainfully responded.

I have no idea if the story is true. The people who told it to me could not know either as they weren’t there, but that isn’t the point. The story may be 100% apocryphal, indeed it probably is, but a lot of people now believe the story is true and there lies the damage.

If acting strong is more important to the Taoiseach than being strong, then it works the other way around too. A few weeks ago I was on a work Zoom call with colleagues, including a former British Labour MP. Just before the call ended the former MP, who has a strong interest in Irish politics, asked me how Ireland’s experiment with operating a joint premiership was going.

They weren’t being facetious. I found myself trying to defend the arrangement, citing the inconclusive election result, to which the former MP said, well I can only tell you what it looks like from where I am, and it looks like a joint premiership with Martin bringing up the rear.

Out of the mouths of babes and labour MPs comes such truths.

Here are a few more truths. Varadkar will not bring this government down. Neither will the Greens – though this may come as news to them. The Greens may walk away as a group, or in dribs and drabs, but either way they are replaceable.

Though Varadkar may find the current set-up frustrating (á la the story above), it is still a set-up primarily designed to suit him. Time is Varadkar’s friend. He’ll be Taoiseach again in two years, if he just bides his time.

Varadkar has the complete measure of Martin and, for as long as Fianna Fáil present Martin as its only alternative to Varadkar as Taoiseach, Fine Gael hasn’t a thing to worry about. That could all change dramatically if, and when, Fianna Fáil TDs wake up and recognise that they need to offer a clear alternative to Martin if they are to survive, individually or collectively.

It is yet another reason why time is not Martin’s friend. His clock has been ticking down and has been since June 27.. He is a lame duck and across his government people are standing by with the hoi sin, pancakes and shredded spring onion.

Martin’s highest point was the moment the Dáil voted him in as Taoiseach. It was always going to be downhill from that moment, but even I never thought the descent would be conducted at as brisk a pace as this.

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


Derek Mooney

Welcome to my fourth annual Broadsheet Summer political reading list. This year’s list appears somewhat later than planned as I have not been able to plan my own summer break until now.

With my previous lists I tried, where possible, to pick books you can download onto your tablet or eBook reader. Who wants to stick 6 or 7 heavy tomes into the suitcase and pay Euros to Willy Walsh or Michael O’Leary for the privilege of flying them with you?

So, while this is not as big a concern this year, many of the titles I have picked are, happily, available to download, indeed at least one is available for free download.

As in past years the titles are factual. The list reflects my own tastes and prejudices – though I do genuinely attempt to include some books that challenge them.

The list is in no order, though it does start with books prompted by the sad death of one of the greatest men I have even been honoured to meet and hear speak: John Hume.

Feel free to disagree with any of my choices in the comments section below (as if some of you need a license to disagree with me!) but if you are going to disagree then suggest what books you’d include instead.

John Hume, In his own words Edited by Seán Farren

John Hume, Irish peacemaker Edited by Seán Farren & Denis Haughey

My first entry offers you a choice of two books on the one subject: John Hume.

In the first one: “In His Own Words” Hume’s great ally and colleague, Seán Farren, gathers extracts from some of Hume’s most significant speeches, articles, and interviews. Together they give a comprehensive overview of Hume’s political thoughts on the complexity of relationships within and between our two islands.

You see, in Hume’s own words, the origins of his implacable opposition to violence and how he developed his proposals for resolving the Northern Irish conflict. Proposals that underpin the Good Friday Agreement.

Farren adds a contextual narrative that helps chronicle Hume’s career from his work in the 60’s with the credit union, the Derry Housing Association, the civil rights movement through the foundation of the SDLP and culminating in the achievement of agreement across this island.

The companion piece, John Hume, Irish peacemaker is also edited by Sean Farren along with another great Hume contemporary Denis Haughey. This is a collection of themed essays from a good cross section of friends, contemporaries and academics, that assess Hume’s career and contribution.

As with In his Own Words the essays span Hume’s career from his entry into public life in 1960s Derry to his role in Europe and the US, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Hume-Adams dialogue and the Good Friday Agreement.

Seamus Mallon’s: A Shared Home Place (Lilliput)

If you have the time, I would also highly re-recommend reading this one from last year’s book list. Seamus died last January.

Angrynomics by Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth

This may be one of the most enjoyable reads on my list. Written pre Covid-19, the authors, Mark Blyth and Eric Lonergan tackle the modern paradox of how and why the world most of us experience feels so uncertain, unfair, and ever more expensive while the factual analysis tells us that the vast majority of us have never had it so good.

The authors do this by way of a running dialogue. A dialogue that produces many entertaining and insightful anecdotes, (esp. the Donoghues pub ballad singer one). The model works superbly. It gives the book a pace and flow that helped this reader to easily follow their often-challenging examination of the rising global tide of anger.

The book’s blurb says it is for anyone wondering “where the hell do we go from here” and that authors “propose radical new solutions for an increasingly polarized and confusing world”. It lives up to the claims, though we may quibble about how deliverable their solutions may be.


You’re Fired by Paul Begala

You may already know Begala as one of CNN’s resident political talking heads. The quick-witted American political consultant and pundit was a chief strategist for Bill Clinton and an adviser to the 2012 Obama re-election campaign.

Begala takes the “You’re fired!” catchphrase from Trump’s days on The Apprentice and turns it on the orange one in a practical guide on how Trump can (and must) be defeated next November and be sent packing along with “his industrial-strength spray-on tan machine back to Mar-a-Lago”.

This one sentence offers a flavour of the book’s acerbic tone. It is a genuinely enjoyable read. While it is made lighter by Begala’s neat turn of phrase, it is still a serious piece of work and does not underestimate the challenge facing Biden and the Democrats.

The strategy Begala counsels is pragmatic. He explains how Trump’s capacity to use division to distract voters from his awful record can be turned against him and how Democrats can “drive a wedge—or, rather, a pickup truck—between Trump and many of his supporters, especially blue-collar workers and farmers”.

While many may opt to read Mary Trump’s deliciously salacious exposé of her uncle: Too Much and Never Enough (from the same publisher) I will be rereading my Begala with relish.

A New Ireland A New Union A New Society by Paul Gosling

This entry has a great deal going for it. Not only is it a free download (in PDF format) it has also been recently updated to take account of Brexit and Coronavirus.

Gosling, a financial journalist and economic commentator, tackles Northern Ireland’s constitutional future and sets out a ten-year plan for how a New Ireland with an all island economy and healthcare system, all within the European Union, can be achieved.

While the book’s narrative is unashamedly pro-reunification, Gosling does ensure that Unionist voices feature throughout and includes considered and thoughtful contributions from former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt (who Micheál Martin should have appointed to The Seanad), independent MLA Claire Sugden and DUP MLA Mervyn Storey.

It is a thoroughly good read which leaves the reader far better informed by adding far more dimensions to the unity discussion than Mary Lou or Gerry ever offer. This is a book about logic and persuasion, not coercion and does not require you read it wrapped in the tricolour. Most importantly it argues the unification case on its own merits, rather than as the only alternative as the Tories slowly dismantle the UK. (Micheál Martin take note).

It is available for sale in hardcopy but can also be downloaded from the author’s website.


Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics by Peter Geoghegan

Written by a Longford man, Peter Geoghegan, now based in London and Glasgow, Democracy for Sale is the story of how money, vested interests and digital skulduggery are eroding trust in democracy. I am such an admirer of Geoghegan’s writing (and tweeting) that even a frontpage recommendation from the sainted Fintan O’Toole could drive me away.

Democracy for Sale is a well written and researched account that looks at how the Brexit Leave campaign was funded and structured but also goes much further afield to look at how populists from Johnson to Trump to Bolsonaro operate in a murky world of dark money and digital disinformation.

A Bloody Summer: The Irish at the Battle of Britain by Dan Harvey

The sixth title in the ‘Bloody Battles’ series that looks at the part played by Irish born soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars, Arnhem and D-Day. This latest instalment from the excellent Dan Harvey, a retired Lt-Col, offers a strategic analysis of one of the greatest air battles in history while telling the personal stories of those Irishmen involved in it.

Though I include this book on this year’s list, Dan’s 2018 book, Soldiering Against Subversion: The Irish Defence Forces and Internal Security During the Troubles, 1969–1998, is also a must read.

Capitalism, Alone – The Future of the System That Rules the World by Branko Milanović

Easily the heaviest read on my list, it earns its place by being the most challenging. Billed by the publishers as “a provocative account of capitalism’s rise to global dominance and, as different models of capitalism vie for world leadership, a look into what the future may hold” it does what it is says on the tin, even if it leaves you wanting to kick that tin further down the road.

In Capitalism Alone, economist Branko Milanović argues that capitalism is the only game in town. He says that capitalism has triumphed because it works, but that the prosperity and autonomy it has delivered has come at a heavy moral price.

He describes the West’s liberal capitalism as creaking under the strains of inequality and excess, while the competing Chinese model, political capitalism, as shows itself even more vulnerable to corruption and prone to cause greater social unrest when progress slows.

It is not a perfect book. One of the best critiques I read of it beforehand said that Milanović seems to end the book in mid-argument as if his conversation was brought suddenly to an end by the arrival of the taxi home.

Strong on analysis, though overly western-centric and with gaps when it comes to the problems in the southern hemisphere (he suggests large-scale migration), it is still an important analysis of where the global system now stands from an old school Serbian pubic intellectual hailed for brilliant analysis of inequality.

Steps along the road, the evolution of a slow learner – The Writings of Ivor Browne

This is very personal choice was prompted by a recentSunday Independent interview with the great Professor Ivor_Browne. Published in 2013, the book is an anthology of papers and essays charting five decades of clinical research and reflections from one of Ireland’s greatest experts and champions of mental health.

My personal interest in Ivor Browne stems from the fact that my mother, a psychiatric nurse, worked with him for many years and remains in awe of him to this day.

My mother even features alongside Prof Browne, as a character on page 14 of John Waters’ 2010 book Beyond Consolation. There Waters mentions Ketamine Carmel the nurse who administered hallucinogenics during Prof Browne’s therapy sessions at St Brendan’s hospital. (BTW no, she never took any of it home to us!)

My mum had to quit her nursing job upon getting married, courtesy of the public service marriage ban and only returned to working in St Brendan’s in the late 1970s.

Thereafter when anyone would ask how my mother was keeping, I would reply, “oh, she’s grand, she’s back in St Brendan’s”. An answer that caused much confusion, almost none of it unintentional.

N.B. I have not included the latest book by Stephen Collins and Ciara Meehan entitled: Saving the State, Fine Gael from Collins to Varadkar on this list for two reasons. (i) It has yet to be published and thus cannot be read over the Summer and (ii) I tend not to include works of fiction – Collins was never leader of Fine Gael and W T Cosgrave was not Fine Gael Leader while he served as President of the Executive Council (The office which preceded that of Taoiseach)

Enjoy what remains of the Summer and keep safe. See you back here in mid-September.

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 Mondays. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


From top: New Fianna Fáil  Junior minister Anne Rabbitte and Jack Chambers; Derek Mooney

When this new government was cobbled together… sorry, let me start again… when this new administration was formed, Fianna Fáil’s primary political imperative was to show that this government would be very different.

The assumption was that Micheál Martin and his train of attendants would move quickly to banish the political tone deafness and indifference that characterised Leo Varadkar’s time in office and replace it with the attentive and determined approach of a Taoiseach with his finger on the public pulse.

Four weeks in and all the evidence so far points more to continuity than change. To be fair to Martin, it is not the full picture. As the new Taoiseach has repeatedly said in interviews, the Dáil has rarely been so productive in producing legislation.

The problem is that he has made this point in a series of incredibly low energy TV and radio interviews that have lacked any core message beyond proving that Martin knows his facts.

Frankly, I never thought his ability to retain information from a briefing note was in doubt. The question marks over Martin relate to the direction in which he wants to lead his party and this country, not his ability to recall facts.

In any given interview, be it on radio or television, Martin is more likely to remind us that he used to be the Minister for Education, Enterprise, Health or Foreign Affairs than he is to set out a clear vision of what he wants to achieve in government.

By contrast Varadkar is always on message, the fact that it is his own personal message, not the government’s, clearly doesn’t bother the Tánaiste or his expanding retinue too much.

It also appears not to upset the Taoiseach either, though this may just be studied stoicism from a new Taoiseach determined not to let the man who is both his immediate predecessor and successor to unsettle him.

Whether the Taoiseach and his inner circle are inwardly seething or not, his backbench TDs are.

The anger and frustration that simmered at last week’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party is just a taster of things to come. As I argued here two weeks ago Fianna Fáil backbench TDs need to assert their authority and influence, so this is good news.

In the meantime the political fallout over the pay and allowances of super junior ministers continues to tarnish the government’s reputation at a time when it is preparing for one of its biggest challenges, getting schools reopened.

The super juniors row is a near classic example of an unforced political error, compounded by three political leaders not doing their homework.

First, a brief potted history of super juniors. The position came into being back in December 1994 with the formation of the Rainbow Coalition.

After much haggling about ministerial share out Fine Gael got 8 out of the 15 Cabinet positions (including Taoiseach). Despite huge pressure to surrender a place, Labour held out and held on to its six seats at Cabinet. This left de Rossa the lone Democratic Left voice at cabinet.

The compromise reached was for de Rossa’s party colleague, Pat Rabbitte, a Minister of State for Commerce and Technology to also be appointed as a Minister of State to the Government (Super Junior) entitled to attend Government meetings in the same way as the Chief Whip. Thus was born the post of Super Junior.

The appointment attracted almost no comment in the Dáil debate on the day, apart from the observation from the former Progressive Democrat leader, Des O’Malley, that:

“the same position was offered to me by the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, who told me we could have such a post, but I said “no, thank you very much”. The post was held once before by the late Senator Alexis FitzGerald and I do not think it made a great impact on the affairs of the nation or impinged greatly on its consciousness”.

I bet Fianna Fáil TDs are wishing that were the case now.

Meanwhile, answering parliamentary questions on Rabbitte’s appointment a month later, the then Taoiseach, John Bruton, told both Mary Harney (PD) and the late Séamus Brennan (FF) that Minister Rabbitte would be paid on the same basis as an ordinary Minister of State, but that he would have a special adviser and a state car, in the same way as the Government Chief Whip.

This set the standard for subsequent super junior appointments, just one and on a par with the existing Chief Whip.

The next Super Junior (Minister of State to the Government) appointed was Progressive Democrat, Bobby Molloy in June 1997.

On hearing the news Molloy’s predecessor, Pat Rabbitte, told the Dáil that he was “…delighted for Deputy Molloy who ranted and railed until the cows came home about the very post he now holds when it was established some three years ago”. Molloy was briefly succeeded as a super junior by party colleague Liz O’Donnell.

The next into super junior rank was the late Brian Lenihan Junior. Brian was appointed as super junior minister by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and given special responsibility for Children, creating the Office of the Minister for Children.

This subsequently became the Department for Children. Lenihan was succeeded as super junior, first by Brendan Smith and then by Barry Andrews.

Fast forward to the 2011 Fine Gael/Labour government and the 2016 Fine Gael minority government and you had various labour TDs, Willie Penrose, succeeded by Jan O’Sullivan and later Ged Nash, Independent TD, Finian McGrath (Disabilities) and Fine Gael TDs, Paul Kehoe (Defence) and Mary Mitchell O’Connor serve as super juniors.

I am hurrying through this as I did promise a brief history. Bottom line is this: from 1994 up to 2017 there was just one super junior and a Chief Whip at a time. For the most part, the appointments were non-controversial.

Varadkar’s June 2017 attempt to have an extra Fine Gael super junior as well as the already agreed independent super junior and Fine Gael Chief Whip raised alarm bells.

Fianna Fáil’s then Education Spokesperson Thomas Byrne issued a blunt statement, which was resurrected this week, stating clearly that Fianna Fáil opposed the move. So too did the Labour Party.

Yet not one of the Fianna Fáil minsters or advisers recalled this statement when it was decided that they legislate to fund an additional super-junior position, or when the party leaders agreed what posts each would get?

Is that credible? Or, is it that no one thought that people would pay that much attention and that any row would be over in a day or two?

This is the type of thinking you expect from a party that has been in government too long. It is not what you expect in the first month of a party that truly has the hunger to govern.

Neither the rationale underpinning Rabbitte’s 1994 appointment, nor that of Lenihan et al, i.e. the establishment of the Office of Minister for Children, applies for two of the three latest appointments.

There is no compelling argument, either political or administrative, for having three super junior positions. There is barely an argument for two (note I am not touching the argument over there being 20 junior ministers)!

The only super junior position one that needs to exist (i.e. continue) is that of Government Chief Whip. The additional super junior post or posts being created are going to Fine Gael and the Green Party, not Fianna Fáil.

Yet, surprise, surprise all three are being lumped together and it is Fianna Fáil, and Jack Chambers in particular, who is bearing the brunt of the criticism. He is the only one whose appointment stands on merit.

Look at the ill-advised legislative change if you doubt this. It amends Section 3A of the 1998 Act to increase the number of holders of “the office of Minister of State who regularly attend meetings of the Government” from 2 to 3.

All this furore and damage to the government’s reputation for one unnecessary post?

If Fine Gael and the Green party’s collective noses are out of joint over Fianna Fáil having the post of Chief Whip and effectively having 7 voices at Cabinet, then there were other ways around achieving balance. On way was to rotate the post of Chief Whip with Fine Gael when the position of Taoiseach switches in December 2022.

While the responsibilities that the two additional super juniors are important, no one can claim that either Hildegarde Naughton’s (FG) International and Road Transport and Logistics portfolio or Pippa Hackett’s (Grn) Land Use & Biodiversity are likely to become standalone government departments any time soon.

As for the Greens getting one? They already have three full Cabinet seats. The Rabbitte argument does not apply, unless Minister Éamon Ryan fears feels isolated among his ministerial party colleagues?

The fact that Sinn Féin is not in a position to lecture anyone on claiming expenses and allowances, remember the BBC Spotlight revelations of Sinn Féin MLAs claiming nearly £700,000 in expenses for research from a company run by the party’s finance managers, will not get the government off this hook.

The government decision was politically tone deaf and imprudent. It is what voters had come to expect of the Fine Gael government they rejected it last February. It is not that voters expected a lot more of Martin or Fianna Fáil, but they are entitled to expect a higher level of political astuteness and acuity than this.

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


From top: Taoiseach Micheal Martin (second right) on his way to negotiate the Programme for Government last month with Fianna Fáil deputies including Jack Chambers (second right); Derek Mooney

Since I wrote my Broadsheet column last Monday, An Taoiseach Michéal Martin has sacked a cabinet minister and reassigned three junior portfolios.

According to his supporters this action, a mere 17 days after his first round of appointments, is proof of An Taoiseach’s cool decisiveness and a major rebuff to those who consider him a self-interested ditherer.

They may well be right, but either way his unplanned reshuffle does afford us the chance to look again at the choices made by An Taoiseach on June 27 and July 1 when he chose his team of senior and junior ministers.

Technically, of course, An Taoiseach did not choose most of them. Martin himself only got to name 5 cabinet and 8 junior ministers. 13 out of the 32 positions to be appointed.

The rest, 6 Green and 13 Fine Gael were chosen by their respective party leaders and, we are told, beyond the allocation of portfolios, there was no consultation on the identities of any of those to be named.

So let’s look at some of those decisions.

Actually, let’s not.

Rather than going over the appointments actually made, let’s look instead at two important appointments which were not made. Two non-appointments which will, in my opinion, have to be corrected in the near future.

The two are related and of equal importance and significance.

The first is the startling decision not to appoint a junior minister for Data Protection.

Even the last government, whose record on data protection was questionable, managed to appoint one. Not alone that they even ensured they were [eventually] assigned to the department with primary responsibility for data privacy legislation, the Department of Justice.

Two events from the past week serve to highlight the critical importance of data protection.

The first is the European Court of Justice decision in what has become known as Schrems II. This case revolves around the transfer of personal data to the US.

While the ruling brings to an end the ongoing legal battle between Austrian privacy advocate Max Schrems and the Irish data protection commission, over how closely it regulates Facebook (and other social media giants), it doesn’t settle the issue.

The ruling has implications with stretch far beyond Facebook. It brings the validity of all data transfers to the US into question. This is significant as almost all trade involves data transfers.

This is especially critical for Ireland at precisely the time when the Taoiseach decides to appoint an additional Minister of State but drop the Data Protection one.

If this first event didn’t sufficiently highlight the critical national importance of data protection, the second one, the dismissal of Barry Cowen as minister, surely does.

Whether you sympathise with the former Minister or not, there is no denying that it revolves around an improper, even malicious, leaking of Barry Cowen’s personal data.

There are two mentions of data protection in the Programme for Government (PfG). One acknowledges“the domestic and international importance of data protection” while the other says the government will “support the Digital Single Market, ensuring high data protection standards”.

Not exactly inspiring stuff.

The second of the imprudent non-appointments, the decision not to have a Junior Defence Minister strongly suggests a continuance of the downgrading of Defence commenced under the last government. This is depressing, especially when you consider that Fianna Fáil’s recent election manifesto was the only one to contain a coherent and considered defence section.

The decision to appoint another part-time Defence minister by assigning responsibility for Defence to the Minister for Foreign Affairs is a retrograde step. It only serves to endorse Iveagh House’s long held, but deeply mistaken, belief that it ultimately runs national defence policy. It effectively relegates the Defence Department to being a supplicant of its bigger partner.

As if this was not worrying enough, it also strongly suggests that both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste now see national defence policy as a subset of foreign policy and view the Defence Forces as simply a supplier of UN manpower.

This fear is confirmed by the opening paragraphs of the Defence section of the PfG. While it rightly says our Defence Forces has the “longest unbroken record of overseas service with the UN of any country” and that “Peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts are at the core of the international reputation of the Defence Forces”, it also omits any meaningful recognition of their role in on-island security. Defence is seen solely through the prism of UN peacekeeping.

While UN overseas service undoubtedly is an important element of defence policy, it is far from the only one. The PfG language falls well short of that employed in the Fianna Fáil manifesto.

That spoke of Fianna Fáil’s belief that “Ireland needs to recommit to its Defence Forces and its defence capability” and clearly identified cybersecurity as a vital element of national defence. It spoke of providing “a pathway of transferring this important function to the Defence Forces/Department of Defence”.

That is how a robust defence strategy should look and sound. National cyber defence is an issue I have explored here several times. Ireland is now strategically vital to Europe’s digital economy.

Up to 40% of the EU’s personal data is stored here – here is the point where Data Protection and Cybersecurity intersect. We are a major target for a range of malign actors, both state and non-state.

We are the sixth most cyber attacked EU member state and our response is poorly resourced, though highly committed, National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), that only has about two dozen staff and an annual budget of €4 million.

To be fair to the PfG, there is a casual reference to the defence forces in the section on cyber security, buts it is oblique. It says the government will “Implement the National Cyber Security Strategy, recognising the potential and important role of the Defence Forces”, but never says how.

The comments last week by Minister Eamon Ryan responding to parliamentary questions from the independent T. from Kildare South, Deputy Cathal Berry did not add much to the discussion.

The failure to appoint either a junior or super junior minister with responsibility for defence leaves that Department worse off now than it was two months back.

This is not intended as a personal criticism of Simon Coveney. He is a decent and accomplished Foreign Minister, but he was a barely adequate Defence Minister the last time he held the portfolio. He was also a part-timer then as he was both the minister for agriculture and defence.

So that’s what the Taoiseach has got wrong. How can he put it right?

One quick and simple fix that would be to assign the Government Chief Whip, Jack Chambers TD. as a Junior Minister for Defence. This would hardly be a major leap as traditionally the Chief Whip has been a Minister of State at Defence.

Almost every Chief Whip since Paddy Lalor in 1978 (when the post of Ministers of State was created to replace that of Parliamentary Secretary) has been a Junior Minister at Defence… apart, that is, from Dara Calleary and Jack Chambers, both nominated by Micheál Martin over the past three weeks.

It would be a small move, but a significant one. Jack Chambers was Fianna Fáil’s spokesperson on Defence up to a few weeks ago. He wrote the Defence section of the Fianna Fáil manifesto and knows the issues better than anyone else in government, especially Coveney.

Chambers is primarily responsible for pushing the political case for both a permanent and independent Defence Forces pay body and a Commission on the future of Defence so, the allocation of the Junior Defence portfolio to him would be a welcome first step by An Taoiseach in showing that the Fianna Fáil section of this coalition was still committed to defence… assuming it is?

While Jack may not exactly be loved by some in social media’s darker corners, he is highly regarded by the people who know and understand defence policy.

The other is to allocate specific responsibility for Data Protection to a Junior Minister assigned to the two departments currently dealing with it: Justice and Communications.

A quick run through the list of ministers and their responsibilities shows that the options here are not as clear cut. Maybe Green TD Ossian Smyth who current holds the eGovernment brief or Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy who has the weightier Trade brief or his party colleague, Charlie McConalogue, who is already a Junior at Justice?

Why not a Fine Gaeler? Well, that’s obvious.

You want someone who will do something with the role other than just Instagram about 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



Ah here.

Derek Mooney (above) returning home to Dublin from Alicante, Spain

Amid the anger and confusion over air-travel restrictions, plus stories of people arriving at Dublin Airport and avoiding quarantine, I have chronicled my largely positive experiences of travelling by flight just under two weeks ago.

Only one part of my trip made me feel uneasy and that was my arrival back in Dublin.

At the end of June, I traveled to Alicante, Spain for a short return trip to visit my mother. My Parents moved to Spain in late 1999. My father died in 2011 and my mother decided to continue living in Spain.

I usually try to get over to visit her for a few days every two months, or so. My last such visit was in early February. I was then planning to visit in late April/early May, but the Covid19 restriction knocked those plans on the head.

I resolved to try to visit her as soon as travel quarantine* restrictions were lifted in Spain as staying there for 14 days would have been impractical. As I work from home I felt I could cope relatively easily with the 14 day quarantine on the Dublin return leg.

Fortunately, the Spanish government lifted the 14 days quarantine restrictions in late June. From that point on  people arriving in Spain were required to complete a detailed contact tracing form giving their country of origin and register an address at which they would be staying during their visit so Spanish health officials could trace them, if necessary.

It also asked several health questions, including listing any contact over the previous 14 days with persons who had contracted Covid-19. They also required those arriving to undergo a temperature check/scan.

So, as I near the end of my 14-day post trip quarantine, here is a brief description of my experiences of both departures and arrivals at both Dublin and Alicante airports.

Departing Dublin Airport.

It was an early morning flight. Arriving at T2, I was booked on an Aer Lingus flight and was greeted by an airport staff member who urged me to use the hand sanitizer and reminded me that masks/face coverings must be worn at all times inside the Terminal.

The security area was not busy, but there were clear markings on the ground to show you the 2M social distancing required on the queue. I had checked in online so I scanned the bar code at the security check and went through to the scanners to check my hand luggage etc.

No issues here. All staff were wearing masks and gloves and very organised. Again there were plenty of hand sanitisers. (Up to my February trip I had a near 100% record of always being randomly selected for the added drug swab test – so I was shocked when I wasn’t picked this time).

I went direct to the departures gate. The seats were clearly marked to ensure social distancing. Aer Lingus commenced boarding early and called passengers by seat rows (4/5 rows at a time). The flight was approx. 70% full, mainly family groups and couples. Everyone had masks. The staff were very attentive and professional. They handed out the detailed 2-page Spanish contact tracing form.

Boarding was calm and socially distanced. The flight was relaxed. Disembarkation at Alicante was just as calm and well managed with passengers cooperating with both staff and each other.

Arrival at Alicante.

Upon arriving I saw that Alicante airport officials had changed the arrivals layout to allow plenty of space for passengers to socially distance (1.5m in Spain as opposed to 2m in Ireland) when going through passport check. Once you were past passport control you went down the escalator to the baggage hall, there you found two identical channels set up by the local health authority.

In each channel were local officials (who also spoke English) who wear wearing face coverings/visors. They collected and checked through your contact tracing form to see if you had ticked that you had contact with anyone with Covid-19 or were exhibiting symptoms, runny nose, persistent cough.

You then went along the channel to the temperature check/scan area – this was done at a distance. When the official was satisfied that you were not muy caliente, you were waved through and then collected your bags and left.

Security guards in the arrivals halls kept people moving and exiting the building – there were hand sanitizer stations everywhere across the airport.

Departing Alicante Airport.

As with Dublin Airport there were airport security guards at each entrance to the departure area. They told passengers to use the hand sanitizer and to wear face masks/coverings at all times.

The security area was a bit busier than in Dublin. There were clear markings on the ground to show you the 1.5M social distancing required on the queue. All staff were wearing masks and gloves and monitored the queue. Again there were plenty of hand sanitisers. Passed through the security check with minimal fuss or problem.

Though there were some cafes open I went direct to my departure gate. As with Dublin the seats were clearly marked to ensure social distancing. As it turned out there was no issue with boarding, which was done via steps and not a jetbridge, as there were just 9 passengers booked on the flight. Each of us wore masks. The flight staff were very attentive.

The flight crew were relaxed and professional. About 45 minutes before landing in Dublin they handed out the 1-page Irish Covid-19 contact form, albeit a very poorly photocopied version. Disembarkation at T2 was fine, it seemed ours was the only flight arriving around that time.

Arrival at Dublin.

This is the part of the trip that caused me concern. Not because anything happened or went wrong, but because there was nothing. You walked off the flight. Went to passport control. You handed the official there your passport/ID and the completed form. You lowered your mask so they could identify you… and that was it.

Yes there were hand sanitizers and some yellow and black HSE notices, but nothing else. No health officials. No temperature scans. Nothing. Though I had signed a document committing to self-quarantining, there was no question about how I was going to travel on from the airport (the answer by the way was bus and train!

There were notices in the T2 Arrivals hall that everything there was closed, including the bus stop and taxi rank, and so you should walk to T1.

On a side note, this was before the requirement to wear face coverings on public transport was made mandatory. While the four people who boarded the bus at Dublin Airport each wore masks, only 10% of those who boarded thereafter were wearing them. Curiously, that percentage rose to 75% on the Dart from Malahide to home.

These are my observations. While Dublin Airport T2 was well set up for those departing, that is not the case for arrivals.

Maybe it was a one-off experience. Maybe the fact that there were only 9 of us on the flight and no other flights arriving at that time meant it was not cost effective to have a HSE/health authority presence at the airport, but even so, the casual approach to those arriving on the day meant that this was the only leg of my short return journey during which I felt uneasy.

OK Rant over and so too (well, almost) is my self-isolation.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant.. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


From top; The leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin (centre), with Michael Moynihan TD (right) head into the start of the party’s Autumn Think In at the Longford Arms Hotel in Longford, County Longford. 2018;Derek Mooney

Like many Dubs, my late Dad had a habit of sticking an extra syllable or letter into certain words.

So, when Sheedy, Quinn, Townsend, Cascarino, Houghton and O’Leary put the ball in the net in Italia 90, they didn’t just score brilliant goals, in my Dad’s phrase they scored goalds. I won’t go into how he described the Schillaci shot that sent us home. Suffice to say that it had precious few “d”s, but plenty of “f”s, “c”s and “k”s.

Not that my Dad did it consciously or deliberately. Like others, it was just part of the Dublin/Liberties patois they grew up with.

Many Dubs, including this one, still occasionally find themselves doing it. While I can manage to talk about goals without adding the “d”, I do have one word where I sometimes find myself adding an “i” or an “a” between the second “l” and “t”, transforming the word loyalty into loyal-ity or loyal-aty… a higher form of the quality or state of being loyal.

Some may feel loyalty or even loyality to be an old fashioned quality – but, as we have seen with the tumult that has reigned within Fianna Fáil over the last few weeks, the absence of loyalty can have unpleasant consequences.

When I speak of loyality, I do not mean the fake variety where it is given uncritically or solely in the lively expectation of favours yet to come (to paraphrase The Duc de La Rochefoucauld, via Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister).

The loyality I speak about, and which I saw and experienced for most of my time in Fianna Fáil, runs both ways. It is as much earned as bestowed. It is offered and then reciprocated.

As a lapsed Fianna Fáil member, I should probably be munching popcorn as I watch the mayhem and telling you how it was never like that in my day. I won’t. There is no real pleasure to be had from watching a government I may not support, but still wish and need to do well, stumble and falter.

Several commentators have sought to blame indiscipline for the back biting and alleged snitching that has dogged Fianna Fáil over the past two to three weeks. They are partly right.

There has been a breakdown in discipline within the party, but the indiscipline is the symptom, not the cause.

If Fianna Fáil is to have a hope of restoring discipline and thereby its future, on a long-term basis then it must first fix the root of problem, namely the absence of loyality. Let me correct that. I am wrong to say that there is no loyality within Fianna Fáil. There is, but it mainly works from the grassroots up. The deficiency comes when you wait for a return of serve.

As Jim O’Callaghan TD rightly said on a recent RTÉ Your Politics podcast, most people are well and truly sick of hearing about TDs who were hurt, offended or disappointed not to be made Ministers.

There is nothing new about people feeling let down. An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin is correct when he observes that all new Taoisigh end up disappointing some people when the appointments are made.

But those Taoisigh, well most of them, also showed political astuteness in managing the expectations of those expecting preferment. There was precious little of this skill on show from Martin.

The problem goes back to the last time Martin reshuffled his front bench team in March 2018.

As I pointed out in an interview on Morning Ireland the day after the new Fianna Fáil front bench was announced, while Martin had opted to nominate a large team of about 20 front bench members, he would in time have to whittle the 20 down to a publicly identifiable Fianna Fáil core team of 5 or 6 members.

Martin messaged me after the show to thank me for my positive comments and to agree on the need to concentrate on a core team. But it never happened. A difficult decision was delayed.

Even when a core team of 6 front benchers did finally emerge in March 2020, long after the election, to conduct the Programme for Government negotiations, it was a most inaccurate predictor of who would make it into Cabinet. Especially for those on the team itself.

Rather than critiquing Martin’s actual ministerial appointments I would rather focus on two non-appointments, which I believe shows how debased the loyalty coinage has recently become.

Both, ironically, involve the post of Chief Whip. The primary arbiter of that dwindling commodity in the parliamentary party, discipline.

The first, the appointment of Fianna Fáil Deputy Leader, Dara Calleary TD, as Chief Whip, has been widely discussed elsewhere, so I will not go into it here, except to repeat how unusual it is for a Deputy Party Leader, especially one who has never challenged or defied their Party Leader, to be treated so shabbily.

The second highlights even more starkly just how little Martin values the great personal loyality shown to him.

His refusal to make the former Chief Whip, Michael Moynihan a Junior Minister has astounded and shocked the Fianna Fáil TDs I know. Moynihan was Martin’s most loyal and faithful lieutenant, going back even before Martin was Leader.

As Moynihan himself observed, he had “taken a lot of shit” for the Taoiseach over the years. He had done his bidding by focusing, behind the scenes, on party organisation and discipline rather than going out front as a policy spokesperson.

So, what message does his demotion from being a loyal Chief Whip send to Fianna Fáil TDs?

His personal predicament may not elicit their sympathy, but it surely raises questions about how the current Fianna Fáil leadership and backroom hierarchy value either discipline or loyalty to leader and party.

Plus, how can Moynihan’s successor as Chief Whip be expected to crack the whip with authority when that very authority has been undermined by his own leader?

All of this is before you include the extraordinary events, claims and counter claims of the past few days that has culminated in solicitor’s letters flying about and complaints being made to the Garda Ombudsman.

And this government is only two weeks in office?

While the headlines may ease in time, the underlying problems will not go away by themselves. This is unfortunate as it seems Fianna Fáil does not have the capacity at either leadership or HQ level to re-establish the two-way loyality and internal discipline it needs to have a chance of surviving.

Neither has Fianna Fáil addressed the problems with its political communications and messaging so wantonly exposed in its calamitous 2020 election campaign.

If anything they seem to be continuing, though the appointment of Lisa-Dee Colleary as government press secretary is one positive signal that someone has realised that Fianna Fáil has a problem communicating with people under 55.

As my old friend Kealan Flynn observed on Twitter last week, contrasting messaging styles of the two main government party leaders, we have a digital Tánaiste and an analogue Taoiseach.

So, with Ministers now otherwise engaged in their departments and party HQ seemingly unaware of any problems at all, the task of restoring its fortunes will fall on Fianna Fáil’s backbench TDs and Senators. Partly because there is no one else to do it, but also because they are the ones, along with councillors, who will pay the heaviest price for not doing it.

There are two key important actions they can immediately take to commence the process.

The first is to reassert the role of the parliamentary party backbencher within Fianna Fáil. As the party’s former deputy whip John Lahart TD pointed out some weeks ago, it was shameful, notwithstanding the understandable limitations of the Covid-19 restrictions, that the Fianna Fáil party did not meet in any format for almost six weeks while the programme for government was being discussed.

The leadership’s side-lining of the parliamentary party must end. That task has been made easier however, as the shambolic ministerial appointment process now means that backbenchers are the majority faction in the parliamentary party. They can make it happen as they now have the numbers.

The second action is just as vital. Backbench TDs must insist on setting the terms of reference and commissioning the independent analysis of Fianna Fáil’s disastrous 2020 general election campaign. This was promised by Martin and party HQ as part of their effort to pass the PfG. Having a fully independent enquiry into what went wrong and how is crucial.

TDs could do a lot worse than look at the warts and all independent report commissioned by Australian Labour Party (ALP) into its 2019 defeat. That 90-page report spares no one’s blushes, finding that the ALP had lost the election due to: weak strategy; poor adaptability; and an unpopular leader.

Two months ago I said here that I feared that Fianna Fáil’s very survival was more in doubt now than it was back in February 2011. Sadly, nothing that has occurred since has persuaded me otherwise.

The one small sliver of hope I still hold depends on backbench TDs channeling the anger of the past two weeks and showing loyalty to each other.

Only then can they force change on a party leadership that needs to grasp the third of the three truths which I said in June now face Fianna Fáil, namely that Micheál Martin’s last race as leader has been run.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus far, it feels right.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it the worst possible outcome?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how did we get to this point?

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

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

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

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


From top: Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney (left) and Paschal Donohe (right) with Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan at government buildings yesterday; Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin (second left) yesterday and his negotiating team for the formation of the next government; Derek Mooney

Depending on how you look at it, when it arrives the Fine Gael/Green/Fianna Fáil Programme for Government (PfG) will arrive either 15 hours, 3 days, 9 days or 3 weeks later than expected.

This is assuming it is published sometime this morning and is not once again deferred, delayed, postponed or otherwise held up by a talks process that appears to have been designed as a slow punishment for both those who work within it and those misfortunates who must write about it.

Before I tell you why I disapprove of both the deal and the government formation it hopes to underpin, let me start out by saying something (vaguely) positive.

It is to the immense personal credit of everyone in the three plenary negotiating teams that this document made it to paper. As a piece of political communications it is not bad. Each of the teams can see their own handiwork within its pages and can each say: “I put that section there”. Though whether many of them will still want to admit this in a few years’ time, is debatable.

The primary clue to the problems lurking beneath the surface of this deal is the length of time it has taken to agree it. As any experienced political operative could attest, negotiating a coalition arrangement between three diverse parties takes time.

But this deal has taken a lot of time, even allowing for the limitations of social distancing and other restrictions. Supporters of the deal say it was vital they take the time to iron out the problems and difficulties now.

Mr Varadkar stressed this point in a recent Fine Gael parliamentary party Zoom call, saying that the 2011Fine Gael/Labour coalition PfG talks showed how issues left unresolved just fester and cause problems later.

But did we really need to take this much longer? The 2011 government barely took 12 days to put together (from Polling day to election of Taoiseach). We are now at Day 128… and counting.

If this is how long they need to address issues when working outside of the pressures of government, how much longer is it going to take them to tackle a real political crisis while in government? A government is not judged on how it delivers planned responses to planned situations but on how it responds to the unexpected ones.

These are the unforeseeable “events, dear boy” of which former UK PM Harold MacMillan famously spoke (though no one can point to where he actually said it). The political pitfalls that try the cohesion and resilience of a government.

The persistently and consistently sluggish pace of the PfG talks, including the many missed deadlines, right up to this morning should give serious cause for concern about the parties’ capacities to respond speedily to a political crisis in government.

Firm supporters of the PfG, and I hear there are such exotic creatures outside of the negotiating teams and the ranks of ministers-in-waiting, boast that this is one of the most comprehensive coalition deals ever formulated. Looking at its 100 plus pages, it is hard to say they are wrong. But we do not measure PfGs in terms heft and girth alone.

Is this a cohesive package? It contains elements that are identifiably from the parties but how do they meld together? How can you reasonably fit Fianna Fáil’s demand for greater spending on housing and health within the austerity constraints set out by Leo Varadkar?

The Fine Gael triumvirate of Varadkar Coveney and Donohue are adamant the PfG is primarily framed by Fine Gael values of fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction. But this is the very approach which voters rejected last February. Just where in the PfG is this inconvenient truth acknowledged?

On the other hand, how can you justify banning further off shore gas exploration, banning the importation of fracked gas and curtailing the planned motorway building programme at precisely the moment when the economy needs big public infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy?

How does banning gas and oil exploration and forcing us to import them instead reduce the amount we use? I totally understand why the Greens want and need this. I can even see why Éamon Ryan fears the chances of getting the 66% backing needed without these measures, but I cannot see how it makes economic sense.

The Programme for Government is replete with other policy paradoxes, from live exports, to ending the strategic housing development fast track system in 18 months or to having 2030 target dates on a range of issues.

No matter how much love, passion, conviction or heartache the negotiators put into this deal it cannot at one and the same time represent core Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Green values without them being so simplified, generalised and abridged to be rendered meaningless.

My greatest criticism of the PfG however, has less to do with its contents – some of which, despite their contradictions, have merit – and has everything to do with the basic approach underpinning it.

As I have repeatedly stated here the two main parties in this deal have never faced up to what happened when voters went to the polls on February 8th.

One can see why Fine Gael hasn’t, or at least hasn’t not done so publicly. That would require them acknowledging that a large swathe of the people who voted for them in 2011 have rejected them since. Not just once, but twice. Fine Gael has watched its first preference vote drop from 800,00 (36%) in 2011 to 545,000 (25.5%) in 2016 and down further 456,000 (21%).

Despite a leadership change that was supposed to restore its fortunes, its vote has collapsed to just over half of what it was. Yet, despite this decline, Fine Gael clenches firmly on the levers of power, particularly the ones in the Department of Finance – an issue I explored here at the end of April.

You’d almost have to admire their chutzpah. They lose votes and yet cling on. They are allowed do it because the party that said it would turf them out has done a 180o turn and is now actively asking its own members to back a deal that will keep Fine Gael in office for a historic third term.

This is because the current Fianna Fáil leadership has also not yet processed what happened last February. It is a drum I have been banging on repeatedly since early March (see here, here and here), so I won’t dwell on it here today.

The bottom line is that there are three absolute truths in Fianna Fáil today. They highlight how misguided the current strategy is, but also that Fianna Fáil had options, options that gave it leverage – and may yet do that.

The three truths are:

Truth 1. Fianna Fáil TDs do not want a second election. To be fair, this could be said of almost every T.D. While Fine Gael may talk tough about a second election, their TDs know their current poll leads are soft. As a pack, Sinn Féin TDs are less worried, but individual T.D.s, especially first timers are in no particular rush to put their nice new gigs in jeopardy.

Truth 2. Almost no government can be formed without FF involvement. This is where Fianna Fáil’s leverage resides. The only alternative government formation to one involving Fianna Fáil is one with both FG and SF. While this may happen one day, it isn’t happening now. It would be politically unsellable to its own members. Whether it is Unity – all parties, National – the three main parties, or some minority government with a C&S arrangement, there are more scenarios that put Fianna Fáil in office than outside of it.

So, why has Micheál Martin rejected all talk of other options and spurned the leverage they bring? I could speculate, but I won’t. Besides, what’s the point?

Martin has made his decision. He has taken his Fianna Fáil party to this point and must deal with what happens next. He could pull it off. Equally, his strategy could yet be derailed by membership votes in his own party members and the Green party. We will know in under two weeks.

Oh, what about the third truth? It is the most painful and difficult one of all. It is the one that TDs and senators dare not say out loud.

Truth 3. Micheál Martin has fought his last election as party leader. Win, lose or draw, we will not see Micheál Martin lead Fianna Fáil into another election. Whether the next election is in 3 months, 2 years or 4.5 years and no matter what happens in next week’s members ballots, Martin’s last race as leader has been run.

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