Tag Archives: Derek Mooney

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shared Home Place by Seamus Mallon

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

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

The Friends of Harry Perkins by Chris Mullin

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

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

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

Part 2 tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minister of State, Stanton, be on standby.

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

Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pics: YouTube/Rollingnews


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back then I said that I was:

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

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

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

This cannot be the way we do serious constitutional reform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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