Tag Archives: Derek Mooney


From top: Former UK Conservative Party minister Ken Clarke in Britain’s House of Commons yesterday; Derek Mooney

British people may, in time look back at yesterday’s political disarray and see it as point when things started to change. The inglorious moment when Britain unintentionally stepped back from the Brexit precipice and Westminster politics began to regain its composure.

In a day full of misinformation, misrepresentation, dithering and indecision, the sensible intervention made by Sir Ken Clarke, one of the few sane and reasonable voices left in British politics, stands out.

In two short paragraphs he summed up the quandary facing Britain, saying:

“On the question of Europe, this House is divided not just into parties; it is divided into factions. It becomes clear that, at the moment, there is no predictable majority for any single course of action going forward. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that no other Governments are going to start negotiations with us on any new arrangement while the British continue to explore what exactly it is they can get a parliamentary majority to agree to?

Furthermore, we are strictly bound, quite rightly, to the Good Friday agreement and the issue of a permanently open border in Ireland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is particular folly for a large faction in this House to continue with their argument that we should insist to the other Governments that the British will have a unilateral right to declare an end to that open border at a time of their choosing? That is why the backstop remains inevitable.”

It is a sad reflection on the current generation of British politicians that the most calm, considered and constructive comments on Brexit come from Clarke and from long retired political leaders such as Major, Heseltine, Brown and Blair.

As one wag observed on Social Media yesterday if this crop of British political leaders had been handling the 1921 Treaty negotiations we would have ended up with a united and independent Ireland that covered the whole island along with half of Wales and the Isle of Man. A result that would have meant no need for today’s Backstop.

The Backstop exists and must exist because of the political reality of the division across this island that established the six northern eastern counties of Ireland as Northern Ireland, a division considerably eased by 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Any attack on the Backstop is de facto an attack on the Good Friday Agreement. It is as simple as that. The Backstop is the default/fallback setting within any Brexit deal that ensures that the border across this island is kept as open and frictionless as possible.

The only way for Westminster to be entirely rid of the Backstop, is to stop Brexit. There can be no Brexit without the Backstop, as that would mean entirely dismantling the Good Friday Agreement – an international agreement between Britain and Ireland.

While there are some in the DUP, Tory and (sadly) the British Labour party who would happily sunder the Good Friday Agreement, they are a tiny minority in Westminster – though there have been moments over the past few weeks when one has wondered whether Corbyn fully grasps this fact.

No amount of misrepresentation and dishonest positioning on the Border and the Good Friday Agreement from the DUP can obliterate the fact that in Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU in 2016.

A recent survey from the NI polling firm LucidTalk shows that the majority in the Northern Ireland for remaining in the EU has increased in the intervening two and a half years – from 56% in favour in 2016 to 64% in favour today.

Yet the DUP continues to speak and continues to be heard as if it spoke for the whole of the people of Northern Ireland. It does not. Where once a generation of DUP leaders were content to disregard the views of a sizeable minority, their successors are gleeful in disregarding those of the clear majority.

In such a scenario, how can anyone argue that the views of Westminster must prevail?

A few weeks back I argued here that a second Brexit Referendum, the so-called #PeoplesVote, would be more in Ireland’s national and strategic interests than the Withdrawal Agreement.

That was a time when the Withdrawal Agreement was in the intensive care ward but was at least able to sit up and eat a boiled egg. Today the Withdrawal Agreement has all but flat-lined.

Its only slim hope for survival lies in a heart transplant on the Rond-Point Schuman, but one that can only be executed without breaking the skin or making the slightest incision.

Barring a massive volte-face by the British Labour Party, Westminster looks certain to reject the post-op Withdrawal Agreement, complete with codicils and clarifications, when the “meaningful vote” is eventually called.

That then leaves just two viable options: a No-Deal Brexit, with Britain leaving the EU on WTO terms or, a Second Referendum, where the choices are Remain or the No-deal Brexit.

A No-Deal Brexit represents the worst of all possible worlds for us. It means no transition period, a hardening border, increasing cots for imports and exports. It means political and economic turmoil across this island.

Thankfully, most speakers in the House of Commons yesterday ruled out a No Deal Brexit and this is why I believe yesterday was pivotal.

It was the day on which the Second Referendum became a realistic prospect, not because people became convinced of its merits, but rather because it is the one remaining pathway out of the current impasse.

While there is a third option, a general election, nominally Corbyn’s preferred one, as Ken Clarke says, given the division Brexit has caused within parties, given the range of factions within and across the two main parties, how could an election between resolve Brexit?

Let’s be clear, however. A second referendum will not resolve the Brexit question.

Hard line brexitism is a sizeable movement across British politics, it covers the spectrum from the Tory Right, Rees-Moggian days of Empire brexitism to the Bennite brexitism of Corbyn and the London labour left that sees the EU as the tool of corporate capitalism.

Brexiteers of all these hues will be not be quietened by a second vote that resulted in a Remain majority.

The most (and best) that a second referendum can do is to hit the reset button. It allows both sides to bring the debate back to some pre-2016 point, with both leavers and Remainers keeping their ambitions and hopefully gives time to allow a longer, deeper and better informed Brexit debate, one informed by the emerging mayhem of the past two years.

A second British referendum that backed Britain remaining in the EU for the foreseeable future is every bit as in Ireland’s national interest as it is in the interests of Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. We should not be so constrained in saying so.

Heaven knows it operated the other way around for long enough.

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar receives his Seal of Office from President Higgins in June, 2017; Derek Mooney

Enjoy it while you can. It has been over a week or so since the political commentaries have been filled with pointless stories of how Leo demands a commitment on Confidence and Supply from Micheál now or, how Micheál is not willing to let Fine Gael bounce him into agreeing something on Leo’s timeline.

While concerns over Brexit and the final negotiation of the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement have pushed the sham Confidence and Supply battle down the agenda, the “meaningful vote” on May’s deal is not due in the House of Commons for exactly two weeks (Dec 11th). Cue a return to empty political chatter on Confidence and Supply.

A few weeks back I suggested here that Fianna Fáil would do its utmost to frustrate the timeline which Leo suggested, and thus far it appears to be working. Though this presumes that the timeline being touted by Fine Gael was genuine.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t – but either way, it now redundant and, no matter how much FG spins to the media, it is unlikely there will be a Confidence and Supply arrangement in place this side of Christmas which, in effect, means not this side of the first week in January.

Indeed, I strongly doubt it will be in place then or any time after it.

As Fianna Fáil’s internal-irritant-in-chief, Deputy John McGuinness, said last week, there is no appetite either within the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party or the wider membership for another Confidence and Supply Agreement. The arguments made in 2016 for the first deal will not hold water in early 2019. The confused and unclear mandate the voters gave in 2016 has been honoured to the furthest reasonable extent possible.

We now see that the Dáil can operate the “new politics” scenario of the government not having complete control of the parliamentary agenda.

Having an election in early 2019 will not be viewed as a failure of politics, but rather an acknowledgement that the time has come for a government with a clear mandate, a refreshed platform and – hopefully – the will to actually govern rather than merely spinning about governing.

The notion that the voters will punish the party that precipitates an election is a nonsense. That “rule”, in so much as it is a rule at all, applies to unnecessary ones – elections triggered purely to gain party political advantage.

The voters do not fear an election about real issues: housing, generation rent and health. Political rows about who caused the election will be dead within two or three days of the campaign starting.

Though An Taoiseach publicly declares his wish, nay his desire, to see the current arrangement continue with a second Confidence and Supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil until the summer of 2020, no one thinks this is his real ambition.

They think the offer of a Summer 2020 election is a ruse, a bluff. Then why doesn’t Fianna Fáil call this bluff? To an extent they did. They counter offered a non-aggression pact until after March 2019, when the UK Brexits. It was rejected out of hand by Varadkar. But then, why play the game by Leo’s rules at all?

Varadkar wants an election as soon as possible as he is even more frustrated by the current set-up than the bulk of Fianna Fáil TDs. Whatever difficulties the Fianna Fáilers might endure, they are at least spared the presence of Shane Ross in their midst.

What if the next election sees Leo do well, but not well enough? What happens if Fine Gael get a dozen or so extra seats, but they at the expense of old or potential new allies? What if their only viable partner after an election is Sinn Féin?

Have no doubt, Leo will merrily lead Fine Gael into Cabinet along with Mary Lou and Sinn Féin. Fine Gael TDs may rightly assume that they will run as many rings around the Shinners down here as the DUP did in Stormont pre-January 2017, but will the traditional Fine Gael core vote, especially the rural one, be quite as a phlegmatic?

Leo will be content to let his successor worry about that problem, or should I say the fallout from that problem, in a few years’ time. His task is to get back in government and to continue in office.

Leo is a political risk taker, not in terms of policy, but in terms of political power play. He is willing to take chances and to play the political odds. It is how he has come so far, so fast. And it is how he plans to go further.

Being Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael is not his endgame. For Leo the next election is just another calculated rung on his climb to higher things on an international stage. But to get there, he must first win the next election.

This should make Leo the precise opposite of Micheál Martin, but that may be where the commentariat are about to misjudge the Corkman.

While cautiousness and predictability have been his watchwords for most of his career, Martin knows that the next election is make or break, even if others do not have high expectations for him.

Being Taoiseach is Martin’s endgame and this is as close as he has ever been or will ever be again to that goal. Though he may talk about staying around as party leader after another defeat, he knows that is not a realistic proposal.

This is not a negative. This is the impetus that will enable Martin to go for broke. To leave it all out on the field of play. There is no point in him holding something back for the next game. If he doesn’t win this one, there won’t be another one.

The traditional read of Martin suggests that it is this very dynamic which will tempt Martin to hold back, to take Varadkar’s 2020 election offer at face value, to do another Confidence and Supply deal and to live and fight another day.

I think this is the wrong read at this particular time.

When they had their close call over Frances Fitzgerald last year Martin and Varadkar got to see each other up-close, but it appears that it was Martin who took away the better insight into his rival. Martin realised that despite Leo’s advantages, despite all the spin and bluster of his strategic communications, he is beatable.

As with Leo, there is nothing substantial for Martin to gain from another Confidence and Supply deal. Both men are happy to take their case to the country and both are all but ready for that.

What we are seeing now is not a quarrel over doing or not doing a deal, it is two leaderships deciding separately whether it suits them better to have polling day in February, March, April or May 2019. I still back February.

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Rollingnews

From top: UK prime Minister Theresa May At Dublin Castle last year during a EU summit; Derek Mooney

Indefatigability. I like the word. Though more prosaic than poetic, I even like how it sounds. But it is the quality which it describes that attracts me most: dogged persistence, the cussed determination to keep on keeping on.

It is a word which fell into disrepute after it was deployed in 1994 by far-left British Labour MP George Galloway, in cringing televised audience with Saddam Hussein.

Galloway concluded his unperforated imitation of a wad of three-ply Andrex (other brands are available) with the peroration:

“Sir, I salute your courage, your strength your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory, until Jerusalem.”

While the taint of Galloway undoubtedly did the word harm, it is time to reclaim and rehabilitate it, not least as it is the best available word to describe Theresa May’s relentless commitment over the past year.

When future historians come to rank the British Prime Ministers of the past 100 years, May will appear well ahead of her immediate predecessor, David Cameron, on the list. What she lacks in style and charisma she makes up for in fortitude and resolve.

It is difficult not to admire her ability to withstand the fiercest and most vituperative criticisms and to manage to conclude negotiations on a Withdrawal Agreement, even a flawed one.

She has gone a long way to square what seemed to be an unyielding circle and secured a deal that delivers on Brexit by taking the UK out of the EU institutions.

She has done this by constructing a clumsy, if not grudging, relationship with the EU Customs Union and Single Market that will not excessively damage UK business or impose border infrastructures either on or around this island.

She has also managed, though most of the credit should go to Michel Barnier and his team, to design a situation that could allow Northern Ireland to become an EU/UK hub or gateway, putting it in an economically beneficial situation for the first time since its creation almost a century ago.

It is an achievement that has not been lost on the Scottish government. Indeed, the possibility of Northern Ireland having an economic advantage over Scotland is the reason why the SNP at Westminster will oppose the Agreement.

How ironic that Northern Ireland’s economic viability could be secured in a deal which the DUP will fiercely oppose and on which Sinn Féin will abstain. Further evidence of how broken politics in Northern Ireland has become.

But while Theresa May is deserving of admiration for what she has managed to achieve, we on this island – North and South – should not allow this to turn us into cheerleaders for the Withdrawal Agreement.

Yes, the deal is far preferable to a disorderly no-deal-Brexit, but there is still another and far better option available: a second referendum. A #PeoplesVote where the choices are (1) this deal or (2) No Brexit. It is the option now favoured by many across the political divide.

It is the option which Tony Blair backed strongly last week in a well-argued opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph and his Institute for Global Change website.

Though I have argued here in the past that holding a second referendum on Brexit could cause as many problems as it solves, particularly given the big turnout in the first one, British politics is now so divided and bust that I too have come to the conclusion that there is now no other way to resolve the folly of Brexit than by going back to the people.

The harsh reality of the House of Commons arithmetic is that it is impossible for Theresa May to construct a simple majority for the Withdrawal Agreement.

The DUP are again hellbent on saying No while the SNP looks almost certain to oppose the Withdrawal Agreement as do the Liberal Democrats

May will not get the support of all her own Tory MPs. On one side there is a tranche of 40-50 hard-line Brexiteer Tory MPs determined to oppose her Withdrawal Agreement on the erroneous basis that it concedes too much to Brussels.

On the other side there is the smaller counter group of pro-European Remainers, such as Dominic Grieve, Jo Johnson and Anna Soubry who will likely oppose the deal because it takes the U.K. out of the Customs Union and the Single Market.

This leaves the future of the deal in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

But Corbyn says he opposes the Withdrawal Agreement and that he could quickly negotiate a better deal with the EU, though that would presumably require an election.

Unless there a sizeable group of labour MPs are prepared to defy the whip, cross the floor to back May and risk the possibility of deselection at the hands of Corbyn’s “momentum” faction – then the Withdrawal Agreement is as good as dead.

This is dangerous situation as the likely default position in that event is a no-deal Brexit.

In this scenario – and right now it is the likeliest one – a second referendum as the only viable route out of the impasse. As Tony Blair argues:

“We need unity after the Brexit division. It can only come through clarity. And the only route to clarity is through the people. It may seem improbable; but everything else is now impossible.”

Though the clock is ticking fast and the window for holding a second referendum is closing, it is easier to construct a Commons majority for a second vote, especially among Labour MPs, than for May’s deal.

But there is another, more selfish reason, why we in Ireland should be using our influence to urge a second referendum and a complete rejection of Brexit.

Stopping Brexit entirely and keeping the U.K. in the EU institutions, in the Commission, the Parliament and, most importantly, the Council is in our interest as it is the only way we can keep our closest political ally in the EU by our side.

Ireland and the U.K. have each been the others most important ally since we joined the EEC in 1973. Though not always ad idem, we have shared a common outlook and approach to most economic, tax and trade issues and our interests have aligned better with those of the U.K. than any single other big player.

We need the U.K. at the Council table over the years ahead as issues such as the consolidated tax base and common defence and security are discussed.

While Varadkar and Coveney may feel that they have personal and party political capital invested in seeing the Withdrawal Agreement succeed, our long-term national interests will be far better served by stopping Brexit and a second Brexit referendum is the now the only way to do that.

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Rollingnews

Derek Mooney (above) overhears Trump and anti-Trump voices in Washington DC this week (top pic by Derek)

I write this week’s column while sitting in my hotel room, very late on Monday night/Tuesday morning. I am about 800m from the Pentagon, just outside Washington DC.

I am mainly here on business, though I should make it clear that my proximity to the Pentagon is completely unrelated to my work. I am at Pentagon City because hotels here cost a lot less than those downtown.

It is a trip that I usually make around this time of this year, though this time I decided to take a few ‘personal days’ beforehand rather than afterwards.

I only mention this as a way of explaining that this is my first time being in the US for Veterans Day. Veterans’ Day in the U.S. corresponds with WWI Armistice day – the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Though it was officially on Sunday, yesterday (Monday) is the public holiday in lieu.

It is why this hotel, indeed most of the local bars and restaurants, have been thronged for the past few days with military veterans of all ages, along with their families, coming to visit the nearby Arlington military cemetery.

Strolling to a local mall on Sunday, I was struck by the number of times I heard young locals say “thank you for your service” to ex-servicemen and women they passed on the street.

While this is perhaps not so unexpected in an area so filled with people who either work in the Pentagon or are associated somehow with the military, it is still unusual to hear it and – notwithstanding the legitimate concerns about US military actions in various parts of the world – even a bit moving.

If only our government held the service of those currently serving in Óglaigh na hÉireann, the Irish Defence Forces in such a high regard, but that is an article for another day.

Given the number of out of town veterans about, I tried to channel my inner Maeve Binchy and began earwigging conversations in bars and restaurants to hear what, if anything, they were saying about President Trump.

It was mixed result.

It ranged from the 32-year-old barman, in a great neighbourhood bar about an hour’s drive south of Arlington, who talked about how he can only find bar work despite having a degree in economics, to the local baristas who have recently come to live in the US and build their futures here. These were not Trump voters.

I did overhear a few possible Trump voters, some even in the bright red “Make America Great Again” Maga baseball caps, but not that many. My heart started to lift on Sunday morning as I listened eagerly to a married couple, in their 60s, at a neighbouring table at breakfast, speak disapprovingly of Trump’s behaviour in Paris.

While both were genuinely irritated and even embarrassed by Trump’s failure to attend some events due to rain, it was still not a deal breaker to them. “At least he gets things done”, said the wife, as they discussed Trump’s counter balancing merits. Her husband agreed, citing the number of new jobs and record stock market highs since Trump took the White House.

Remember this is a conversation between them. I was just an eavesdropper. That said, I nearly had to be restrained from intervening, shouting: “So what? Mussolini made the trains to run on time… was that worth the brutal fascism?”.

Fortunately, I didn’t. Partially because this old Mussolini trope is false – Fake News so to speak – but mainly because they were just a nice couple having a private chat as they watched the news reports from the Paris Armistice day commemorations.

They were not festooned with Trump hats or National Rifle Association t-shirts. They were a courteous, well-spoken, decent, middle-of-the-road couple in Washington for Veterans’ Day.

They did not match the mental image we have of Trump supporters, but could it possibly be that our mental picture of Trump voters is warped and that they represent most Trump voters?

Yes, they were both white. Yes, they were both in their sixties. But they were also something else – (a) they were not from a big city – from what I could glean in their chat with the waitress, they came from rural Carolina and (b) neither were college-educated – though this is more a hunch than a statement of unimpeachable fact.

What they were was an illustration of the reality that the big political divide in the U.S. today is between those who live in the large urban sprawls and those who live in rural, small town America. It is also between those with a third level education and those without one.

The divide is about a large part of America that feels passed over.

This is the America that has not felt the economic benefits of the success of the tech giants or globalisation. It is also a big chunk of America, especially in the old industrial heartlands of small-town Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan that once solidly voted Democrat.

Like it or not, there is a sizeable section of this non-urban, non-college population who perceive Trump as delivering on the things he promised. It is not a majority view – indeed the results of the midterms point to Trump having a major battle on his hands for re-election in 2020 – but it is still a sizeable and consistent minority.

Back in 2016, Trump won the Presidency with 46% of the national vote. Last week he secured a 45% approval rating. True, it was lower a few months back, but while some supporters may abandon him briefly, he still has a solid wall of support that will not desert just because the “big city” newspapers and national TV pundits don’t like him.

If anything, this “urban” disapproval may be one of his biggest plusses – though the biggest factor in his 2016 win still remains the fact that he was running against the second least liked major-party nominee of all time: Hilary Clinton. By the way, Trump was the first.

Where the Democrats won last week, their margins of victory (in the House of Representatives contests it was about +7%) were roughly in line with Trump’s net margin of disapproval (over approval) which has lately been around -9%. The health warning which accompanies this is, of course, the fact that Hilary Clinton (even with her historically high disapproval rating) won the popular vote in 2016 and got 2.9 million more votes than Trump.

What seems to have changed since 2016 is not that the Democrats have gotten their act together, but rather than the increasing number of self-identifying independent voters, especial ly those in suburban America, are backing Democrats.

The strong showing of Beto O’Rourke in once solidly Republican Texas may be a pointer to where the Democrats need to go. In 2016 Trump beat Clinton by a margin of around 800k votes (4.7million to 3.9 million). Last week O’Rourke slashed it back to just 200k votes.

To be fair, I know I am reading far too much into a few overheard conversations from a three-day stay in an area whose local voters, most of whom are on the Federal Government payroll, overwhelmingly voted Democrat, but hey, if you can’t trust the opinion of the guy serving you a few pints of Yeungling, who the hell can you trust?

Not the President of the USA if it is raining, it seems.

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

From top: . Sinn Fein Presidential candidate Liadh Ni Riadh (right) with Party President Mary Lou McDonald (centre) , Michelle O Neill and Pearse Doherty speaking to the media at the Presidential election centre at Dublin Castle last month; Derek Mooney

Some of you may have noticed that, apart from one piece back in mid-July, I had avoided writing anything here about the Presidential election.

This was not due to any lack of interest or me not having any views on it. I had many views on it but, as I had worked with one of the candidates in the council nomination phase, I felt it would be unfair to comment until the election was over and the results were in.

The strange thing however, is now that it is over I don’t really feel the need to opine on the election or any of the individual campaigns, as such.

I understand much of the online and media hoopla over Peter Casey’s second place showing, especially as it seemed, for much of the campaign that he was going to struggle to even finish last. But, it is far too big a stretch to ascribe his second place showing to his nasty dog whistles alone.

Yes, the comments were appalling and appealed to a small cohort of voters, but is that cohort equal to 23% of all voters or even just those who voted? I think not.

On the eve of polling I thought Casey would come second, but I also thought he would just be a little ahead of both Gallagher and Ní Ríada. I had not imagined that he would pull so far ahead.

It was evident over the last few days of the campaign, especially in the final debates, that Casey’s plan was to attack Gallagher in a bid to peel away his voters. It worked. What I hadn’t realised though was the degree to which Casey would manage to do the same to the Shinners.

I thought their core vote would stick with the candidate that Mary Lou had picked. So, it seems, did Mary Lou. Indeed, it was hard at times not to think that Liadh Ní Ríada was running on a joint ticket with Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill.

Mary Lou’s strategy backfired dramatically. The media focus on Casey since has helped Mary Lou to tend her wounds in the shadows, but she emerges from the campaign sustaining more lasting political damage even than the other Aras18 candidates.

Returning to make-up of the Casey 23%, it is more complex that some commentary would have us believe. It comprised a cross section of voters who saw Casey as a handy way to express their anger and rage on range of issues.

If you disliked the whole #aras18 campaign, you possibly voted Casey.

If you were fed up of Gallagher and Higgins, you likely voted Casey.

If you hated political correctness, you possibly voted Casey.

If you really disliked Varadkar telling you what to do, you probably voted Casey

And, as I was advised on Twitter, there was another motivation: if you hated the Irish Times and RTÉ, you almost certainly voted Casey.

Like it or not, there were many reasons why people voted Casey. Reasons that do not make those voters racist, deplorable or Alt-Right.

Recognising this simple truth also debunks the idea that Casey is some cynical political genius who possesses a deep understanding of the political psyche of a newly emerged Irish “flyover” class of voters. He isn’t.

He is a smart marketing guy. His ‘genius’ was to manage to get all that publicity and not have it cost him a cent. Having reached the support threshold (a quarter of a quota) he qualifies for a state refund of his election expenditure, up to €200k. On Oct 24th he announced that he was spending just under €80k – which he will now recoup.

It is this point which brings me to what is, in my view, the real political lesson from Aras2018. It does not, bizarrely, have anything to do with presidential races, but rather concerns my pet peeve, the promised 2024 Dublin mayoral election.

If you think the Aras18 race was awful, then prepare yourself for the horror show that will be a Dublin mayoral race. It will look, sound, feel and grate the nerves like Aras18 – only worse.

The Aras18 contest was what you get when you have a knockdown, drag-out, ego fuelled electoral contest with a multiplicity of candidates for an office with no power or policy role, especially where the two main parties refuse to tog out.

Though Aras18 had, at least, the saving grace of a politically astute and shrew incumbent who always seemed set to hold on. If and when we have a Dublin mayoral election it will have all the negatives of Aras 18 and none of the positives.

It too will be for a powerless, largely symbolic office whose role only a handful of people will grasp. Only this one will be newly created, without the record, example or gravitas of previous incumbents to guide any of the debate. Recall how often candidates at Aras18 attempted, regardless of gender, to channel the legacies of Presidents Robinson and McAleese.

Dublin Mayor is an office for which many maverick and non-traditional candidates will consider running. They will take their inspiration from Casey, not (hopefully) in their messaging, but in the fact that he has shown how relatively easy it is to run a low budget, low content campaign that talks about things that have nothing to do with office you are seeking and get a damn big bang for your buck.

They will be lured by the prospect of all the media coverage at a relatively low cost. Remember, Casey budgeted €80k for his national campaign. A pro-rata one (based on population alone) means a Dublin mayoral candidate, following Casey’s path, would just need around €32k for a campaign that could see them possibly come in second and maybe even land a slot on the Late Late?

And, if the antics at the Sept 13th Dublin City Council meeting that consider possible Presidential nominations are anything to go by, then we will have some delightful minor fringe candidatures awaiting us.

Whoever makes the podiums for candidates’ debates will have to start working overtime now to fill the demand.

Meanwhile the ballot paper will look be like a dilated Lidl till receipt with all of the above plus the two big political parties and Sinn Féin, whatever remains of Labour party, the Greens, the alphabet socialists/PBP, and Social Democrats all likely fielding candidates.

But even the presence of all the established parties is no guarantee of ensuring that they will dominate, especially when you will also have candidates from the Worker’s Party, Renua, Éirigí, Direct Democracy, the National Party etc.

You also need to factor in the likelihood that the candidate[s] of whichever of the main parties are in government at the time are going to find themselves polling badly as the take the mid-term political backlash for national policies unrelated to the powerless and empty office for which they are running.

#Aras2018 was a horrible and unseemly contest for a fine office. #DubMayor2014 will be a mass car crash race for a futile one.

Can we now please face up to the reality that having a directly elected mayor for Dublin is a bad idea and focus instead on finding a scaled system of city government that has authority, responsibility and can actually 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. His column appears here every Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

From top: DUP leader Arlene Foster with  DUP MP Sammy Wilson (on crutches) after a meeting with Taoiseach leo Varadkar in 2017; Derek Mooney

Many, many years ago I went to see the great Billy Connolly perform live at the Gaiety theatre. He talked about his brief time working as a riveter in the Clyde side shipyards.

At one point he asked the audience if we recalled those old British Pathé newsreels of jaunty, merry Glasgow shipbuilders waving their hats and cheering loudly as the ship, on they had been working, was launched and slid into the Clyde.

As Connolly reminded us, though the newsreels portrayed these workers as delighting in the completion of another fine ship, the simple reality what they were actually waving goodbye to their jobs as most of them would be laid off the next day.

Today’s DUP is very much like those shipbuilders. In happily cheering-on the prospect of a hard Brexit they are celebrating the end of any economic future for Northern Ireland.

In going for hard Brexit, Arlene Foster, Sammy Wilson and most – though notably, not all – of the DUP leadership team are opting for the worst of all possible worlds.

They stand on the periphery of the UK, as currently constituted, and demand all the disadvantages of a full-on Brexit with its promise of unspecified future international trade deals, without any attempt to hold on to the advantages that the EU has brought.

What has been an offer from Michel Barnier and the EU in the withdrawal talks is a form of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for Northern Ireland. Several months ago a colleague of mine, Tom Hayes and I, put together a short paper setting out how special economic zone for Northern Ireland might operate.

Becoming a SEZ would give the North, an economy that remains way over dependent on the public sector, the potential to become a gateway to the European Union not just for the UK, but for those with whom the UK believes it will soon be able to do great trade deals.

The advantages of a NI SEZ were not necessarily a long way down the road. Making Northern Ireland a special economic zone would make Belfast, Derry and Newry attractive locations for those small and medium companies who will need to move their operations from a-post-Brexit-GB but are finding Dublin too costly

In rejecting this proposal Arlene Foster has shattered not just the illusion that the DUP is Northern Ireland’s business-friendly political party, but also the idea that it is a party of hard political pragmatists wanting the best for their community.

It is now neither.

As its approach to Brexit has shown, the DUP is prepared to sacrifice businesses large and small, national and international and they 1000s of jobs they bring in favour of political point scoring on its artificially constructed constitutional question.

I say “artificially constructed” because the Joint EU/UK Report from December last year, as signed and agreed by the British government. writes the Good Friday Agreement into the Brexit deal, and does it several times (see articles 42 – 56).

The Good Friday Agreement underpins Northern Ireland’s constitutional position, reaffirms the principle of consent and states that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the UK cannot change without the support a majority. Note: this means a simple majority, not a weighted one as some try to pretend.

The EU acknowledges all of this, so what is the DUP’s problem?

Using Sammy Wilson’s arguments, surely the inability to use Northern Ireland sterling banknotes in shops, pubs or stores in London or Manchester is a threat to the Union?

Of course, it isn’t. The problem here is that the few remaining backwoodsmen who still baulk at the consent principle and the Good Friday Agreement see Brexit as a sly way to weaken that Agreement and are being facilitated by a weakened DUP leader who tries to mask her weakness by talking tough.

The DUP’s much vaunted Westminster deal which kept Theresa May in office after the last British general election is all but over, though it may take a few weeks for the formal acknowledgement of this.

The one-time party of “no surrender” has managed by political petulance and stridency to surrender any leverage it had over May and chosen instead to become fellow travellers of the Johnson and Rees-Mogg Tory rump.

Foster, who had shown signs of wanting a better relationship with the South, now seems content to now sacrifice Northern Ireland’s viability in a desperate attempt to save herself.

But, her time as DUP leader is limited. It is quite likely that she will not still be leader by the start of the second quarter of 2019.

Though Arlene’s leadership is doomed, it is not because of Brexit. It is due to her inattentiveness as First Minister as recently exposed during the RHI “Cash for Ash” inquiry.

That inquiry is due to report sometime after Easter next year. Most expect the report to be highly critical of Foster as both Minister First Minister and her stewardship of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Neither the moderate or hard-line wings of the DUP will be happy to keep a damaged and discredited Foster as leader after the report. Especially in the aftermath of Brexit with the possibility of either a Westminster election or a Second Referendum, not to mention the possible return of an Executive and Assembly in the North.

It is more than likely that Foster will – just before the report is published – be persuaded to stand aside for the good of the party and make way for new leader.

But who will that leader be?

If the DUP is wise – and there is little evidence around just now to suggest that it is – it will pick somebody from the next generation.

The months following the UK’s formal exit from the EU at the end of March are going to be very tricky, even if there is an extended transition period.

The political spotlight that now focuses on Northern Ireland will likely move to Scotland, post Brexit, as it once again looks to independence within the EU, rather than dependence within the UK.

As the UK slowly comes apart and its current intransigence is seen by Unionists, in hindsight, to have contributed to its dismantling.

While the binary nature of Northern Ireland politics means that the DUP will not disappear within the next few electoral cycles, its long-term future cannot be guaranteed.

As I have said here many times Brexit will change politics in Northern Ireland. This will have major implications, many positive, for parties on this side of the border, but hanging around and waiting to see how that works out, rather than trying to shape it now, is a strategic error.

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pic: AFP

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announcing Denis Naughten’s resignation as Minister for Communications in the Dáil last week; Derek Mooney

This time last week things were not looking bad for the Taoiseach.

He was getting ready to see his Finance Minister deliver this government’s third budget. He could look forward to it keeping his TDs and support base fairly happy.

He knew it was not a great budget, some would say boring. He also knew that it was not what he would have delivered if he hadn’t to depend on those pesky Fianna Fáil-ers but, even so, he probably felt that he could look forward to good coverage in the media – and we all know how important a positive body-politic image is to the Fine Gael leader.

The Budget was just the start. There was a lot more for Leo to look forward to in what should have been a strong week for him and his party.

It was a week that should have taken the Taoiseach from passing Budget2019, through to increasing pressure on Fianna Fáil to deliver a Summer 2020 extension to Confidence and Supply and then to basking in the pleasure of seeing Mr Justice Peter Charleton’s tribunal of inquiry report clear his former Tánaiste of knowing of any attempt to discredit Sgt Maurice McCabe at the O’Higgins Commission.

That’s how the week should have gone, but it didn’t.

Welcome to politics and to the power of Harold Macmillan’s “events” (When asked what brings down a government, British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan is supposed to have replied, ‘Events, dear boy, events’, though the story is probably apocryphal).

So, fast forward to today and instead entering the Dáil as the true master of the House after a weekend of positive headlines telling of his political prowess, Varadkar will have to slink in and hope to dispel the notion that his government is weakening and in decline.

It’s a task not made any easier by having to both defend Fine Gael junior minister, Pat Breen, and then ask the Dáil to (re)appoint of independent TD, Seán Canny, as minister of state, to secure his vote for the coming weeks and months.

It cannot be how the Taoiseach thought he would be starting this political week.

Over the past two weeks Varadkar has lost the guaranteed backing of one Fine Gael TD, Peter Fitzpatrick and now two independent TDs, Clare’s Dr Michael Harty, who voted against the budget, and former Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

Hardly achievement for a government elected almost three years with an overwhelming minority.

Two weeks ago, in the wake of the Fitzpatrick defection, I asked, albeit rhetorically,

“If long(ish) serving members of the Leo Varadkar’s own parliamentary party are having public misgivings about this government’s future, then why would Varadkar seriously expect the main opposition party to rush to commit to extend its Confidence and Supply (C&S) agreement for another year, once the Budget speech is done?”

Two more TDs down and the question is even more relevant.

The Taoiseach has known from the moment he took the leadership of his party that he needed to be ready for what would happen once the third budget of Fine Gael’s three-budget deal with Fianna Fáil was passed.

Indeed, he needed to be more than just ready for it, he needed to be the one to shape and determine it. Most of his parliamentary colleagues presumed that he had worked all this out before he went for the leadership.

It is entirely possible, if not likely, that he had – but what he appears to have neglected is the reality that no battleplan survives the first engagement.

Having the ability to adapt and correct a plan mid-skirmish is a more important political skill than being able to dream one up in the first place. His handling of the relatively minor events of the second half of last week suggests, once again, that this is not a skill that the Taoiseach possesses.

Even before the mini-drama of Denis Naughten’s resignation and the news that Minister Pat Breen had similar questions to answer, Micheál Martin managed to throw Varadkar’s short term timeline off course.

He did this by taking the initiative and eschewing the passive role that Fine Gael assumed he would adopt.

But Martin did more than throw the timeline off, he did something else which Varadkar did not expect. Martin opted to discard the political leverage that the current situation gives him and offered Fine Gael a non-conditional arrangement up to early 2019.

This would enable the government to focus on Brexit between now and December/January. It would also allow the Dáil to pass the Finance and Social Welfare Bills that enact the Budget and progress the abortion legislation consequent on the referendum.

In one move Martin may have managed to put national interests ahead of party partisan interests and still get some kudos for himself and his party into the bargain.

I have been saying here for months that there is no good reason whatsoever to continue the Confidence and Supply arrangement. This government has run its course.

While both main parties can take some pride in fact that the arrangement has brought stability and delivered three budgets, as promised, the reality is that this weakening administration is still failing to address the twin crises in housing and health.

Whatever Ministers Murphy and Harris may think, or hope, the market is not going to sort out either – especially when that market may be faced with the calamity of a no-deal Brexit from the end of March 2019 onwards.

As bad as we know a hard deal Brexit would be, with customs and regulatory checks it would at least have the benefit of a legal and logistical framework. A no deal Brexit where the UK crashes out with no agreement and no transition period would devastating.

The last few bits of service that this government can do the country over the coming 3 – 4 months is to continue to defend Irish interests at the Brexit discussions, in the hope that there can be a withdrawal agreement with the backstop (or better) and a two-year (minimum) transition.

Once that is done, the government’s final act should be an orderly and calm progress to a February election.

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


From top: Minister for Finance Pascahl Donohue this morning; Derek Mooney

If you really, really want to know what is in today’s Budget and don’t want to wait until Paschal Donohue’s lunchtime statement, then I have great news for you.

You don’t have to wait.

About 70% of what the Finance Minister will say appeared on Martina Fitzgerald’s RTÉ #Budget2019 blog just before 10pm last night. This was updated just after 8.40am today, bringing the figure closer to 80%.

Between what appears on the RTE site and the various daily and Sunday newspapers most punters could predict with a fair degree of certainty about 90% of what Minister Donohue will announce today.

We already know that the hotel and restaurant sector have lost their fight to retain the special 9% VAT rate and will see it go up to 13.5%, indeed this new higher rate will also applied to hairdressers – if only I had not postponed my barber’s haircut until tomorrow.

We also know that Willie O’Dea’s campaign to get a €5 a week increase for pensioners, carers and other welfare recipients will have paid off and that the bands for the 2% rate of USC will be widened by €500 and the threshold at which you pay the higher rate of income tax will be increased by €750 and that cigarettes will go up by 50c a packet.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

For most of us today’s statement will contain nothing new, but thanks to almost a week of “informed” and “well sourced” speculation we are already familiar with what the government plans to do and how we each will benefit from it.

The closest thing to a budget drinking game we could devise today is to take a swig of the beverage of your choice any time you hear the Minister announce something that hasn’t appeared in at least two newspapers and one TV news report since last Friday.

The things we know are not due to “leaks”. Leaks are, by definition, the unauthorised revelation of confidential information and the reason they are unauthorised is because they are invariably negative by their nature.

Leaks involve the things that ministers prefer that you not know, or at least not yet know until they have had the time to either prepare you for the news or take some action that lessens the impact.

The things that get “leaked” are the real number of housing starts or the real numbers on hospital waiting lists, if those figures were ever to turn positive they would not be leaked, they would be briefed.

The difference is authorisation and approval.

Governments toady do not “leak” good news, they brief it. As the private secretary character, Bernard Woolley, explains in “Yes Minister”:

“That’s one of those irregular verbs, isn’t it? I give confidential briefings. You leak. He has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act.”

How very different from the situation back in 1995 when the then Junior Finance Minister, Phil Hogan, had to resign as a minister for revealing budget information.

Or is it?

The opposition was enraged and complained at the revelation of key elements of the budget to the media in the days leading up to the 1995 budget.

For context, recall that this was the first budget of the newly formed Fine Gael, Labour, Democratic Left administration – a government that came to office after the November 1994 collapse of Albert Reynolds short lived Fianna Fáil/Labour government.

Hogan’s boss as Finance Minister was Labour’s Ruairí Quinn. This was going to be Quinn’s first budget and Labour was determined that the credit for the goodies they were about to give away would be theirs alone, not Fine Gael’s. (Spoiler alert, it didn’t work out that way in 1997, but hey ho)

Shortly after the Budget was announced it emerged that one of the staff in Hogan’s office had faxed some of the details concerning planned changes to stamp duty to the media about four hours before Quinn went in to the Dáil.

The opposition went into a frenzy, with both Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern, who had been Finance minister up to few months before the ’95 budget and was himself responsible for some of what it contained, demanding satisfaction.

But the real pressure came from within the government where Labour ministers were furious that Fine Gael was trying to steal their thunder.

For days before hand the two parties are been outdoing each other with their briefings of not just what was to be announced, but how their party was solely responsible for it.

Hogan was just the one to get nabbed – sending it by fax with a cover sheet showing the time and the sender was not a good move.

The Taoiseach attempted to standby Hogan and sought to diffuse the situation with a profuse apology to the Dáil, but that was not enough. A few hours later Hogan decided that his position was untenable and resigned.

While the information that Hogan’s office had revealed was market sensitive and its early disclosure might commercially benefit people who learned of the change before it was officially announced, the reality is that it was the politics of the situation that necessitated his resignation.

Hogan’s office was revealing something to the media that it clearly did not have the authority to reveal.

It is not a situation we should expect to see repeated today. Times have changed considerably since then. While we retain the all the theatre and drama of the day, the performance itself is nowhere near as impactful as it once was.

Some theatrical productions simply run their course. Even record-breaking ones close.

The way budgetary decisions are made and the external factors against which they play out have all changed enormously, so is it not time that the way in which they are announced change too?

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Top pic via Paschal Donohue

 

 

From top: Fine Gael Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick, canvassing in Dundalk with Enda Kenny in 2011,  has resigned from the party and intends to run in the next General Election as an independent candidate; Derek Mooney

The news last night that one of the two Fine Gael T.D.s for Louth will henceforth be the Independent TD for Louth will gladden the hearts of very few in Fine Gael, not even the Dundalk Cllr selected only a few nights ago to replace him.

While Peter Fitzpatrick may not have been of much strategic importance to the Taoiseach while he was an FG backbencher, he has improved his status now as an Independent – especially one whose support for the budget seems to be conditional.

Fitzpatrick’s withdrawal of support for Varadkar’s minority government comes barely a week after another old school Fine Gael TD and Junior Minister, Catherine Byrne TD, put a shot across the bows of both the Taoiseach and his beleaguered Housing Minister.

If long(ish) serving members of the Leo Varadkar’s own parliamentary party are having public misgivings about this government’s future, then why would Varadkar seriously expect the main opposition party to rush to commit to extend its Confidence and Supply (C&S) agreement for another year, once the Budget speech is done?

The question is rhetorical as that probably is what he does expect. It is what he has been preparing himself and us. Over the summer we saw Varadkar writing lengthy homilies, in the guise of letters, at the Leader of Fianna Fáil like a latter-day St Paul writing to the Ephesians.

Ostensibly, the purpose of these letters from St Leo to the Corkonian was to pressure the Fianna Fáil leader into an early start, ahead of the Budget, on talks on a C&S extension.

In reality, many in Fianna Fáil, especially its Justice spokesperson, Jim O’Callaghan, saw it as the Taoiseach orchestrating a mechanism to get out of the C&S deal by pulling the plug, going for a snap election in October or November and blaming Martin for causing uncertainty in the process.

Unlike the Ephesians who – according to the old Frank Cluskey anecdote – never effin’ wrote back, Martin did write back.

He made it clear that he was not going to bring the C&S review date forward and that nothing could or would happen before the Budget.

He was right. He knew, as does Varadkar, that the existing Confidence and Supply agreement addresses the issue of its own renewal/review. On page 2 it clearly states:

It is agreed that both parties to this agreement will review this Framework Arrangement at the end of 2018.

October is clearly not the end of 2018.

To be fair, no one expects the process to wait until St Stephen’s Day or even New Year’s Eve, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that the review and any talks commence sometime in the middle of November… unless of course that is too late in the calendar to allow the Taoiseach to have the election that some of his Ministers are apparently urging him to have?

Which brings us back to yesterday’s Fine Gael defection. Does the loss of Peter Fitzpatrick change the Taoiseach’s calculations?

The next few weeks were already going to be very interesting, even before Fitzpatrick left. It is possible that his departure may have no effect. But it is also possible that this unforeseen event causes the calmer and less capricious of the Taoiseach’s consiglieri to urge him to think again.

So, let me posit the following scenario. I do not offer just as a Euro-store Nostradamus, but rather an exercise in walking my political wits and seeing where that might lead us.

Here goes…

Let’s assume that Varadkar and his advisers take 4 or 5 days to assess reaction to the Budget. Barring a big controversy, on Sunday Oct 14th Varadkar gets out his big quill pen and writes another very public missive to Martin.

This one states that Fine Gael is not willing to wait until November to start talks on a possible extension to the C&S deal and that they want to start talks immediately, within the week.

It recycles the line from the September 4th letter which asserts that: “the government cannot function properly if it does not know if it will last from week to week, month to month”. He invites Martin to respond ASAP.

Martin doesn’t waste any time. He gets out his Bic biro and reminds Leo of the C&S agreement timeline which also states that the two “parties to this agreement will review this Framework Arrangement”, but that this does not mean that they need necessarily do it together or right now.

He then suggests that each party needs to do an audit of progress on the 42 policy specifics in the old C&S agreement and that they each need to prepare material on that before sitting down together.

He again commits Fianna Fáil to honouring the spirit of the C&S agreement in the interim and assures the Taoiseach that Fianna Fáil will facilitate the passage of the Finance and Social Welfare Bills.

He adds an important codicil however, saying that this presumes that Leo can still get the Fine Gael and Independent votes needed to pass them without Fianna Fail’s help. As with Varadkar, he sends his reply back via Social Media, rather than by a Courier or An Post.

This leaves Varadkar with a dilemma.

If Leo’s goal is really to break free from Fianna Fáil and C&S, he then needs to fire back that he has already waited a month since September 4th.

He plays the Brexit card, insisting that he needs an answer now, not in November, and says that he will have no alternative but to call an election which the public will, he asserts, blame entirely on Martin.

This, however, is a big if. What if Varadkar is not so sure? What if his inner Gordon Brown (something I written about here before) comes to the fore and indecision and an excess of cautiousness causes him to delay the election?

If that happens and Varadkar agrees to Martin’s timeline, which is also the one specified in the C&S agreement, then the final decision on whether there is a C&S extension might not be resolved until next January.

At that point Fianna Fáil could conclude that the conditions (particularly a weakened FG leader who was ready to agree to a range of FF proposals) which helped lead to the first C&S agreement, no longer prevail.

They may further reckon that the public could quickly adjust to the idea of an election, especially one that is held well before the UK leaves the EU at the end of March and is fought on housing, healthcare and law and order.

This could be a good time to go and check the odds on a February 2019 general election.

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (front left) and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (front centre) and Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May ( background second left)) during the EU Informal Summit of Heads of State or Government in Salzburg, Austria,last week; Derek Mooney

Just when you thought Brexit could not get worse… guess what happens… it gets worse.

I am not talking about the last week’s Salzburg debacle (though I will later), rather I am referring to the news coming from the UK’s Brexit ministry yesterday that post Brexit an English person will not be able to travel to the EU with their ferret.

Was it for this that Margaret Thatcher hand-bagged Mitterrand and Kohl?

According to the latest guidance from Her Majesty’s Government on what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit, British pet owners who want to take their dogs, cats or ferrets on holidays with them to the EU post Brexit will have to prepare for travel “at least four months ahead in advance of the date they wish to travel”.

No longer will they be able to just pop a ferret down their trousers and head away for a day trip to Bruges. It gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase ‘compo-culture’ (apologies for that appallingly belaboured Last of the Summer Wine gag. Watching all those repeats on UK Gold has melted my brain).

This ‘travelling with pets’ advisory is the latest of about 75 pieces of specific guidance which the British government has published on what might happen if the UK leaves the EU next March without a deal or two-year transitional period.

This is not a theoretical exercise.

As we head towards the end of September, a No Deal Brexit is not just a strong possibility it is now a high probability. This situation did not change at Salzburg, it just became clearer.

As Bobby McDonagh, Ireland’s former Ambassador to the EU, UK and Italy set out in his Irish Times article last Friday, Prime Minister May was neither ‘ambushed’ nor ‘disrespected’ in Salzburg.

She went there with the goal of going over the head of the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier by appealing directly to the 27 heads of government and her plan back fired badly.

The problem with her plan was that it was never going to work. It was just the latest in a long series of events that shows that the British government, particularly the team of Tory ministers that May has assembled, do not understand the EU or Brussels dynamics.

One of the biggest misunderstandings, but one that is not limited to Theresa May or even Jeremy Corbyn, is the notion that the talks between this beleaguered British Government the EU are a classic negotiation. They are not.

This is a topic which my old friend and BEERG colleague Tom Hayes has explored many times in his excellent Beergbrexit.blog (declaration of interests, I am also involved in this blog).

Tom is an experienced negotiator from the world of labour relations. He has been involved in many complex employee/employer negotiations across the EU over the past two decades and has written extensively about the key elements required for a good outcome, including here.

In a classic negotiation you have two sides who enter the talks in the belief that they can find a deal that will be better than their current situation.

They work to find mutually beneficial outcomes. One of the ways they do this is by managing both the expectations of their own stakeholders and those of the other party.

This is not what we have with Brexit.

The EU side – and this obviously includes Ireland – believes, indeed it knows, that Brexit will damage both sides. It knows that Brexit increases costs and does not deliver benefits.

The EU’s goal at the talks is not to find some mythical half way compromise between the UK being in or out of the EU: it is damage limitation, pure and simple.

Barnier’s clear aim in the talks is to limit the damage that Brexit will do to the EU and its 27 continuing member states.

What Theresa May attempted to do at Salzburg was to go over Barnier’s head and ask the individual EU heads of government to pay more for the damage that Britain was causing. How could she have ever imagined that any of them would agree to this? Especially when those heads of government know how isolated and weakened she is.

What the British political system and the British media and commentariat continually fails to grasp is that what it describes as EU “intransigence” or the EU “punishing” the UK, is simply the EU limiting the damage that Brexit will do to the interests of the 27 member-states.

Brexit is an UK demand. Britain has every right to leave the EU, even if it costs it 1000s of jobs and reputational damage – that is a hole of the UK’s own making.

What Britain does not have a right to expect however, is for the EU 27 – and in particularly Ireland – to happily and contentedly pick up the tab, economic and political, for the Tory party’s political folly.

The continuing failure of the British political establishment, both red and blue, to heed, never mind acknowledge, the impact of Brexit on its closest neighbours is indicative of a political system that is in continuing decline.

But it is hardly surprising. Should we be shocked that ministers in London pay little attention to what their counterparts in Dublin or the Hague think when they ignore their own devolved colleagues in Edinburgh or Cardiff?

The leadership vacuum at the top of Britain’s two main parties makes our own party system look inspiring – and its not often you find that sentiment on this website.

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 Tuesday Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney

Pic: AFP/Getty