Tag Archives: Derek Mooney

From top: polling at the weekend by Behaviour & Attitudes (B&A) for the Sunday Times and Red C for the Sunday Business Post; Derek Mooney

Over the Bank Holiday weekend, two Sunday newspapers published political polls. They were detailed. They were professionally conducted. But above all else, they offered very different insights into the state of the main parties.

RedC, polling for the Sunday Business Post, reckons that Fine Gael is pulling well ahead of Fianna Fáil. According to its findings, the ratings for the top 4 groupings are, in decreasing order: FG 33%, FF, 23%, Inds 16% and SF% 14.

Not so, according to B&A, polling for the Sunday Times (Ireland). According to its research, voters are now shifting significantly from FG to FF, putting Fianna Fáil in first place with 29%, followed by FG on 28%, SF 21% and Inds 10%.

The field work for both polls concluded around the same time April 16/17, though RedC did its field work over a week, while B&A took about almost two.

For an informative and detailed comparison of the methodologies employed by both sets of pollsters, check out Prof Michael Marsh’s blogpost on the RTE website.

He makes the point that while both polling companies have often varied on the actual hard numbers, they have been in agreement for most of the past three years on the relative positions of the two main parties.

It is a point confirmed by trawl through the national polls conducted over the past few years. 45 out of the 46 polls conducted since July 2017 had Fine Gael ahead of Fianna Fáil. The recent B&A/Sunday Times poll is the first one in that time to put Fianna Fáil ahead. If true, this could be the first big shift in public opinion since Leo Varadkar became FG leader and Taoiseach in June 2017.

The important word is “if”. One poll out of 46 is just that – it’s 1 in 46. These are not great odds. Besides, if B&A is right, then mustn’t Red C be wrong? Afterall, though the two polling companies report significant shifts – they are in opposite directions.

We will know which one is right in just over three weeks when we have the results of the Local and European elections. In the meantime, it is useful to note that we have seen similar results before and they softened out in later polls.

In Sept 2018 RedC had FG 11% ahead of FF (33 vs 22) while as recently as January 2019, it had FG 10% ahead: FG 32: FF 22. This gap narrowed back to 6% within two months.

At around the same time (Dec 2018) B&A reported FG’s lead over FF down to just 2%, though it widened back out to 4% in early 2019.

So, what point am I trying to make here? Well there are two and they are political, not statistical.

First up is a point I have made here several times: namely that political parties do not do their polling in the way as the national newspapers.

This is not to say that these polls have no value or interest. They clearly have an interest – otherwise why would politicos be frantically texting colleagues or hitting refresh on Twitter every 30secs after 5pm on the Saturday evening looking for first sight of the numbers?

But it is just that, interest. They fuel the political natter and chatter in the days afterwards. They give political interviewers some nice opening questions for the following week…

“Minister/Deputy/Senator… with your party …surging/static/plummeting …in the polls, do you need to change/reverse/dump… your… policy/leader/spin doctor?” [delete as appropriate]

Not to mention the hours of harmless fun they provide political nerds on hundreds of WhatsApp chats or Facebook private groups as they punch the new party totals into their excel spreadsheets and forecast their seat totals for a general election the date of which no one yet knows… including it seems Leo Varadkar.

Though I will come back to point one shortly, let me digress briefly to point two.

This form of political polling, the national poll of 1000 voters, is now effectively a branch of entertainment and – given how boring and turgid our politics can be – that is no bad thing. Just as long as we remember that it is more part of the entertainment end of politics, than the strategic.

It is also nothing new. The science of polling, and it is a science, was born out of the newspaper industry. In the late 19th century many American newspapers printed sample ballots which they asked readers to cut out, complete and send return so they could forecast the result. They came to be known as “straw polls” and political party operatives soon began to realise their usefulness.

The eponymous American pollster George Gallup started out as an academic who shifted into the business after devising “An Objective Method for Determining Reader Interest in the Content of a Newspaper”.

This was an early form of focus group designed for newspapers where Gallup would observe people reading their papers, note which sections they liked and disliked and then advise the editor which parts to keep and which ones to drop.

Gallup quickly grasped the commercial potential of measuring public opinion, but he still saw it in the newspaper realms, regarding it in fact as “a new form of journalism”.

He saw himself as taking the “pulse of democracy” fore newspapers between elections. A remark that led The New Yorker’s E. B. White to quip:

“Although you can take a nation’s pulse, you can’t be sure that the nation hasn’t just run up a flight of stairs.”

Could this help explain Leo’s outpacing Micheál up to now?

Maybe not, but back to point one. As I have said, political parties do not poll in the same way as newspapers. They have long since realised that such broad canvass polling does not pick up on the critical factors that influence voting behaviours.

Parties do their polling constituency by constituency, based on named candidates. In Irish politics, the local and the personal matter a lot and it is an indication of the sophistication of Irish voters.

Ask 500 random voters which party they would likely vote for at some election in the future and you get one result but put a ballot paper in front of them with a list of their local TDs and other candidates and let them decide in private and you will likely get a slightly different result.

It is not just voter sophistication, it is also – to borrow a phrase from former campaign management colleague – an indication of voter promiscuity, i.e. their facility to vote across parties and groupings and switch between elections.

It is a sophistication that also allows voters to see the benign entertainment value of these polls, but not be driven by them.

While people might complain that the frequency of polling means we more often talk more about the process of politics, the who’s in or out, who’s up or down, than its substance – their independence and transparency means they are at least based on some reality.

Something you cannot say about a lot of the insidious material that been peddled online in recent election campaigns in the US and elsewhere.

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: Steve Bannon with Marine Le Pen last year; Derek Mooney

Last week Brussels gave Theresa May six more months to sort out Brexit. They could have given her a Tardis, a Stargate and Boris Johnson’s weight in dilithium crystals and she still couldn’t do it.

Time is not May’s problem – it is authority and trust. She has squandered both putting the unity of the Tory party before everything else.

Along with their six-month gift came a poison chalice. The UK now must hold European elections on May 23. Not that anyone had any choice.

The law is quite clear, perhaps because it was drafted with this contingency in mind. If Britain is still an EU member state when the European elections are underway, then it must participate. If it didn’t, the UK would have to leave the EU without a deal on June 1st otherwise there could be legal challenge to the validity of the next EU Parliament’s mandate.

It is a mess, but hasn’t everything about Brexit proven itself a complete and utter mess?

The UK having to hold European election will have several impacts, in the UK, EU and here.
The biggest impact, not surprisingly, will be in the U.K. itself as voters assumed they wouldn’t be voting in them again. Yet they will. This is 99% certain as the EU Council decision granting the six-month extension says:

“…the withdrawal should take place on the first day of the month following the completion of the ratification procedures or on 1 November 2019, whichever is the earliest.”

So, even if May and Corbyn were to reach agreement today, it is nigh impossible to have the ratification process completed in two weeks and allow the UK to depart on May 1st, just one day before the UK holds local elections.

Though there are probably some poor souls working feverishly in cubicles in Number 10 and the Brexit Dept still trying to find a way to do it in time.

A YouGov poll of European Parliament voting intentions shows no single party getting above 25%. Labour leads the pack with 24%, next comes the Tories with a paltry 16%, followed by Nigel Farage’s latest political covering: the Brexit Party on 15% and his old used sheath, UKIP, on 14%.

Meanwhile the rest of main parties, all of whom are firmly anti Brexit, the Scottish Nationalist Party, the Liberal Democrats, the new Change UK Party and the Greens, get about 6-8% each.

Aggregated, the pro Brexit faction (UKIP and Brexit Party) are at 29% while the anti-Brexit one (comprised SNP, Plaid Cymru, LibDems ChangeUk and Greens) are also, shock, horror, on 29%. The Leavers and Remainers are deadlocked.

While the two main parties have lost ground to both, it is the Tories who have lost most – by a long way, meanwhile Labour’s contracted base leans heavily to Remain.

As British political commentator Andrew Rawnsley pointed out in Sunday’s Observer, the Brexit debacle has ironically resulted in mobilising the most motivated pro-EU UK voter base in decades.

A chunk of this resurgent pro EU base is voting Labour, which leaves Corbyn in a bind. Just like Theresa May, he too worries about Brexit dividing his party, and just like May he could be about to learn that it is a battle he can neither avoid nor win.

This makes Corbyn just as anxious about the European elections as Theresa May.

Meanwhile voters here and around the rest of the EU 27 will be going to the polls at the end of May, the question though is in what numbers?

Right now, with just over six weeks to go, polls point to the two big political blocs in the European Parliament: the European People’s Party (EPP) to which Fine Gael is aligned; and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) to which what is left of the Irish Labour party belongs, both set to lose 40-45 seats each.

For decades these two parties dominated the European Parliament. Together they held 66% of the seats during the 1999-2004 mandate. This fell to around 55% last time and – if the polls are correct – it will drop down to just 45% this time.

This would be big shift in the parliament’s centre of gravity. One of the main beneficiaries would be Fianna Fáil’s EU political grouping: Alde, led by Guy Verhofstadt. It hopes to pick up an extra 30 or more seats, with Michéal Martin hoping that his party will be responsible for at least 3 of these gains.

So, what about the rest of the shift? The more diplomatic Brussels observers say the next parliament will be “more fragmented” with an increase in representation from “new political forces at both ends of the political spectrum”.

Less diplomatic ones say there will be 50 or more new loony tune and buck-eejit MEPs from fringe parties of the far left and far right.

The Italian Deputy Prime Minister Salvini and his La Lega party is hoping to bring other far right parties from Denmark, Austria, Finland, Germany and Estonia together into an Alliance, but Brexit is having an impact on them and the alliance exists more in his head than on the ballot paper.

It is a long way from the contagion of countries demanded to leave the EU that Farage, or his minions here in the guise of Irlexit, fantasised about. If anything, the trend is now in the opposite direction.

Having seen the chaos and mayhem that Brexit has wrought on Britain, even arch European Eurosceptics like Salvini and Le Pen now avoid any talk of taking their countries out of the EU and speak instead of reforming Europe from the inside, with Salvini championing a “vision of Europe for the next 50 years”.

Not even Trump’s one-time strategist Steve Bannon has been able to unify Eurosceptics and God knows he has tried.

Who’d have guessed that it would tough to unite European anti-Europe parties opposed to the European Union into a united anti-Europe front to urge leaving the European union? Cleary Farage and Bannon didn’t.

Not that all the recent political shifts in Europe have been away from moderates. Last month’s Slovakian presidential election saw Zuzana Čaputová of the pro-European Progressive Slovakia party win 58% of the vote in the second round, while in Poland show the recently formed Koalicja Europejska (European Coalition) which includes Donald Tusk’s former party, running neck and neck with Kaczyński’s populist, right wing Law and Justice party.

So, what is the impact in Ireland?

Besides a possible increase in turnout, given the centrality of Brexit, the counts may turn out to be a Tallyman’s wet dream.

Brexit was supposed to see two of the UK’s EU Parliament seats being given to Ireland. To allow for these two extra MEPs being able to take up their seats in October, assuming Brexit happens, the counts in Dublin and South which were each supposed to gain one seat will likely be run twice.

First, on the basis of the old configurations – 3 seats in Dublin and 4 seats in South and then again, with the extra seat each, as 4 and 5 seaters. This allows the extra two MEPs to take their seats later, after the UK formally leaves the EU and its MEPs withdraw.

A few close-run eliminations or tight declarations and Dublin or South could end up challenging the 1992 10-day recount record between Ben Briscoe and Eric Byrne, or The Agony and the Ex TD as Ben later described it.

There are other implications I could explore, but time and space dictate that I leave that over until next week.

In the meantime, I advise folks to keep a close eye on what happens in the Europeans in Northern Ireland. While it is a racing certainty that the first two seats with go to the DUP and Sinn Féin, the third seat is the one to watch.

Traditionally the North goes 2 Unionist, 1 Nationalist. Its been the way since the first direct EU elections in 1979 – but can Brexit change that?

Will Northern Ireland voters who rejected Brexit by 56-44 in 2016 be happy to send two pro Brexit MEPs to Brussels? Even if only for a few months?

Watch this space, it may be about to get a lot more interesting.

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

Pic: Reuters via The Guardian

From top: Taaoiseach Leo Varadkar (third left) and friends with with Kylie Minogue backstage at the 3Arena; Derek Mooney

No matter how I try, I just cannot get worked up about Leo Varadkar’s hand written letter to Kylie Minogue.

I can see how some folks may see it as a bit cringey, but I also know that if I had been in Leo’s position back in 1989 when Frank Sinatra was playing Lansdowne Road with Sammy Davis Junior and Liza Minnelli, I would not have stopped at just writing a fan letter.

I would have happily agreed to replace Amhrán na bhFiann with The Best Is Yet To Come and offered to make Italian our first national language just to get an invite to the after-show party in the Horseshow House. I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky lucky… (Where did this come from?).

So what if Leo Varadkar likes Kylie? Maybe he just can’t get her out of his head? (Stop it!) Would there be the same chirping if the letter was to an artiste considered more “serious” or even “political”? What if the letter was to Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison or the Chieftains?

In their defence, some of those most agitated by #KylieGate have not been bothered by the letter or its recipient as much as they have been annoyed by the clumsy attempts to stop it being released under FoI.

Theirs is a concern I can understand. Their issue is not that a letter was written or sent, but rather that some people in government buildings thought it would be better this all be kept from public view and that we not find out that this Taoiseach likes celebrities.

Hopefully this decision was made on the hoof and was not informed by some last-minute polling: would knowing that the FG leader was a Kylie fan make you more or less likely to vote FG? Will you vote on Better the Devil you know? (That has to be the last one)

We know Leo likes celebrity. There is nothing new in this. We saw his “love actually” thrill at visiting Downing St and his Trudeau socks moment. We also know that he and his handlers love spinning around (Ok, this was definitely the last one) with clear views of the image of Varadkar they want to portray. It is of the young dynamic, energetic and fit young leader.

Do his handlers fear that his being seen to spontaneously write innocent fan letters takes away from the image they have crafted?

If so, they will not be the last to realise that you can only handle political leaders so much, especially ones who like the limelight. Eventually the real person pops out, as it has here – and that is no bad thing.

All of which brings me to my real point. Rather than getting needlessly agitated over a harmless letter, we should be focused on all the important letters the Taoiseach hasn’t written.

Letters such as the one he should have written to Finian McGrath over the weekend sacking the Disabilities Junior Minister for accusing the Gardaí of political policing, claiming they were being over the top in enforcing new drink driving laws.

It was reckless outburst that was, as Jim O’Callaghan TD pointed out on Sean O’Rourke yesterday, about McGrath looking for publicity and trying “to explain the unpopularity of Independent Alliance ministers.”

But Leo cannot write that letter because this would also require him to write to Minister Shane Ross to tell him to cop himself on and try sorting out the problems in his own department, (be grateful I didn’t shoehorn a lame “locomotion” gag in here) and stop interfering in other ones, as with his judicial appointments bill.

Varadkar should be writing to his Housing Minister instructing him to stop arranging photo-ops and instead keep his shirt and jacket on and tackle the crisis in the housing and rental sectors.

He could open this letter by telling his Housing Minister that he needs a housing policy that works, one that does not allow homelessness to climb beyond 10,000.

But he doesn’t write this letter because he knows Minister Murphy does have a housing policy. It is a Fine Gael policy and he is implementing it assiduously.

It is housing price maintenance policy. It’s not that Fine Gael doesn’t care about homelessness but rather that they care more about ensuring house prices are sustained for the benefit of urban FG voters and the banks alike.

It is also why Leo Varadkar doesn’t write a letter to Simon Harris instructing him to deal with the ongoing crisis in the public health system.

Leo knows, just as well as Minister Harris, that over 45% of the population have private healthcare insurance and core Fine Gael voters are in this cohort. Fine Gael’s pollsters are doubtless reassuring both Simon and Leo that their voters are not so concerned by waiting lists, trolley crises or public hospital bed shortages.

Leo could also do with writing a stiffly worded letter to his Junior Minister for Defence who has presided over a worrying decline in personnel retention and Defence Force morale. The problem with writing to the Minister of State is that he would only refer if back to his boss, the Cabinet Minister for Defence, who is An Taoiseach.

There are many more letters the Taoiseach could and should be writing, including to his Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed to take action on the collapse in beef prices; to his Communications Minister, Richard Bruton instructing him to get to grips with rural broadband now and to his successor as Social Protection Minister, Regina Doherty telling her to speed up the decision making process for the 80,000 plus pensioners awaiting verdicts on their outstanding entitlements to pension increases.

But these letters never emerge under Freedom of Information because they are never sent.

So, with all these letters that the Taoiseach should, but somehow cannot, bring himself to write, we should not be outraged when he puts pen to paper that it is to connect someone he admires, likes and maybe even hopes will pay some attention to him.

What’s the harm? As Kylie herself said back in 1989: it wouldn’t change a thing.

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

Pic: Twitter

From top: The House of Commons yesterday; Derek Mooney

If you ever start to despair while watching Dáil Éireann live – stop, take a deep breath and think… well, at least it’s not as bad as the House of Commons.

While this may not offer a huge amount of comfort and certainly does not ease the frustration of seeing the current Dáil initiating some decent pieces of legislation, only for them to disappear into a black hole of money messages and other governmental devices designed to stifle debate, it is still something to bear in mind.

For decades I have been listening to some folks here opining on how the UK political and legislative system works better than here.

While some of this may have been driven by an element of cultural cringe, it was also informed by the idea that politics in the UK is more policy driven and based on ideas.

Irish politics, they argue is just too tribal, too based around the centre. We do not have the benefits of the big policy debates and arguments between the left and the right that they have in the UK.

But, the argument goes, it is about more than just the origins of our main parties and their relative positions on political spectrum… British MPs are legislators first and foremost. Not for them the paltry concerns with constituency matters and the parish pump that preoccupy our TDs.

British MPs, it was thought, were able to focus on the national issues and the bigger picture because they were, unlike our gang, in single seat constituencies and therefore not in a constant political battle to fight off party colleagues or constituency rivals.

The problem with Irish politics versus British politics was that we had too much clientelism which informed our political debate from start to finish.

These arguments still have a validity. It is not that we are in some political nirvana and that the pendulum could not bear swinging back a few notches to establish a better political equilibrium, but the proximity to the voters that our system brings means that our TDs are not as tone deaf to shifts in political mood as their British counterparts.

Whatever their faults, successful and attentive TDs in our system are connected to the concerns of the public and do not need polls, surveys or petitions to know what the public is thinking.

I know this is a difficult claim to make in a week when the official homelessness figure went over the 10,000 mark for the first time and we have a Minister for Housing presiding over this outrage who thinks it is “very irresponsible” to promise to end homelessness, but even in today’s Dáil the majority of TDs know this situation is unsustainable, the pity is that few of them are in Leo’s inner circle.

To its credit the Dáil has dealt with the complexities of Brexit with a great deal more skill and cohesion than Westminster. Rather than turning the issue into a partisan battle full of red-lines and unachievable demands, parliamentarians here have worked together via a series of all-party committees.

It is not that politics stopped, it is just that it saw boundaries. Fianna Fáil criticised the lack of adequate no deal preparations by government and Sinn Féin saw no reason not to keep demanding unity polls, but the work went on.

There were UK parliamentary committees doing some good work on Brexit too, but May’s insistence on putting Tory unity ahead of all other considerations effectively handed control of the process over to the hard-line brexiteers.

And what a company of hardliners they are. It’s not just Rees-Mogg, Raab, Cash and Johnson who have driven the debate into the realms of Fake News.

Over the past few weeks we seen a procession of previously unheard-of Tory and Labour back benchers make claims about the Backstop and adopt positions on Brexit that make you think, thank God you are not my representative.

And remember, these MPs are first and foremost legislators, they are supposed to be the national politicians.

While the British Labour party has some pro-Brexit duds, such as Kate Hoey who advocates the hardest possible Brexit despite representing a constituency that voted 77% to Remain in the EU, the worst of the pack hail from the incongruously named European Research Group (ERG), the Tory anti-EU caucus.

ERG Tory MPs such as Anne Marie Morris, Mark Francois, Marcus Fysh, Andrew Bridgen have shown staggering levels of ignorance on what is actually in Teresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Not only that they have each shown no understanding of why the Backstop exists and only prove how far out of tune they are.

Bizarrely, I’m writing this on the day after the House of Commons has had its most sensible and coherent debate on Brexit yet.

While yesterday’s indicative votes did not come up with any options that commanded majority support, it was positive to hear many MPs focus for the first time and the realities of Brexit and the complexities and limitations of various ways forward on offer.

What a pity that Westminster go the route of indicative votes some months back when it was suggested by the likes of John Major and Bertie Ahern.

Setting out the options and discussing them one-by-one has enable some MPs to focus their minds on what is achievable, rather than just on what they want to see happen.

As Margaret Beckett said as she opened her contribution to the debate yesterday:

“Negotiations succeed when no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something they want”.

Beckett, a former Labour party Deputy Leader made what was probably the most insightful speech of the day. She picked up on what now appears to be shifting public mood on Brexit, saying:

“Consider the possible consequences for trust in politics or for social peace if this House forces an outcome on the people of this country that they no longer desire—that really would be the undemocratic, establishment stitch-up of all time.”

I say “appears to be a shifting” view as the polling data is not showing dramatic changes, though the doyen of British pollsters Prof John Curtice says the result of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, corroborated by various polls:

“...is enough to raise doubts about whether, two and half years after the original ballot, leaving the EU necessarily continues to represent the view of a majority of the British public

Whether Theresa May’s spectacular mishandling of the whole article 50 process is driving this shift, is debateable, there is no doubt that her chronically poor messaging and insistence on over promising and under-delivering made the selling of her deal unnecessarily fraught.

And recall that this was the easier part of the two stage Brexit process. May’s Withdrawal Agreement is the basic divorce stage. It addresses the arrangements for simply leaving, the more complex part which is about the future arrangements with the EU has yet to come.

And, I have discussed all of this without once mentioning the DUP… so, hands up who thinks that this British Government or House of Commons is capable of handling the next phase?

No, me neither.

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

Former UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson at the Pendulum Summit in Dublin last January; ; Derek Mooney

Winston Churchill famously said that the United States always does the right thing – but only after exhausting all other options. If only the UK were somewhere near that point.

But it is not, it is still fumbling through just a few of the worst possible option while closing its eyes to the only right option now, revoking Article 50.

Theresa May’s speech last night was a disgrace. She appeared before the public with all the trappings of office, but with none of its authority.

She tried to act like an authoritarian, an unpopular populist telling a divided public that it’s you and me against the others… against all those MPs stopping us from doing what we must do.

It was like a very bad live re-enactment of the disgraceful Daily Mail November 2016 front page that branded those judges who ruled that Parliament must be consulted on Brexit as: Enemies of the People.

It was a shocking performance and it is to be hoped that it is the one of the last acts of a British Prime Minister who may still be well intentioned, but whose continuance in office remains a blockage to any progress.

At the time of the Brexit referendum Theresa May was a remain voter, though a particularly quiet one having made, as far as I recall, only one major intervention during the campaign where she argued for a remain vote.

Though a remain voter then May has, since assuming office, striven at every opportunity to make it clear that she does not cling to any secret remain agenda.

As Prime Minister, Theresa May has set the fulfilment of that referendum mandate as her primary function, even to the point of seeing it at superseding everything else.

It is as if May sees herself as working to a higher mandate, a higher purpose, namely the delivery of Brexit for the people even if that means going over the heads of Parliament and of MPs, as she attempted to do again last night.

What she has not done, however is to define Brexit. Her meaningless Brexit means Brexit trope would make George Orwell and Lewis Carroll weep.

While we can reasonably infer that she thinks her Withdrawal Agreement defines Brexit, she has never attempted to prepare or convince the public of this, not even the 52% of people who voted for it in 2016, whose mandate she claims.

Here lies the core of the problem. The confusion over what Brexit means is not the fault of Parliament, though it has not covered itself with glory on the matter, the fault lies with her.

Over 2 1/2 years after the referendum people still struggle to define what Brexit means. The 48% of people who voted against Brexit at the referendum had a very clear understanding of what remain meant, it meant the status quo. The same cannot be said for the 52%.

Doe Brexit mean leaving the European institutions? Leaving the political infrastructure of Europe – No longer having an EU Commissioner, representation on the Council of ministers, or members in the European Parliament? Or does it mean more?

Can you no longer be part of the political institutions but still be a part of the EU? This appears to be the argument of many Tories who also define Brexit as being totally and completely outside any beneficial trading relationship with the EU.

They want Brexit to mean no longer being a part of the customs union or the single market – a single market that once was the Tory party’s biggest achievement in Europe.

But, ironically, even though there is no unanimity among the 52% about what constitutes Brexit it is also become clear that the issue which is derailing May’s Withdrawal Agreement is the one issue that was never meaningfully discussed during the referendum, namely Northern Ireland.

To their considerable credit both Tony Blair and John Major did attempt to raise the issue of Northern Ireland, the border, and the Good Friday Agreement during the referendum, but they were told by the leaders of the various Leave campaigns that their concerns where irrelevant and that there were no consequences for Northern Ireland.

Well, three years later we can see just how totally wrong those brexiteers were. The Irish/Irish Border and the obligations contained in the Good Friday Agreement look like they will at a minimum disrupt and at a maximum destroy the folly of Brexit.

It is for this reason that it that the UK needs to hit the reset button. While I personally believe that a second referendum is the still best way out of this, for as long as Corbyn plays political games in Parliament, it is not a likely option.

There is also the issue of the length of time required to run a calm, measured and orderly referendum campaign, based on facts and realities, not hype and hysteria.

What is needed now is a reset. It is time not just for the U.K. to think again but to think for the first time.

Over the last 24 hours over 250,000 people have signed a Parliamentary petition to revoke article 50. That is the reset button that is what is needed now to give the UK time to stop and work out what it does next.

This does not necessarily mean that Brexit is over, after all the 2016 referendum mandate still stands.

Revoking Article 50, which will not be politically easy will allow the UK to admit to itself what its voters realise, namely that it has squandered the past 3 years. It now needs to sit down with a new prime minister and with a general election likely before the end of the year and look to see how it can build a consensus around a form of Brexit that works

Revoking Article 50, which the U.K. can do unilaterally is preferable from the U.K.’s point of view to a lengthy extension with several EU conditions attached.

Right now, the U.K. has three options: 1. back Mays Deal, 2. Leave with no deal, 3. Revoke Art 50. While there is a 4th option, a long extension, I think revocation trumps it. We are now at endgame.

While there is the slight possibility that May could win a third Meaningful Vote (MV3) next week that would require taking back over 75 MPs who opposed MV2. It a huge ask and not one helped by May last night berating those MPs whose support she needs.

Though revoking Article 50 may cause many Tories to fear that such a revocation will mean that Brexit disappears forever, there are circumstances where that may not be case, especially if Tory MPs do, what I fear they might – replace a perceived weak leader with a perceived ultra-strong one and make Boris Johnson leader of the party.

It is how revocation is both preferable to extension and how it could happen and be made to work, in all our interests… besides, the last thing any of us in the EU needs is a Johnson with an extension.

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

Top pic: Rollingnews


From top: UK Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons yesterday; Derek Mooney

Over the past few weeks we have seen a parade of British pro-Brexit talking-heads confidently telling us that the EU/UK Brexit negotiations “will go down to the wire” and that Brussels will do, what they claim it always does, and make a deal at the very last minute.

David Davis was at it before he became Brexit Secretary and has continued at it since quitting the job. Ian Paisley Jr MP was at it on Newsnight last night, asserting that the EU “…are the kings of the last-minute fudge.”

How I wish that trite political phrases such as “going down to the wire” could be expunged from every politician’s lexicon.

It is an empty, meaningless phrase. It is on a par with someone watching you looking for your lost keys or credit cards and declaring: “it’ll be in the last place you look”. D’uh, yeah. It obviously will be in the last place you look… you are hardly going to keep looking after you find it, are you?

So it is with negotiations. They end when they end. It is hardly surprising that most negotiations go right on to the deadline you set. It is called a deadline for a reason, both sides knew it was the time framework they work within it.

There is even less depth to the phrase when it comes out of the mouths of Brexiteers because it only confirms that they haven’t (i.) realised that Brexit is not a negotiation and (ii.) bothered to find out how Article 50 works.

In a classic negotiation two parties enter talks with the mutual intention of finding a deal that will be better than their current situation. They will argue where that balance lies, but their aim is mutually benefit.

This is not the case with Brexit. It is a damage limitation exercise.

The EU knows that the UK leaving cannot be beneficial to either party. It increases costs and sunders relationships built over 46 years, relationships that have been hugely beneficial to people across this island.

There is no outcome whatsoever which can leave the UK having the same advantages, benefits and market access outside the EU as it had inside it.

This is why Britain has no leverage. It has had no leverage since the moment Article 50 was triggered, but the leadership of the Tory party, and regrettably the Labour party have stubbornly failed to grasp this fact.

Similarly, British political leader never stopped to read the EU treaties and learn how the exit process works. Even to this day serious political players and pundits in Britain fail to understand that there is a two-stage sequence.

First, comes the divorce arrangement, i.e. legally binding terms of for the withdrawal, which is followed the framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

This may help explain why with just two weeks to go and after two years of talks, we are still arguing over one of the three key elements of the divorce: citizens’ rights, UK’s financial obligations and the Irish Border.

Yet countless British politicians keep asking about why they can’t have a discussion on the future relationship. Did none of them bother to read the rules set out in Article 50 of the EU treaties before triggering it, not to mention before having a Brexit referendum.

So, after a day of shuttle diplomacy… no, scrub that… a day of political theatrics, following by a day of Westminster shadow boxing, we move on to today’s House of Commons vote on eliminating a no-deal.

Not that the British Prime Minister intends to show any leadership on it. Within moments of her second big defeat last night Mrs May was on her feet to tell MPs that while she would be tabling a motion to rule out a No-Deal Brexit she would be giving her Ministers and MPs a free vote on it.

With this move she eschewed her responsibility to lead (and whip) as many Tory MPs as possible to vote to rule out a no Deal Brexit. Instead she will wander in alone and wait to see who meanders in after her.

She is putting the pretence of Cabinet and Tory party unity before national interest, a move that could see the scale of the predicted majority slide, though not enough to scupper it.

By not imposing a whip she has removed the protection of the whip from MPs who know ruing out a no-deal is right, but who fear the wrath of their hard-line activists back home – especially with an election looming.

This may allow these MPs, who would otherwise have followed her as a whipped act of party loyalty, to instead head for the pro-no-deal lobby along with the couple of dozen hard-line Tory Brexiteers who still believe a no Deal Brexit is a good outcome.

There they will also find the DUP – again voting against the interests of their Northern Ireland constituents – along with an assortment of Tory ministers and ex ministers, including Boris Johnson who yesterday urged his colleagues to back a no-deal Brexit claiming it was “…the only safe route out of this and the only safe path to self-respect”.

While this is vapid jingoistic claptrap, it may yet be the type of claptrap that sees him installed as the next Tory leader.

Also, in that No-deal lobby will be another, slightly larger cohort of Tory Brexiteers who think that voting to take no deal off the table injure Britain’s supposed negotiating position with Brussels, believing that the no-deal threat must be kept alive in order to win even more concessions from the EU27.

This is the cohort that most loudly chants the “down to the wire line” while ignoring what Barnier, Tusk, Juncker and others have told them over the past 24 hours.

This group potentially includes Cabinet Ministers, like Andrea Leadsom, Sajid Javid or even Michael Gove. Is keeping these folks in a Cabinet that is already beyond being merely dysfunctional really a price worth paying?

Theresa May thinks so, but as we have seen over the past two years, her judgement on any of these matters is not to be trusted anymore.

British politics is truly broken.

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

Pic: BBC

From top: Derek Mooney canvassing with Mark Durkan in Derry during the 2015  British General Election; Derek Mooney

Though this be hard for some folks to accept, I do plan these columns.

My usual routine is to type up a few paragraphs late on Monday night and then finish off the column over coffee and toast on Tuesday morning.

This week, as I have a couple of meetings early today, I did it differently.

Around 2pm yesterday I sat down in front of a blank screen and hoped for inspiration. As I started to type I was still unsure which one of two routes to pursue.

Should I write a follow-up to last week’s column and respond to the online criticisms from Sinn Féin supporters for calling out their confusion on a border poll?

Or should I write about Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan’s churlish tweet chiding the Seanad for doing precisely what it is supposed to do, scrutinising and amending legislation?

I had started to write some rough opening paragraphs on both topics when I received a piece of political news which wiped both options off my screen.

A good friend called to tell me that it would shortly be announced that Mark Durkan would be Fine Gael’s Dublin European Parliament candidate.



To say I was flabbergasted is to put it mildly.

I have known Mark politically and personally for almost 20 years. There are very few politicians in Northern Ireland for whom I have a higher respect.

This is evidenced by the number of times I have quoted him in this column over the last few years, most recently in this one, on the backstop, where I cite Mark’s acknowledged expertise on both the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit.

With only a few exceptions – and the primary one is Bertie Ahern – Mark Durkan is best informed political voice on the Good Friday Agreement.

He understands it purpose, its language and its workings with an innate level of understanding and practical detail that you do not hear from noted academics or lawyers.

He has been one the strongest and fiercest defenders of the Agreement, particularly against the madness coming from ill-informed Brexiteers.

He has been forthright and direct in exposing the hollowness of their claims that the Good Friday Agreement has no ramifications for Brexit.

Mark’s dedication and commitment to politics and more importantly to the importance of policy and ideas are second to none.In many ways he is the least political politician you would meet.

As the SDLP statement following his announcement yesterday said:

“He is a first-class parliamentarian and his regrettable absence on the benches of Westminster has not gone unnoticed by parties and communities alike”

So, with all this praise you might imagine that I am now about to set out why Dublin people should vote for Mark on May 24.

No, not a chance.

Though I have the upmost respect for Mark and continue to regard him as one of the finest defenders of the Good Friday Agreement, I will not be voting for him anywhere along my ballot paper.

This will not come as news to Mark, he and I had a short exchange of texts yesterday during which I mentioned this.

What was announced yesterday was not a major political development, it was a stroke – pure and simple.

Yesterday’s launch had the all the originality and guile of Charlie Haughey’s 1982 nomination of Dick Burke to be an EU Commissioner. Except Burke ended up ahead in that failed stroke. That won’t be the case this time. 

This is college politics projected into the national arena.

It is an attempt by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to have a sideswipe not just at Fianna Fáil in the aftermath of its partnership deal with the party once led by Durkan, it is also aimed at the leadership of the SDLP.

It is particularly targeted at Colum Eastwood for his having the temerity to seek a partnership not with Leo’s gang but with the Fianna Fáil crowd for whom Leo has nothing but contempt.

That Mark finds himself embroiled with this stroke is saddening.

I know from our brief exchange yesterday that Mark does not see it this way. He is adamant that he would do nothing to hurt or undermine Colum’s position and that he has the highest regard for his fellow Derry man.

Maybe this is an example of Mark as the un-political politician.

While Mark’s move to Fine Gael a few weeks after an SDLP special conference endorsed the SDLP/FF partnership, and just one week after Colum received a huge reception at the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis, may be embarrassing for the SDLP, it is just that, embarrassing. The feeling will soon pass.

Indeed, Mark’s departure at Leo’s summons may have the unintended consequence of showing the FF and SDLP leaderships that their partnership needs more definition, better expression and increased impetus.

To the best of my knowledge Mark Durkan did not express any reservations about the Fianna Fáil/SDLP partnership either before or after the vote.

It is my understanding that he welcomed the clear decision taken by the SDLP in Newry. That said, while I never discerned any antagonism from Mark towards Fianna Fáil, I always assumed that he saw himself as aligned to the Irish Labour partyso I can only imagine the howls of anguish in their offices on hearing the news yesterday.

All of which brings me to the core of the reason why I won’t vote for Mark. While his defection to Fine Gael is hard to understand, this is not about partisan politics. I could transfer to a Blueshirt… sorry, an FGer. I have done it before and may even do it again, but not this year. (Full disclosure: I have transferred more often to Lab and Greens than to FG)

No, this is about the squandering of an opportunity twinned with what I see as the exploitation of a real political talent in the service of a great political ego.

According to most poll watchers Mark Durkan was well placed to win back his Foyle seat at the next Westminster election, and given the volatility in UK politics who is the say that that election is not too far away?

That is where Durkan’s talents and abilities are most needed right now. Like it or not, Westminster is where Brexit will be decided and shaped and we as an island still have a lot of skin in that game.

No matter what happens with Theresa May’s “meaningful vote” next week the Brexit issue is not going away anytime soon.

It is far more important that the real concerns of the people of Derry, of Northern Ireland and of Ireland, as a whole, have a sensible, informed and considered voice in Westminster making the case against Brexit and for the Good Friday Agreement.

Durkan was that voice.

I understand the frustration and weariness he must have felt at watching the Brexit debate from the side-line while waiting for the opportunity to get back in the game and do what he does best.

It is an indictment of the political establishment here (on all sides) that his talents were not put to better use pending his return to the frontline in Westminster – but installing him as the stabilisers on the Frances Fitzgerald campaign tandem is not the answer.

If the Taoiseach’s desire to ensure a Northern voice in the European Parliament were genuine, then the way to do it was to reach a cross party agreement to back Mark Durkan as an independent.

This is the approach that was sensibly adopted in the 2018 Seanad by election that saw the election of Ian Marshall last year. It is one approach suggested yesterday by Sinn Fein’s Éoin Ó Bróin.

In a quirk of political history, it seemed at one-point last year that Durkan was set to join Marshall in the Seanad, but it was not to be. This is a pity as his input would have had far more benefit than those of the FG placeman who got the other vacancy.

However, none of that happened and now we have Durkan fighting Labour, Soc Dems and Ind candidates for a second Fine Gael seat that will not exist.

I know Mark will campaign hard to become an MEP for Dublin – even if this does not extend as far as living here – but it will have to be without my help or vote.

I’m sorry it has turned out this way.

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

Yesterday: Lurking Durkan Causes Smirking

From top: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald (right) with Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill MLA at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin Castle last week; Derek Mooney

There was a time when Sinn Féin was the master of targeting. It used to know to aim its attacks and not to waste its time or resources.

But not anymore. Maybe it’s the loss of the old big beasts or the ascent of a new middling style of leadership, but whatever the cause, it is increasingly clear that it has lost its ability to target.

We saw it last year with the misguided and misfiring presidential campaign. We saw it last week with its no confidence motion in Simon Harris. While it was supposedly aimed at the floundering health minister, most Sinn Féin speakers had Fianna Fáil in their sights.

They were not the only ones. Minister of State, Jim Daly… no, me neither… bizarrely concluded that the best way of defending Harris against Sinn Féin criticism was not to launch himself at the provos but rather to join them in lambasting Fianna Fáil.

If Sinn Féin wanted to get rid of Harris and cause an election, they would have gone after the independent TDs whose Tá votes are keeping the Taoiseach and his ministers in office.

But they didn’t.

This Sinn Féin propensity to miss the target was on display last weekend when it went into an online meltdown over SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood telling the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis, referencing Donald Tusk’s recent comments, that there would be a special place in hell for those who call for a border poll in Ireland with no plan on how to deliver it.

No sooner had the applause for Eastwood died down than the online warriors were tetchily pounding their keyboards slamming Eastwood, the SDLP and its partners in Fianna Fáil.

It was like a bad rerun of the outrage from Farage, Rees-Mogg, Davis et al as they responded to EU Council President Donald Tusk saying there would be a special place in hell for Brexiteers who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan as to how to deliver it.

Just like the Farage and Johnson, Sinn Féin’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill walked straight into the trap and manged to self-identify as wanting a border poll without having a plan on how to deliver it.

Really? Is the Sinn Féin of Michelle and Mary-Lou, telling us that it has looked at the absolute mess and mayhem that Cameron, Farage, Gove and Johnson have created in Britain by having a referendum for which they had not prepared and whose consequences they had not considered… and concluded, hell yeah… let’s have some of that?

All O’Neill has succeeded in doing is showing that their talk about border or unity polls now is mere sloganising.

Sinn Féin has no more interest in having a meaningful border poll that has a chance of passing, than it is in sorting out the health service problems here or the welfare/PIP mess in the North.

Sinn Fein’s concern is with having unity as a hashtag, a slogan, a way to hype up the base. It’s direct from the Trump playbook. Border Poll now is the provos’ build the wall and it is every bit as useless

Speaking at the Seanad Brexit committee two years back, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern addressed this issue directly, saying:

Having a sectarian or political headcount is the last thing that we should do. Yes, there should be the provisions for reunification for the future. At the meetings I have attended people have tried to jump on that and say that we should have a border poll as well.

This is not the time for that. There will be a time for it, and we should all work as hard as possible to get to that time and convince people and win them over, but do not insert the issue into this debate.

What Ahern said in 2017 is what Eastwood said in 2016, 2017, 2018 and again last Saturday: there will be a time for a border poll, that time is coming, and it is when it is when the necessary work has been done to have the poll, and to win it convincingly.

This is no small task.

What would a United Ireland look like? Would it be a unitary 32 county country with one parliament and government in Dublin? Does unity mean tearing down the parliament at Stormont and dismantling institutions there?

It is not a new question. It is one I have spoken about here on Broadsheet before and, as I mentioned then, it is a question that Sean Lemass posed during his famous Oct 1959 Oxford Union speech, given shortly after becoming Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. In that address, almost sixty years ago, he openly accepted that:

“…Irish reunification could be considered on the basis of an arrangement under which the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland would continue to function with their present powers, while an all-Ireland Parliament would exercise the powers in relation to that area now exercised at Westminster.”

In other words, Northern Ireland could and would continue to have self-government… assuming that the Assembly and Executive as established under the Good Friday Agreement are re-established any time soon.

Also recall that Lemass was referring to a Stormont parliament and government which did not have power sharing and was unionist dominated.

I have no doubt that there will be a border poll at some point over the next decade and, like Bertie Ahern, Colum Eastwood and Micheál Martin, I see now, as we finally begin to see how Brexit will play out, as the time to start preparing for that pre-campaign phase.

The first step in that preparation is to learn the lessons of Cameron’s disastrous and divisive vote now, plan later, Brexit referendum. With their badly targeted attacks last weekend we can see that Sinn Féin has not even reached this point.

Meanwhile the FF/SDLP partnership are already several steps ahead, including heeding the advice of Tiernan Brady and seeing how it is possible, as Brady demonstrated with successful marriage equality referendum campaigns in both Ireland and Australia, to have a campaign and pre-campaign process that both informs and unites people.

With their SDLP/FF partnership, Eastwood and Martin are well positioned to get moving on the next critical step of engaging openly with others, across communities and divides to discuss and explore how a new Ireland might look and feel from its day-to-day political operation, to how its health, welfare and transport systems might mesh, to whether it should have new flags, symbols or even an anthem.

It’s a complex task, but an exciting one. The question for Sinn Féin is whether it is ready to catch-up on reaching the target, or does it just want to continue taking aim at it, and missing?

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

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From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Derek Mooney

“There are two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make ’em: laws and sausages.”

If my memory and a OneDrive word search are both right, this is the second time I have used this beloved Leo McGarry West Wing quote to illustrate a point. The first time was at the end of March 2018.

Back then, I was bemoaning this minority government’s blatant contempt for Dáil decisions with which it disagreed and was especially irked at how it was treating James Lawless TD’s Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017 and the various opposition amendments tabled to Shane Ross’s awful Judicial Appointments bill.

This time… well, it’s the same thing, only slightly different.

The government is still showing the same contempt only now it is doing it via an obscure parliamentary device, which it deploys with worrying regularity, to veto Private Members legislation passed that has been backed by the Dáil, but with which it disagrees. The device is called the “money message”.

The “money message” provision comes from Article 17.2 of the Constitution. It says that:

“Dáil Éireann shall not pass any law … for the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys unless the purpose of the appropriation shall have been recommended to Dáil Éireann by a message from the Government, signed by the Taoiseach.”

Put simply, it means that legislation may only proceed to committee stage debate if parliamentary officials deem that no money message is required.

If they adjudicate, after the Dáil second stage debate, that a money message is required, then the Bill is stalled in its tracks and may not proceed until the government decides to issue such a [money] message, signed by the Taoiseach.

The old rules say that there are “no timeframes or deadlines regarding provision of these messages by Government”, i.e. the Fine Gael government can take its own sweet time and no one can do anything about it.

Its original purpose was to give the government of the days firm control of the purse strings… and for most of the past 80 odd years this has not been an issue.

Most governments in the past had workable majorities or arrangements that enabled them to vote down any opposition measure which did not accord with its budgetary policy.

This is important as in the Irish system the funding does not automatically follow the decision. It is not sufficient to say, hey, I would like to do X, Y or Z, you also have to find the money to pay for it.

Not a bad approach. It is certainly prudent.

But what happens when the provision is used not to control spending, but to overrule the legislative will of the Dáil?

This is precisely what Varadkar’s government is using the money message to do. Rather than just using it to prudently control and monitor public expenditure – something it might occasionally try doing in the Department of Health – it is using it to effectively veto pieces of opposition legislation it opposes but which the Dáil has passed by a majority.

According to analysis done 12 months ago by RTE’s Justin McCarthy 29 bills were stalled waiting for a ‘money message’.

A quick trawl through the Oireachtas website shows that the number has grown and now includes various pieces of draft legislation.

These include: the Housing (Homeless Families) Bill 2017, the Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017, the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017, the Mental Health Parity Bill 2017, the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2018, the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, the Mortgage Arrears Resolution (Family Home) Bill 2017, the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Bill 2018.

I am not arguing that all these Bills are perfect or worthwhile, indeed there are some items here with which I would personally disagree.

But, as far as I can discern, they have all been passed by the Dáil at Second Stage and are now stalled, awaiting committee stage scrutiny, because officials in the parliamentary offices have said that they each require a money message and the government has yet to issue them.

In many cases the expenditure involved would be incidental at most, but it is this word: “incidental” and how it is interpreted that is key to this issue.

As no one in the public service works for free, almost everything the State does has some form of cost, be it direct or indirect.  Giving people new rights or allocating a fresh responsibility to some department or agency all have some form of financial implication in a strict accountancy sense.

But, is this what Art 17.2 was designed to do?

Of course not. The purpose of Art 17.2 was to prevent TDs from pushing through laws that created major financial implications for the State and thereby undermined the capacity of the serving government to control the budget.

It was not intended as a catch-all clause for a government with an overwhelming minority of 57 seats out of 158 to daily overrule the other 100 TDs and stop any democratically passed piece of legislation with which it does not agree.

The money message is not a proxy for a Dáil majority, but this government acts as if it is. It is enabling Varadkar’s government to do what it does better than any of its predecessors: do absolutely nothing.

As Fianna Fáil’s Jack Chambers T.D. stated during a discussion on the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 at a recent Oireachtas Justice & Equality Committee meeting:

‘This is the use of old politics to circumvent legislation by using an old interpretation of a constitutional article which is outrageous and undermines Members’ ability to have a Bill such as this passed. It flies in the face of all the rubbish we have heard about new politics. It shows new politics at their worst.’

It is a view echoed by many TDs and Senators. The committee transcript is worth reading in full as it gives some insights into changes agreed by the Dáil business committee into the operation of the Money Message process in December.

While the changes are supposed to make the process less opaque and give it some timeline, they will only apply to future pieces of legislation.

Bills which have been stalled up to now will probably be disappeared entirely and will have to be re-introduced all over again, from scratch, to benefit from the change – even though many of them have already been passed in full by the Seanad… and this government moans about opposition members wasting parliamentary time?

Laws and sausages. It’s not just seeing what goes into them that can turn your stomach, it’s also how long it can take to still deliver them way undercooked.

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:  David Trimble, former First Minister for Northern Ireland; Derek Mooney

British Prime Minister, Theresa May is in Belfast today to make a speech at… sorry… to give a speech to local business leaders. The speech will re-state her “absolute commitment” to avoiding a hard border, post Brexit.

Her statement of commitment is welcome, just as welcome as it was when first made over two years ago, but with only seven weeks to go to the March 29 exit and after 18 exhaustive months of negotiations, surely it is not asking too much to expect her to say how she will turn this commitment into reality?

This is a crisis of her own making. She says she is committed to no hard border, but then she also says that she is equally committed to having a Brexit that takes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland out of the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market, as well as out of the EU institutions.

The hard truth is that she cannot commit to ensuring no customs union, no single market and no hard border at the same time. You can do two out of three, but you cannot do all three.

If she wants to avoid a hard border in Ireland, then simple logic dictates that those who want to have both Brexit and no hard border must yield somewhat on the issues of the Single Market and the Customs Union to ensure there is no hard border.

The Backstop is the way that both sides have agreed – and it is important to recall that the British government have already signed off on this – that Ireland and Northern Ireland can remain part of the same EU-UK customs territory with no tariffs, quotas, or checks on rules of origin until a future alternative arrangement is agreed. The EU has produced a very useful guide to what is actually in the Backstop.

But, the Brexiteers repeatedly shriek, there is no need for this beastly Backstop. Thereby missing the fact that the current version of the Backstop was effectively designed by them.

According to such grand pooh-bahs of Brexit as Johnson, Rees-Mogg and Baker you can magically have all three right now by way of “alternative arrangements”.

Unfortunately, none of them can point to any border anywhere in the world where these arrangements are in place.

As the deputy leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson MP put it yesterday, they are:

“…old men, who can’t operate a smartphone, talking about a technology that doesn’t exist.”

The fact that the technology does not yet exist has not stopped even supposedly sensible and moderate British Cabinet Ministers from peddling the myth.

Speaking on last Sunday’s Andrew Marr Show on BBC 1, the British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said an alternative arrangement to prevent the return of physical checks on the Irish/Irish border “can be done” with existing technology.

Oh no it can’t.

And this is not just me, the Irish Government, the EU negotiations team and the almost every trade and border expert saying it can’t…. it’s the British government too.

Just four days before Javid told Marr that existing technology could do it, on January 30 the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, John Penrose MP told the House of Commons that:

‘I understand that the Cabinet Office commissioned work on what existing software and other technologies are available from other low-friction land borders around the world to see whether they could provide a solution to the problem.’

The conclusion was that no existing off-the-shelf package could deliver exactly what will be needed in Northern Ireland, so new solutions will be needed.

Talk about a lack of joined up government.

Meanwhile, as the Brexiteers continue their ham-fisted attacks on the front door of the Backstop, Lord David Trimble, the first First Minister of Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement is set to launch an attack on the Backstop via the back door.

Trimble plans to ask the Courts rule that Backstop undermines the Good Friday Agreement.

It would be easy to brush aside Trimble’s action as mere Quixotic, Brexiteer nonsense, but his key role in helping to deliver the Good Friday Agreement and his political bravery in sticking by it, means he is deserving of a bit more respect.

Trimble’s argument appears to follow the same lines as those recently put forward by his friend and former adviser, Lord Paul Bew. Bew claims that the Backstop is a top-down imposition on Northern Ireland which takes away the people’s democratic control, i.e. their consent – consent being the core principle of the Good Friday Agreement.

Trimble (and Bew’s) pro Brexit champions hail them as the authors and architects of the Good Friday Agreement.

A deserved accolade, but they are not its sole authors. The Good Friday Agreement was the product of long painstaking negotiations between the two Governments and a cross section of Northern Ireland’s political parties – though not the DUP.

While the final agreement was the result of multiple inputs, its core architecture – particularly the Three Strands of relationships at its core: internal: between the two communities, North/South between the two parts of this island and east/West between the two islands, comes from John Hume.

Hume’s protégé, Mark Durkan, who went on serve with Trimble as Deputy First Minister, is widely acknowledged as the expert on the detail of the Good Friday Agreement.

He has deftly refuted Trimble and Bew’s claims by highlighting how the Backstop, along with the Jan 14th Juncker Tusk letter, upholds the existing Strand I and Strand 2 conditions of the Good Friday Agreement and rules out any new regulatory divergence.

As Durkan has observed, is it not curious how those who now claim the Backstop undermines the consent of the Northern Ireland people were perfectly content to ignore the, bottom up, democratic will of the 56% in Northern Ireland who voted to Remain.

And, as Durkan adds:

“…they gloried in the UK Supreme Court ruling that the principle of consent specified in the GFA applies solely to a democratic choice between United Kingdom and United Ireland… [and] does not extend to the UK’s relationship with the EU.”

Impartial academics agree with Durkan’s read, including QUB’s Dr Katy Hayward who has produced this response to Lord Bew’s claims.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps May’s Belfast speech will provide some real insight into how she plans to resolve her own contradictory commitments?

Eh no… on reflection, I reckon we’ll see Simon Harris acknowledge his mishandling of the Children’s Hospital and the Nurses’ strike and resign long before we see 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

Earlier: Red For Wrong, Blue For Right

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