Tag Archives: Mooney on Monday

Derek Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Hume, In his own words Edited by Seán Farren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angrynomics by Eric Lonergan and Mark Blyth

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

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

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

 

You’re Fired by Paul Begala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rollingnews


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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s look at some of those decisions.

Actually, let’s not.

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

The two are related and of equal importance and significance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not exactly inspiring stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rollingnews

Meanwhile…

Ah here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this government is only two weeks in office?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus far, it feels right.

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

Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it the worst possible outcome?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how did we get to this point?

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

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

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

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

Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three truths are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rollingnews

From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announcing Phase Two on Friday at Government Buildings; Derek Mooney

Tempting though it is to present you today with yet another analysis piece about the government formation process, I will resist.

My reasons are twofold:

1. There is a 50/50 chance the process will still be ongoing this time next week

2. We are in such a state of flux with events moving faster than ever, there is every chance that the facts underpinning any analysis could change while I write it up.

OK, reason one is a bit flippant. I would be extremely surprised if an agreed document, though not necessarily one agreed by everyone, has not emerged by week’s end.

The second reason remains rock solid.

The one thing I can say with any certainty today is that there are so many moving parts and shifting gears that no one outcome, or series of outcomes, is certain.

No party can take its internal vote for granted. Beware those smiling faces and soothing voices telling you that it will be alright on the night – it might not be.

Party activists and councillors are a wily lot. They will want the arguments for and against presented to them. Party HQs who try to present one side only could face a backlash.

Voters across all three parties – and each party is handling this differently – will take many factors, including ones not included in the Programme for Government, into account when deciding the future of the programme and perhaps their party.

As I explained in my last Broadsheet piece I have consistently thought the Green negotiating team would stay in the talks right to the production of some document. I have argued that the question was not about the production of a document, but rather whether the Green negotiating team will be able to sign off on it as a united team.

As of today that seems unlikely.

Perhaps the platform for Catherine Martin’s leadership bid will be: vote for the deal, but vote for me as the better person to deliver it.

But that is a confused and inelegant message. It is certainly a harder sell than the much simpler: reject the deal and reject the leader who walked us into this.

Come to think of it, that may well be a slogan which folks in other parties might want to consider if and when they decide to change leaders.

Anyways, I have already deployed almost 400 words writing about the topic I’d prefer not discuss just now.

I want, instead, to focus briefly on two other old familiar issues/challenges/opportunities which will still be around if, and when, we eventually get a new government in place.

The first is Brexit. The second is the break-up of the UK, though this an issue which arises logically from the first.

While we have been focused sensibly and correctly on tackling Covid-19 and trying to have socially distant government formation talks, the EU and UK negotiators have been busy meeting up virtually and responsibly but managing to progress nothing.

Recall that the UK, which left the EU on January 31st last, decided unilaterally that it would only allow an 11-month transition period. This was the maximum time it would permit for to negotiate its future trading arrangements with the EU.

We are not far off the mid-point of that transition and neither side is anywhere closer to agreeing those future trading arrangements. If anything the process is going the other way. In his June 5th press conference assessing the current state of negotiations the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said:

“In all areas, the UK continues to backtrack on the commitments it has undertaken”

He went on to say that the UK doesn’t want to talk about “cooperation on foreign policy, development and defence… I still don’t understand why”.

He is not the only one wondering why. Surely, one would think, as Johnson’s government set the short negotiation time frame before Covid-19 struck, it would not be unreasonable for the UK to seek an extension of the time frame for talks.

Not only would it be reasonable, it would be sensible and practical to get an extension, as Colum Eastwood MP and others have argued.

There are very real and potentially lethal consequences for people on this island, North and South. If there is no transition extension, then the UK will be a third country for data protection rules from January 1st next.

It will be outside the scope of GDPR and that will make the transfer of personal data to the UK impossible. This includes personal health data. What is the point of Covid-19 contact tracing apps North and South that cannot speak to each other and cannot share your personal data as you cross the border?

To quote Colum Eastwood:

“the contact tracing programme is critical for cross-border workers, border communities and our wider population… Anything that hinders the free flow of data will critically undermine the contact tracing process and put lives at risk”.

(See this UCL report for more detailed explanation of how complex and difficult EU/UK data transfers will be if the UK leaves without any agreement).

Sadly, as my colleague Tom Hayes has set out in this lengthy, but detailed analysis of what motivates brexiteers today, Johnson, Gove, Cummings and the other brexiteers cannot countenance a transition extension, as that would concede a real value to EU membership, and they can never do that.

But, as the laws of political physics dictate, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Just as Johnson and Co put the interests of Brexit and Brexiteers above those of the voters, the voters, particularly those in Scotland are putting their interests, particularly their interest in a secure, safe and self-determined future ahead of Brexit and a south of England centric United Kingdom.

Poll results released in Scotland on Friday showed 52% of Scottish voters in favour of Scottish independence. It is the fourth Panelbase poll on Scottish independence conducted so far this year and shows a consistent lead for Yes to Independence – see Scottish poll blog here.

While it is not a commanding or irreversible lead, it shows a clear direction of travel with Yes to Independence having a 3pt lead over No by 48:45 even when you include the 7% Don’t Knows, an ever-dwindling cohort.

It is as if the occupants of Downing Street want to push Scotland out of the Union, closely followed by Northern Ireland and are happy to say or do whatever is needed to provoke voters into going.

Be it his mishandling of the UK’s Covid-19 response, the Brexit talks or the Dominic Cummings Durham drive fiasco, which was bizarrely blessed with the hashtag #Cummgate, Boris Johnson proves that when it comes to rousing passions he can do it harder, faster and probably quicker, than Alex Salmond ever managed.

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

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From top: Green Party TDs, including leader Eamon Ryan (fourth left) and deputy leader Catherine Martin (in red) assemble following General Election ’20;; Derek Mooney

If, on the night of the election count, you had been asked to bet on which of the three leaders, of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Greens, would face a leadership challenge first, I very much doubt many would have their money on Éamon Ryan.

Why would they? As the counting of ballots ended Ryan was the only one of the three with anything to celebrate. While Martin and Varadkar were trying to explain away seat losses, Ryan was almost iridescent as he watched the ranks of his Dáil party swell from just two TDs to twelve.

Ryan was not just a successful leader, he was the Green’s most successful ever leader in its almost 40-year history, winning twice as many seats as had been won under Trevor Sargent in 2002 or 2007.

It was the leadership careers of Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin which seemed to be hanging delicately in the balance that week.

Maybe it is an indication of how much politics has changed in recent months that both Varadkar and Martin seem relatively (though not equally) secure in their positions, while it is Ryan who could well be struggling for political survival.

The announcement last Wednesday by Green Deputy Leader Catherine Martin TD that she would give “serious consideration” to the request from party members to “step up and contest the upcoming leadership election” has given rise to a lazy narrative by some political pundits that this just typical green silliness and that party is not engaged in mature adult politics.

It is not a view to which I subscribe.

What is happening in the Green Party is not your traditional bun fight between competing egos looking for the top job. It is a high-stake struggle between competing outlooks for the future of the Green Party. A party which has changed significantly over the past few years.

Ryan may be about to become the victim of his own success. He has brought a new and committed generation of activists into the party, but unlike many of their antecedents, they see the government of which Ryan was a key part as the origin of the party’s difficulties.

To understand what is happening in the Green party today you need to grasp just how much the party has changed over the last few years, from the bottom up.

The Green party of today is not the same Green party that went into government with Fianna Fáil in 2007. Yes, there are some familiar faces still near the top, but go past this thin layer and it is a vastly different party in terms of membership.

Figures released by the Green party in advance of its July 2019 National Convention showed that party membership was up by over 60%, including a doubling of members over an 18-month period from January 2018. In other words, fewer than 40% of its current members were around during the 2007 – 2011 period.

This new membership has a very jaundiced view of the Green’s participation in that government. Along with those veterans who weren’t fans of the 2007 decision to enter government, or the 2009 mid-term decision to stay in, they are less focused on the global economic crash that buffeted the government than they are on:

(a) the perception that it failed to deliver significantly on Green issues and

(b) the reality that participation led to a Green electoral collapse which meant no green voice in national politics from 2011 to 2016.

This was a central theme of the aforementioned 2019 Convention and still dominates internal discussions. Why go into government now if you are almost certain that political history says you will have  no political voice for the following five years?

It will certainly be to the forefront of the minds of many activists when they vote on any deal – which assumes the process gets that far – so there will have to be a great deal in that deal (pick any pun you want in that line I’m sure I intended it) to trump these twin concerns. Remember, one of the motions debated at the 2019 convention argued that:

‘Environmentalism is totally incompatible with capitalism and we can no longer shy away from talking about it.’

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall when Ryan put this point to Varadkar and Martin?

So, as I have said here before, I cannot see what is in it for them to enter government now.

Certainly, the Greens will never be more needed or wanted in a government than they are now and, I am sure, Éamon Ryan believes this gives them considerable leverage in the government formation process, but the need and want is not related to Green policies, it’s about their numbers.

Leo and Micheál want Éamon for his bodies, not their minds.

The Greens would be going into government at precisely the moment when the policy options and choices will be more limited than ever.

The narrowness of the options facing government over the next 18 months will make the ones facing government in 2009 look roomy. Despite the unicorns and sunbeams shoe-horned into Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s Framework agreement, the choices facing the next government are horrendous.

Let me be clear, this is not an argument for the Greens, or others, to avoid difficult decisions and scurry to the opposition benches to join Sinn Féin.

It is simply a reality check on how restricted the scope for meaningful policy changes will be for the next two years.

Take energy policy, for example. We will need every resource we can get our paws on to aid our post pandemic economic recovery and that means exploring the natural gas in Irish waters.

I know this is not something the Greens like to hear, but they need to remember this when they are being asked to frontload 100% of their credibility on a government which has, at the very best, only a 50/50 chance of getting to its own mid-point.

Are the Green’s ready to bet that their government partners, and here I mean Fine Gael, is going to stay the course and not cut and run when it thinks it can dump the Greens and cannibalise what remains of Martin’s Fianna Fáil?

As we saw last week, there are plenty of Fine Gael-ers who think an election now is a better bet than coalition – do the Greens (or Fianna Fáil) really think the blue leopard will change its spots because they’ll all be getting along well?

By this time next week (i.e. the June Bank Holiday Monday) the talks will be entering their last full week. At that point a few things can happen.

The Green party negotiating team could conclude that an agreement is not possible and simply walk out. This is perhaps the unlikeliest option. In her statement of last Wednesday Catherine Martin not only says that any possible leadership campaign should be subsequent to the government formation process, she stresses that she

“…believe[s] it is important that government formation talks fully conclude uninterrupted…”

I suspect the talks, which are now expanded to include independent TDs will result in some form of a document. The question is whether the Green negotiating team will be able to sign off on it as a united team.

If the full five member negotiating team cannot do that, then it is hard to see how the party’s leadership can remain united and recommend acceptance to a postal ballot of all Green Party members across the island.

While both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael only require simple majorities in their postal ballots (though winning by a margin below 60:40 could spell trouble for either man) the Greens require a two-thirds majority of those voting.

It’s a high hurdle to overcome when your negotiating team is united. Virtually impossible when it is not – and right now with Catherine Martin parking the issue of leadership until after that vote, it is hard to see how Éamon Ryan gets his 66.6%.

Ironically, it is still possible that Ryan gets to stay on as leader a few days longer than his colleagues, particularly if either of their party memberships dissent… and just right now I would not be rushing to PaddyPower.com to bet on them both winning.

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

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From top: Fine Gael Tanaisté Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien on RTÉ One’s The Week in Politics yesterday; Derek Mooney

As I opened last week’s column talking about how virtual quizzes have helped make this lockdown easier to bear, it’s only fair that I give TV a bit of credit.

Not just Television in general, even though it has helped a lot. I am thinking of one new TV drama series in particular. You know it.

Whether you follow it in weekly instalments on RTÉ, or binge watch it online, it has garnered an enormous amount of attention, stretching well beyond its normal time slot. It has given radio phone-in shows across the country plenty to talk and argue about.

Some say it captures the beauty and brutality of courtship and rejection with compassion and feeling. They point to the how the slow, methodical progression of the will they, won’t they narrative hesitantly gives way to the uneasy tensions of the first fumblings of intimacy.

The on screen appearance of a few limp dicks has set folks on to social media to rant about a loss of values, nonetheless it has still been the landmark lock-down drama.

But enough about the government formation process, hasn’t Normal People been a great watch too?

Trust me, I would much prefer to be writing about Normal People than what I am about to deliver, but I am a political wonk and that means sticking with the stuff about which I know something.

Fianna Fáil colleagues will be relieved to know that this week’s piece will not be about the party’s trials and tribulations – well not directly, anyway.

After four or five weeks of shoehorning oblique “emperor’s new clothes” references into my weekly offerings, I am taking a rest and letting them off the hook… for now.

My plan, up to mid-way through Sunday afternoon, was to look at how Fine Gael was handling this government formation process.

While the plan hasn’t changed, the intemperate and petulant statement issued on Sunday by the Blueshirts… sorry… Fine Gael… altered the angle from which I will approach that analysis.

While the immediate sturm und drang thrown up by Fine Gael’s statement may abate when Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar get to meet face-to-face today, it does highlight the absence of any trust between the two parties. Yet both leaders insist this faltering process can and must result in a government capable of lasting for four and half years?

So, how did this particular drama unfold and just how did it end up with Fine Gael saying the talks process is damaged?

It started, on the face of it, early on Saturday morning with a front page scoop by the Irish Times’ Fiach Kelly. He said that plans:

“…are being drafted by officials on the orders of Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy on a contingency basis should the current negotiations to form a government fail”.

Note the bit in bold… on the orders of. Now, while I cannot speculate on where a highly respected political reporter like Fiach got this story, I am willing to bet that it didn’t come from Fianna Fáil.

It may have come from the department, it is generally accepted that senior officials do not leak, well, not unless there is a very real benefit to the department in them leaking… and I am not seeing that here.

It is not unreasonable to therefore deduce that it may have come from someone around Fine Gael, though there is no hard evidence to support that.

Not that the source is ultimately all that important, especially as the core of the story is true. Such a contingency is being considered, though probably not on the orders of the Minister.

So, now we have the lit fuse, step forward Fianna Fáil who respond by engaging in a bit of tit-for-tat. They see Fine Gael as goading them with a “we can have an election if you folks fail to agree with us” message via the Irish Times and strike back with a tweet from Barry Cowen.

This is followed up on by a few other Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators. So far, so not very unusual. Not especially edifying, but process damaging? No.

Indeed, it is worth recalling that politicos and journos have been talking about a second election for weeks. I wrote about it here at the beginning of April, and suggested that far back that such speculation was possibly fuelled by informed discussions with sources not far removed from the Fine Gael leadership.

Back to the sequence of events. Things go quiet until yesterday at noon, when Fine Gael’s Deputy Leader, Simon Coveney is asked about the matter on RTE’s The Week In Politics.

Rather than responding to Fianna Fáil’s response and ramping up tensions, Coveney does what grown-ups are expected to do and moves swiftly to de-escalate the situation.

He tells Aine Lawlor that he had spoken to his Fianna Fáil counterpart, Dara Calleary and assured him that Fine Gael was not planning for a snap general election.

Fianna Fáil’s representative on the show Darragh O’Brien TD, not known for being one of politics’ great softies, sees Coveney being conciliatory and reciprocates by putting down his political cudgel.

So, as folks sat down to have their Sunday lunch it looked like the fuse was extinguished and the crisis averted. Just then Fine Gael churned out his statement. But to what precisely was the statement a response?

Darragh O’Brien had not cranked things up after Coveney’s mollification, quite the opposite, in fact. Could the official Fine Gael statement be a response – even a rebuff – to Coveney?

Could it be that Fine Gael’s own malcontents were so outraged by the sight of Coveney being too conciliatory to them’uns in Fianna Fáil that Varadkar threw them some red meat to gnaw and so what if Coveney and the government formation process were collaterally damaged

There are odd, even eerie, echoes in this micro-crisis to the November 2017 real crisis when Varadkar risked the fate of his government to save France Fitzgerald.

I wrote about it here at the time. Re-reading that piece shows how the Fine Gael playbook has hardly changed. Constant brinksmanship. Deliberate and contradictory mixed messaging.

Minister after Minister sent out to accuse Fianna Fáil of wanting an election while the Taoiseach tells RTE’s Six One:

“I don’t believe Micheál Martin wants one [an election] either, by the way…”

Varadkar got his blame game wrong in 2017, but are his team of advisers convinced that his situation is so bolstered by the pandemic crisis, or that Martin’s is so undermined by falling poll numbers, that the tactics that failed then will work now?

Even if they were to work, what do they expect to happen?

Do they think Martin will dispatch his two loyal lieutenants to appease faux Fine Gael outrage? If he does that, Martin is toast – but even if he were to survive, how does that move anything forward?

This is more about relations within Fine Gael than it is about relations between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. That said, neither sets of relations are in good shape and won’t improve anytime soon.

While Martin and Varadkar may emerge from today’s discussion with socially distanced handshakes, the illusion of understanding and even hints of contrition, the trust that wasn’t there on Saturday morning, still won’t be there tomorrow.

The damage to the process didn’t suddenly appear on Saturday, it has been there from the start, and long before that, if the truth is told. The absence of any trust is one of the few constants in this constantly astonishing process.

People do not have to like each other for trust to develop, but they must feel that they are in something together for mutual benefit and with mutual risk.

Neither is evident here. Why would it be when one party thinks it has loads of options, though probably not many as it hopes, and the other party is being told from the top down that there is no alternative.

Who in their right mind would think this is a recipe for success? Not normal people, that’s for sure

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

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