Tag Archives: Mooney on Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minister of State, Stanton, be on standby.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pics: YouTube/Rollingnews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back then I said that I was:

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

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

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

This cannot be the way we do serious constitutional reform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From top: Presentation of 1916 medals to members of the AirCorp at Baldonnell Airport by Minister of State Paul Keogh; Derek Mooney

It takes a rare political talent to make the Irish defence brief controversial, yet the hapless Paul Kehoe appears to have somehow managed it.

Stories of declining morale, chronic low pay, skills shortages and personnel retention problems fill the airwaves, and still the crisis worsens. Defence force strength which should today stand at 9,500 has been hovering perilously below 8,500 for months.

The 9,500 figure is itself misleading. The 2000 Defence White Paper set the number at 10,500. The reduction in 2009 to 9,500 was only intended as a temporary measure, yet it has entered the political psyche as some fixed upper limit.

While very little of the blame for these crises attach personally to Kehoe, realpolitik dictates that the time has come for him to move on. Kehoe must go.

His misfortune is to have been kept on at the same department for eight years and made endure the consequences of his own inaction. A fate his various colleagues at health and housing magnificently avoided.

His is the sin of omission not commission. He has not done something wrong; he has just done nothing. He has not done the same thing that so many of his ministerial colleagues have also managed not to do, namely exercise any political responsibility or accountability.

Like many of his colleagues, he has confused what appears in his own press releases with reality. He has fallen for the media spin that was only intended to beguile the public.

But things are not made true just because the press release saying so appear unfiltered and unchallenged in the newspapers.

To illustrate this point, let me go back five years to when I was lobbying in Brussels on the employee data aspects of GDPR: the General Data Protection Regulation.

This hugely complex piece of draft legislation was introduced by Viviane Reding, she was both EU Justice Commissioner and a Commission Vice-President. Note, it was a Justice/Home Affairs matter, a point that shortly becomes relevant.

Fast forward to July 2014. Enda Kenny’s mid-term ministerial reshuffle sees a rake of new Ministers of State appointed, including Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy who becomes both Minister of State for European Affairs and Minister of State for Data Protection.

This appointment is hailed as significant. The government is spinning… sorry… signalling that Ireland is taking data protection very seriously and assigning it to a specific minister.

The message was clear so, naturally, the assumption amongst interested observers, including yours truly, was that Murphy would be taking the political lead for Ireland in the important EU discussions on GDPR – an issue of vital importance to Ireland given the number of IT and Social Media companies HQ-ed here.

But how would this work? When appointed in July, Murphy was only formally assigned to the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs but not to the Department of Justice which handled the GDPR negotiations in Brussels.

Attempts to raise this curious anomaly were doggedly resisted by government for four months until two very specific, written parliamentary questions were tabled to An Taoiseach for reply on October 7th 2014.

A few hours before the reply was due to be published, An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny slipped quietly into the Dáil to announce:

“…that the Government today assigned Deputy Dara Murphy as Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality with special responsibility for data protection. This is in addition to his responsibility for European affairs and data protection at the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”

A couple of hours later the following one-line PQ reply was issued:

The Minister of State for European Affairs with special responsibility for data protection is being assigned to the Department of Justice and Equality and will attend Justice and Home Affairs Councils as appropriate.

The fact that he had not been properly appointed back in July was brushed aside. It was as if the previous four months of non-appointment had never happened. It didn’t matter to Fine Gael that he did not have the legal authority to deal with Data Protection as a policy, all that mattered was that it looked like he did.

Though the opposition sought to raise the issue, no one was interested. It never appeared in the newspapers or on the news bulletins, so it must never have happened? Right?

Ok, in the greater scheme of things this specific mistake may not appear to be a big deal, but it is emblematic of how ministerial responsibility is very much an afterthought for Fine Gael in government.

It is how you can now have a cabinet level Defence Minister (i.e. An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar) who has the authority for, but has no interest in, defence policy and a Minister of State who exercises neither authority nor responsibility for it beyond assiduously attending his meetings and taking the salute at military reviews.

Kehoe has simply shown the same ministerial indifference as those with greater seniority.

He has served as the junior to two Taoisigh and two senior cabinet members, Coveney and Shatter. Sending him to the back benches while allowing others to stay would be scapegoating.

Besides, this Government is now so near its own endpoint that it could not sustain the fallout from a difficult ministerial dismissal.

So, while Kehoe is too associated with the mess to be able to meaningfully address it, the most sensible option is to make a one-for-one swap between Kehoe and one of his junior ministerial colleagues.

But who? Might I suggest David Stanton TD, the junior justice minister, as a good fit to replace Kehoe?

Stanton has a solid reputation for speaking his mind and has served, albeit briefly, as Fine Gael’s opposition Defence Spokesperson. More importantly, he is a former officer in the Army Reserve, something that may help personnel and their families have some personal confidence in him.

While switching junior ministers is far from the ideal solution – that would require a full-time Defence Minister at Cabinet level, committed to producing and implementing a Defence White Paper that took national defence seriously – replacing Kehoe with a substantial figure who comes with real understanding of the problem and the political impetus to seriously address the vexed issues of retention and pay would be a very welcome first step.

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

Earlier: No Defence


From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald; Derek Mooney

It is almost exactly two years since Leo Varadkar was selected as Fine Gael leader. On June 2, 2017 after a two-week contest involving FG members and councillors, but primarily TDs and Senators, Varadkar was declared the winner.

He beat Simon Coveney with 60% in a weighted ballot in which TDs and Senators had 65% of the total vote, the membership had 25% and councillors had 10%.

While Coveney won the popular vote among the membership (he secured 35 per cent in the membership ballot), Varadkar got the backing of 51 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party.

Six months later, in January 2018, Mary Lou MacDonald was announced to absolutely no one’s surprise as the sole candidate to succeed Gerry Adams. Adams had announced that he would step down after four decades as Sinn Féin leader at a special Árd Fheis the following month.

Where MacDonald was content to calmly succeed her leader at any time of his choosing, Varadkar had been determined to displace his. But, regardless of how they came to the job, they each came to the job with a major political asset: they were the antithesis of their predecessors.

Where Enda Kenny was a Nokia 6310 using, meat and two veg, dinner in the middle of the day man, Leo Varadkar was iPhone8, avocado toast and green tea.

Where Adams was remote, grizzly, hard faced with a whiff of cordite his favoured successor was engaging, eloquent with a whiff of Chanel Chance.

They came with something else, the expectation, if not the promise, that they would greatly improve their parties’ fortunes and lead both to even greater electoral success.

For Fine Gael that meant recovering the levels support that Kenny had won for them back in 2011, but then lost in the local election of 2014 and the disastrous general election of 2016.

When Varadkar took over in June 2017 Fianna Fáil had been consistently ahead of Fine Gael in the polls by anywhere between 2% and 5% for the previous 12 months.

The TDs who elected him, and as we have seen it was primarily the TDs not the members who backed Leo had the expectation, nay the demand, that Leo improve their fortunes fast and get them back to soundly defeating their Fianna Fáil rivals in the ballot box.

For Sinn Féin the task was clearer and – it seemed – more straight-forward. It was to continue the party’s inexorable progress and show that there was no glass ceiling through which it could not pass.

Mary Lou seemed to offer Sinn Féin a way to break with its past and make itself attractive to a middle class whose backing it needed if it was to develop its support in double digits.

And it looked, for most of 2018 and early 2019 as if both were succeeding. Within weeks of his coming to office Fine Gael’s poll numbers started to dramatically improve: the much-hailed Leo leap.

By Summer 2018 Fine Gael was 9pts ahead of Fianna Fáil in the polls. The same poll showed Mary Lou’s Sinn Féin only 2pts behind the Soldiers of Destiny.

It was like a pincer move with the two new leaders set to each take such a chunk off Fianna Fáil that they may soon see that party off the field and be ready to do direct battle with each other.

Not only was that not to be, the early poll gains started to gradually slip away leading to the point, a few weeks ago where some polls had Leo’s Fine Gael behind Fianna Fáil.

As I said here at the end of April: “We will know which one is right in just over three weeks when we have the results of the Local and European elections.”

And now we do. The electoral gains promised by both Leo and Mary Lou have not only failed to materialise, they have gone the other way. Both leaders have managed to take their parties’ fortunes back to an earlier point.

Sinn Féin is now back in single digit support: 9.5%, but even worse than that; it has lost almost half of its network of local councillors. Sinn Féin’s inexorable march forward is now a messy retreat, which has spread north of the border with its European vote falling there by over 3pts.

On the face of it, MacDonald’s party has fallen furthest, but have no doubt that Varadkar has had even bit as bad a day, he just masks it better.

While he and his close colleagues will point to European Election results, particularly in Midlands/North-West as absolute proof that the Leo leap is real and Leo can still deliver for Fine Gael, the TDs who put him in the job know that success in general elections is based on progress in local elections.

Fine Gael has picked up some extra support in the Locals, but only because it had a bad, a very bad, local elections in 2014. Leo had a low base on which he could very easily build, but he didn’t.

Fianna Fáil not only continues as the biggest party in Local government across the country it is – remarkably – the biggest single party on Dublin City Council.

Fianna Fáil’s vote share is now 2.5% higher than in the 2016 General Election whereas Fine Gael’s is down – albeit marginally.

Varadkar is now presiding over the same level of poor performance for which his backers once bayed for Enda’s scalp. Isn’t he lucky he doesn’t have a Leo Varadkar coming after him?

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: Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste, Simony Coveney, and Minister for Local Government, John Paul Phelan at a Town Hall event earlier theis month in Cork  to discuss local government reform and directly elected mayors; Derek Mooney

On Thursday voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls to elect three members of the European Parliament. Given the dominance of Sinn Féin and the DUP the focus will be on the contest for the last seat between the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood and Alliance’s Naomi Long.

While a win for either will be a win for progressive politics, many at the top of Sinn Féin are hoping Long makes it, though their voters may not agree.

On Friday, voters down here will find themselves confronted by three ballot papers when they get to the polling station.

Not only do we get to choose Ireland’s 13 MEPs (two of whom will sit on the reserve bench until Brexit is resolved) we also get to elect 949 City and County Councillors from the almost 2,000 candidates on offer across the State.

And, as if all that responsibility was not heady enough, most voters (i.e. Irish citizens) will also get a third ballot paper, asking them to approve or reject two specific changes to the constitutional provisions on divorce.

But wait, there’s more.

Some very lucky voters will get a fourth ballot paper. These are the voters residing in Limerick, Cork and Waterford, who are eligible to vote in the local elections. They will get to vote in local plebiscites on whether those cities should have directly elected mayors from 2022.

Galway voters were also due to be asked their opinion, but that plan went off the rails late last year when some technical issues about merged council management systems compelled the government to drop it.

[Compelled is a polite way of saying that Senators, at the behest of Galway’s councillors – also known as Seanad voters – forced the government to back down or be defeated.]

Voters in Dublin will probably not get to vote on the issue until 2021 or 2022, as the Government has opted to kick that thorny issue to a Dublin citizens’ assembly, which may be set up before year’s end.

Almost two decades after the first proposal to have a directly elected mayor for Dublin was mooted and this Government is hoping to send it for consultation. Tempus non fugit.

Not that I am complaining about the delay. At least it means that this bad idea is still a distance away from being implemented in Dublin.

I have written here several times about my reservations… no, let me more direct… about my total opposition to the idea of a directly elected mayor for the greater Dublin area. I am not opposed to the directly elected mayor model, but having one for an area that comprises a third of the country raises major issues of scale.

My most recent tirade was in the aftermath of the knockdown, drag-out, ego fueled electoral contest that was the 2018 Irish Presidential election. I warned how we needed to heed the lessons of that election and realise that having an election for an office with a pulpit and a budget, but neither power nor responsibility could descend into a mess.

Before that, in July 2016, I argued that Dublin needs to have powers and responsibilities devolved from central government so we can plan for the future of the city, but that having a directly elected super-mensch was not the answer.

The boundary of the domain of any directly elected Dublin mayor would be the same as the GAA boundary, covering the four existing Dublin local authorities: Dublin City Council, Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown, South County Council and Fingal.

It is a huge population. But just saying it does not adequately convey the scale. Take a look at this 2019 Euro-constituency map of Ireland. The red bit on the right would be the area under the aegis of a directly elected Dublin mayor.

Now imagine that instead of the red section, it was the yellow part, Midlands North-West, that was to have its own directly elected major. Imagine that this region was to have its own directly elected leader with an electoral mandate second only to the Presidents, but far and away in excess of that of the Taoiseach of the day.

Do you think something on that scale would work politically or administratively?

It would be a recipe for political gridlock with a directly elected Dublin Mayor claiming to speak for about one third of the country, questioning and challenging the policies of the elected government.

The scale is simply too big and too cumbersome for us to go to such a “strong man” model of governance. A situation only exacerbated by the position having relatively little power.

Under the model proposed for Cork, Limerick and Waterford the additional powers and responsibilities that the new directly elected (or executive) mayors would exercise would previously have belonged to the Council Chief Executives (previously called City and County Managers).

But the problem with local government is Ireland is not about the share out of authority between local officials and councillors, it is about the share out of powers between local authorities and central government.

Reform of local government should be about the devolution of powers not the maintenance of the local power imbalance. The situation will favour the Customs House as much after any shift to elected mayors as it did in before it.

This proposal is what you do when you want to look like you are reforming sorting rather than actually reforming it.

This view is not eased by how the whole process has been handled in recent weeks and months. While there is an URL, it just links to the page on the Departments website and that is hardly designed to entice voters to come and find out more.

While the Taoiseach acknowledged in the Dáil at the end of March that there was an information vacuum and that many voters in the three cities were unaware of what they were being asked to vote on, he still insisted that “eight weeks is enough time”.

With three days to go it looks like his confidence in being able to inform everyone in eight weeks, never mind persuade them, was misplaced.

For the ultimate benefit of the people of Dublin I hope the three cities reject the proposal on Friday and cause the government to think again.

If they accept them, and there could be an interesting dilemma if some cities pass and others reject the proposals, well it is not the end of the world. Local government in all three will continue to function after the first mayors are elected in 2022 just as it had before.

The problem is for Dublin. The city is grinding to a halt. We are pricing new businesses and start-ups out. Dublin has become too expensive to live and work in and too cumbersome to get around by public transport – don’t get me started on the ongoing work of fiction that is Transport for Ireland’s Real Time Passenger Information (RTPI).

Meanwhile, we wait for a meaningful and workable plan for real Dublin city governance that doesn’t look and sound like policy-making by google search.

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: UCC

From top: President Higgins inspects troops at the 1916 Leaders’ Commemoration in Arbour Hill Cemetery, Dublin last week; Derek Mooney

Beyond the Fringe” was a 1960s British comedy revue that was seminal to the rise of British satire… well, according to Wikipedia, it was.

Even if you never heard of the show, you will know its cast. They were: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennet

The revue had lengthy sell-out runs in London’s West End and Broadway and introduced several classical comedy sketches. One in particular has been coming to mind over the past few weeks.

It opens with a group of obsessive devotees gathering at the top of a mountain. They are counting down to midnight and, they believe, the end of the world. Their shaman tells them of what is to befall the world and assures them that they will be safe. Meanwhile the individual followers sheepishly wonder about mundane things like who brought the tinned food… and the tin opener.

The countdown nears its climax. 3… 2… 1. [Spoiler Alert] There is silence. Nothing happens. Unperturbed, the shaman concedes:

“this wasn’t quite the conflagration I’d been banking on… same time tomorrow lads, we must have a winner one day”

And so it is with Sinn Féin, Ming, Daly et al. With the same fixated zeal as the lads on the mountain they are once again predicting the end of neutrality

Mercifully, it is not nightly, though their incantations do seem to come around with a regularity curiously attuned to the electoral cycle.

The fact that every single other prediction of neutrality’s demise and the imminence of EU militarisation have turned out to be utter bunkum or – as the Liberal Democrats might say – bollocks, doesn’t seem to stop them.

Over the past few weeks they have been desperately trying to shoehorn the words PESCO, EU Army, EU militarisation into every answer to every question.

It’s a tactic that worked in Nice I and Lisbon I and they seem to hope it will scare folks into keeping them in the European Parliament. Fool me once, hey?

Other practitioners of the dark arts such as Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage and the folks at Cambridge Analytica would be so proud.

So, our motley crew of doomsayers press on, hoping that facts don’t matter and will be brushed aside in favour of their alternative facts.

But facts do matter. One hard fact that matters a lot, as it debunks the scaremongering, is to be found at Art 29.4.9 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. It vetoes any possibility of Irish involvement in EU common defence:

“The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union where that common defence would include the State”

This was inserted, by the people. The statement is explicit. It constitutionally prohibits our participation in EU common defence.

The idea of Ireland been dragged into some form of EU militarisation or an EU army is such a whopper of a lie that it could be painted on the side of a big red bus and driven around by Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.

What these people need to get their heads around is that like-minded EU countries can and will talk about defence cooperation and increasing their spending on defence. They will act on it too. It can hardly come as shock seeing that 22 (Incl UK) of the 28 EU member states are members of NATO.

But our insistence that other EU member states acknowledge our right to opt-out of Common Defence, means that we cannot then deny them the right to decide for themselves if they want to opt in.

Merkel and Macron have indeed said that Europe must “take more responsibility for its defence and security” especially given Trump’s disparaged the European members of NATO.

It is a debate and a development to which we should pay attention. No one is saying that this is something we should ignore. But the point is that we are not being dragged, pulled or pushed into anything. There is no clandestine Brussels scheme to entice, cajole or force us into any type of creeping EU militarisation.

We have our veto. Our Constitution affirms Ireland’s “adherence to the principle of the pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination”.

We are multilateralists. We believe in the international rule of law. Our military neutrality not only means we will not be part of a military alliance, it also means that we decide how our troops are deployed and how much we spend on defence (an issue to which I shall return).

The Triple Lock on overseas deployments for 12 or more troops is still the basis on which we decide how our troops are deployed, as it has since the first UN peacekeeping mission 61 years ago.

Our troops are only deployed where there is a UN mandate, a Government decision and Dáil approval.

There has been no diminution in any of these things despite decades of our being told that the end of all of them is nigh.

The folks who say our neutrality is under threat are the ones who also said that it would be destroyed forever by joining the EU (then EEC) or by passing each and every EU treaty. But it hasn’t.

Sinn Féin said that the Lisbon Treaty would lead to an increase in Irish defence spending. It is the exact opposite. It has gone down since then – but this is not something we should treat as a virtue, especially as over 70% of Irish defence spending is on pay and pensions. The remaining 30% is supposed to be on training, defence equipment etc., but the percentage is now lower.

Instead of all the fatuous scaremongering how about a proper grown-up debate on Irish defence spending?

How about we talk seriously about real defence issues here like fair pay, declining morale, and the chronic personnel and skills shortages across the Defence Forces.

How about an evidence-based debate on the role of the Defence Forces play in on-island security and the central role they should be playing in protecting our vital infrastructures such as hospitals, transport and information systems from cyber-attacks and info ops. This is not about future risk. Ireland is one of the EU member states most targeted for cyber-attacks now.

These are the defence issues we should be discussing, but instead we get rehash of Ming’s greatest misses. Sinn Féin slumps in the opinion polls here and loses seats on Derry and Belfast City Councils and suddenly it goes into full alarmist, dog whistle mode.

As someone who strongly believes that military neutrality is the right policy and that the Triple Lock is essential, I am affronted by the assault on both from people spuriously claiming to be their defenders.

Their mendacities are a greater threat to our military neutrality than any loose talk of an EU Army because they risk convincing voters that the policy is already lost and is no longer there to be maintained.

When you stop and think about it, the best way to reaffirm our military neutrality is not by backing the ones who claim it is already gone, but by voting for MEPs who will strongly make the case for it.

That means having MEPs in European Parliament groups such as Alde (Fianna Fáil), S&D (Labour) and the Greens, who support the Triple Lock and drop the those who tell their mates on the EU fringes that all here is lost.

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: 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