Tag Archives: Mooney on Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To say I was flabbergasted is to put it mildly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the SDLP statement following his announcement yesterday said:

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

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

No, not a chance.

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

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

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

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

This is college politics projected into the national arena.

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

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

That Mark finds himself embroiled with this stroke is saddening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Durkan was that voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry it has turned out this way.

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

Yesterday: Lurking Durkan Causes Smirking

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is no small task.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; Derek Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a bad approach. It is certainly prudent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no it can’t.

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

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

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

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

Talk about a lack of joined up government.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, as Durkan adds:

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier: Red For Wrong, Blue For Right