Promises to keep when you have mid-terms to avoid?

In this week’s column, which first appeared online on Broadsheet.ie on January 17th 2022, I looked at the beleagured leadership of Boris Johnson and suggest that he may limp on until May when his fate could be sealed by a bad mid-term local election result. Meanwhile, the three Irish government party leaders will be happy that the next locals and european elections are not due here until 2024 and so they face no mid-term electoral test in 2022… except…   

2019: Simon Coveney campaigning unsuccesfully to persuade Cork voters to back having a directly elected lord mayor of Cork. Limerick backed the plan. But 1000 days later it is not much closer to actually electing one. Photograph: Clare Keogh

In politics, the things you don’t say, or hesitate over saying, can say more about what you are really thinking than the things you do say. You can hear a near textbook perfect example in a short clip from a BBC Radio Devon interview with local Tory MP, Simon Jupp. (I have the audio in the Podcast version of this piece).

Asked if he thinks Boris Johnson will still be Prime Minister and Tory Leader this time next month, Jupp – a former BBC journalist and senior Tory party communications adviser – responds with… nothing. There are three or four seconds of silence, before he finally struggles to say he probably will.

Setting aside the schadenfreude of hearing a former press officer who may in his time have scolded ministers on their dire media outings, delivering an even worse one, Jupp’s performance highlighted the scale of the peril facing Johnson.

Though he now holds what was once a safe Tory seat, Jupp was still a beneficiary of the Boris bounce in 2019 and is one of the new in-take of MPs, whose personal loyalty to Boris would be presumed. Incorrectly, it seems.

That said, Jupp may well be right. Though Johnson is clearly damaged goods and a potential liability to the Tory party, he will probably limp through the coming month, and several months after that, before the 54 letters needed to trigger a no-confidence motion are submitted to the famous 1922 Tory Backbench committee.

Continue reading “Promises to keep when you have mid-terms to avoid?”

Sinn Féin discovers public sector reform, a decade after everyone else… late, but still welcome

This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 10th 2022 and looks at Sinn Féin’s 10-year-wait to discover the need for public sector reform. I also examine their record on this issue, in that part of the island, where they have ministerial responsibility for public sector reform

Sinn Féin, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Something unusual, though politically significant, happened during the first 10 minutes of last Friday’s “Gathering” on RTÉ Radio 1’s Claire Byrne Today show.

We have become so accustomed to hearing Sinn Féin spokespeople sticking carefully to their talking points and holding the party line, that hearing one utter even the vaguest criticism of their leader, is jarring.

Yet that is what Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly did when she said that she “wouldn’t use necessarily the words that Mary Lou used…”. The words to which O’Reilly was referring, which she also called “inelegant”, had come from an Irish Examiner interview in which the Sinn Féin leader said of the need for public sector reform:

“But we have, in many respects, a system that is constipated, a system that is slow, and a system that needs to be jolted… “

It’s not often you hear a Sinn Féin spokesperson upbraid their leader in public and get away with it. Louise’s move was politically bold and strategically wise.

Continue reading “Sinn Féin discovers public sector reform, a decade after everyone else… late, but still welcome”

For Both Taoiseach and Tánaiste The Question is: To reshuffle, or not…?

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on January 4th and looks at the contrasting approaches that both Taoiseach and Tánaiste appear (from their public comments, at least) to the possibility of a reshuffle of their ministesr when the government mid-point/turnabout comes next December.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee – Picture: Sam Boal Via Irish Examiner

Political commentators hailing a minister who was on maternity leave for half of 2022 as their politician of the year tells you a lot about the state of Irish politics.

Not that I particularly object to their choice of Minister Helen McEntee. Her absence from the cabinet table at a challenging time did nothing to diminish her public profile, while the positive media treatment of her return, did much to enhance it.

Minister McEntee is one of the few recognisable names and faces around the Cabinet table. She has become a political figure in her own right, albeit one who is still untested – a point I made here last February.

This is not something you can say about all her colleagues. While some do stand out as individuals with thoughts and ideas of their own, most come across as either politically shapeless or just innocuous. Mercifully the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have not required certain ministers wear nametags at meetings, if What’s My Line ever returns to our TV screens, the panel would have some trouble discerning precisely what the Minister for Children or the Minister for Agriculture do for a living. Continue reading “For Both Taoiseach and Tánaiste The Question is: To reshuffle, or not…?”

We Can’t Spite Ourselves On Covid Restrictions

The column first appeared on Broadsheet on December 20th. In it I look at the latest government responses to the Omicron variant and ask if we are taking sufficient notice from what our government, and others across Europe and across the globe, have sometimes done wrong, and often done right.

I specifically urge the re-establishment of the Special Dáil Committee on Covid-19, which was, in a most short-sighted move, disbanded in October 2020.

A sign for a Covid-19 testing centre at London Heathrow Airport – Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

In his hefty 2011 tome, The Better Angels of Our Nature, cognitive psychologist, Prof Steven Pinker argues that the lesson is history is a society that has become less violent. His central premise is that there has never been any time, in the history of mankind, when we were less likely to die at another’s hand, than now.

It’s an uncommonly positive and optimistic analysis of the state of the world. Right now we need as much of that as we can get. Pinker’s outlook is not unique to him. Many others have reached the same conclusion. This is hardly a surprise. The statistics are convincing.

Continue reading “We Can’t Spite Ourselves On Covid Restrictions”

GDPR: Going after the DPAs – First Belgium… Ireland next?

This is a short article I wrote for the BEERG (Brussels European Employee Relations Group) weekly newsletter on some interesting recent developments on data protection, particularly the criticisms of the Irish Data Protection Commission. Though unconnected, I had a short Twitter exchange with renowned privacy advocate, Max Schrems, on a related topic, a few days later.   

In early December one of the five directors at Belgium’s Data Protection Authority (APD/GBA) resigned, citing the same concerns about a “lack of independence” at the authority which the EU Commission had raised several weeks earlier.

In November VRT (public-service broadcaster for the Flemish Community of Belgium) ran a story saying that the European Commission was commencing infringement proceeding against Belgium claiming that:

some members of the APD/GBA cannot currently be considered free from outside influence, as they either report to a management committee dependent on the Belgian government, have participated in government projects for the detection of COVID-19- contacts, or are a member of the Information Security Committee.

Continue reading “GDPR: Going after the DPAs – First Belgium… Ireland next?”

Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday December 13th. It looks at a comparison I would never have thought possible just two years ago – but I explain why the two leaders – who do not share many traits or characteristics – regrettably share one very large negative one

The famous blackboard from Derry Girls – now (a copy) in the Ulster Museum

If you haven’t seen it already, then do yourself an enormous favour and check out the glorious blackboard scene from the second series of Derry Girls. Actually, just go and watch all of Lisa McGee’s deeply affectionate and wildly funny account of life in 1990’s Derry.

In the blockboard scene, Fr Peter invites teenagers from a catholic girls’ school and a protestant boys’ school, brought together for a cross community weekend, to suggest examples of things they have in common. These are then written down on a blackboard.

While they struggle to come up with things they have in common, they have no such problem listing their differences: Catholics watch RTÉ; Protestants love soup. Catholics love statues; Protestants hate Abba. The ‘differences’ blackboard is soon overflowing. The similarities one remains bare.

While I’ve no doubt it wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny, ask a group of Irish people what Boris Johnson and Micheál Martin have in common, and they’d struggle to propose much for the similarities one. Continue reading “Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think”

Yes, filter NPHET but filter the air in classrooms first

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on December 6th and looks at two strained sets of relationships. The first is that between ministers and NPHET and the second is the one between the government and the hospitality industry.

When it comes to the relationship between the Cabinet and NPHET, a mutual preparedness to blur the delineation between roles of decision-maker and decision implementer, is coming back to bite… both . 

Meanwhile, the government’s willingness to propose additional restrictions for the hospitality sector can be seen as an attempt to distract from the same government’s lethargy on ICU beds, ventilation and antigen testing.  

Professor of health systems at Dublin City University, Anthony Staines on BBC’s Newsnight (Dec 3 2021)

Many years ago I was asked to help in the re-structuring and re-invigoration of a voluntary organisation. I was one of a group of outsiders. Each tasked with reviewing key aspects of the organisation’s work, operations, and structures.

Each of us brought a different skillset to the mission, HR, communications, fund raising and organisation. Towards the end of the assignment they brought us together to compare notes.

Governance had been a major issue in the organisation with the odd board member accused of crossing the line and getting involved in the day-to-day operations. So, we were all interested to see and hear what the person looking at organisation and governance would recommend.

Continue reading “Yes, filter NPHET but filter the air in classrooms first”

Eine Kleine Sondheim Musik

This week’s column, which first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday November 29th marks a change of pace for me… no politics at all, be it Irish, european, US or UK. Instead I opted to write about the late Stephen Sondheim, whose death was announced on Friday Nov 26th. I have also created a Spotify Playlist to accompany this column. It includes songs mentioned here, plus a few other personal favourites.

American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim onstage at the Fairchild Theater, East Lansing, Michigan, February 12, 1997. (Photo by Douglas Elbinger/Getty Images)

As you can tell from the title, this week’s column will differ from my usual offering. No politics this week.

This is not the column I was planning on Friday afternoon. That one, which will likely resurface next week, dealt with my usual flair, Irish politics.

The news on Friday night that Stephen Sondheim had died, aged 91, changed that.   

This is not an obituary, potted biography, mawkish tribute, or amateur analysis of Sondheim’s towering contribution. How could I compete the many great tributes that have appeared in recent days, including this excellent 2013 article by Frank Rich which the New York magazine re-ran on Friday?

What I offer instead is a personal reflection, an explanation of why Sondheim’s music and words has made me laugh and cry more easily and more frequently than almost any other writer, never mind composer.

Continue reading “Eine Kleine Sondheim Musik”

Does MM stand for: Micheál Martin or Managerial Minimalism?

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Novembe 15th and returns to a familiar theme; the flawed political leadership style of Micheál Martin.  

You can tell that it wasn’t a great week for the current government, when one of the least worst headlines it garnered was: Taoiseach defends Eamon Ryan’s appointment of cronies to climate council roles.

It’s like Zapponegate never happened… or maybe it’s that this administration spends so much time lurching from problem to problem that it hasn’t yet had a chance to learn the lessons of the last one?

Let’s look back over the stories that dominated the headlines during just the first few days of last week.

On Tuesday, we discovered that it would be 2042 before we would see a Dart underground line. We also found that that there won’t be new metro lines south or west of Dublin with the next two decades either. All this courtesy of a National Transport Authority review of its strategy for the capital.

This was the same day that we learned that the Department of Finance was considering going after the home purchase deposits coming via the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’. (It took Pascal Donohoe several days to walk this story back.)

Continue reading “Does MM stand for: Micheál Martin or Managerial Minimalism?”

The Shinners ready themselves for government… but are we ready for them?

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday November 1st 2022, two days after the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis in Dublin. I explain why I think speculation about Sinn Féin being in government North and South within the next year, or two, is far too premature. I do not say it is impossible, just that it requires the leaderships in the two traditional big parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to continue to mishandle events and misread the public mood. I firmly believe that one of these two former big beasts (at least) will soon come to its political senses and see that it is not offering the change demanded by a sizable cohort of what is still a moderate electorate.   

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, at the 2005 Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis in Killarney

For about twenty years I lived within a ten-minute walk of the RDS and Simmonscourt. This was particularly useful for the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheiseanna.

It meant I could soak up the atmosphere and anticipation in the hall during the build up to the party leader’s speech, but quickly nip home to see the full speech live on TV and catch the RTÉ news review.

This gave me a better sense of how the speech played in the world outside, as I was seeing what the people at home saw… well, those few who bother to watch these things.

Continue reading “The Shinners ready themselves for government… but are we ready for them?”