This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on October 14th in the aftermath of the Johnson/Varadkar meeting at the Wirral to discuss Brexit. The two men were said to have spoken in private for 90 minutes without officials or advisers present. Did those talks focus on the specific details of the Irish border arrangements or were they more political?
Visitors to the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) presidential library in Austin, Texas get to have their photos taken against a life size photo of the 6’ 4” LBJ leaning over them, appearing – figuratively – to bend them to his will. It is called “The Johnson Treatment”.
The original photo featured LBJ’s soon to be US Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas. It is just one of many photos of LBJ applying the eponymous “treatment”, once described by the pre-eminent Washington political columnist, Mary McGrory, as “an incredible, potent mixture of persuasion, badgering, flattery, threats, reminders of past favours and future advantages.”
In a fascinating interview at the John F Kennedy library, LBJ’s speechwriter (and husband of the great presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin), the late Richard Goodwin tells how LBJ worked his “treatment” on the segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace after the Selma marches. Wallace had come to the White House, Goodwin recounts: Continue reading “Did Leo get the Johnson and Johnson treatment?”
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on September 10th 2019
Boris Johnson came to call on us, He wanted to tell all of us, Brexit won’t put a wall ‘round us, it’s frictionless.
Not so, says Leo back to him. We’re waitin’ for some facts from ‘em, So it’s the Backstop we’ll be backing then, Athena.
Take him up to Monto, Monto, Monto…
If you listen closely you can just hear the ghost of George Hodnett groan at the thought of his comic folk song “Monto” having my pitiful new verse inflicted upon it.
Nonetheless, commemorating the visit of the reigning contender for the twin titles of worst and last ever UK Prime Minister to our fair city, in verse does somehow seem appropriate.
Continue reading “Tackling the #Brexit Threat of #DirectRule in Northern Ireland Directly”
This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 30th, 2019. Any optimism that existed in my previous article from a week before was, by now, gone
This day last week Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Tory party. Profiling him here I described Johnson as the incoming Prime Minister of the slowly disunifying United Kingdom.
A few days later the SNP leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, described Johnson in even starker and bleaker terms hailing him as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Comments over the last few days suggest that Blackford may well be close to the truth.
Last week I hoped that Johnson might use his admiration for Churchillian rhetoric to define – for the first time ever – what Brexit means.
Johnson had a very small window in which to set out a deliverable form of Brexit and give Britain a transition period during which it could have the best of both worlds. It would be fully out of the political and administrative institutions of the European Union. Out of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council, but would still have the economic benefits of membership while it negotiated the terms of its future arrangement.
Continue reading “Topic: @BorisJohnson – the last #UK Prime Minister?”
This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 2nd 2019. It followed my attendance at the funeral service in Derry for the great Northern Ireland champion of civil rights, the late Ivan Cooper
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. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Tributes”
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 29th 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.
Continue reading “Trimbling in fear of #Brexit #Backstop”
This column appeared on broadsheet.ie on Oct 23rd, 2018
Many, many years ago I went to see the great Billy Connolly perform live at the Gaiety theatre. He talked about his brief time working as a riveter in the Clyde side shipyards.
At one point he asked the audience if we recalled those old British Pathé newsreels of jaunty, merry Glasgow shipbuilders waving their hats and cheering loudly as the ship, on they had been working, was launched and slid into the Clyde.
As Connolly reminded us, though the newsreels portrayed these workers as delighting in the completion of another fine ship, the simple reality what they were actually waving goodbye to their jobs as most of them would be laid off the next day.
Today’s DUP is very much like those shipbuilders. In happily cheering-on the prospect of a hard Brexit they are celebrating the end of any economic future for Northern Ireland.
Continue reading “Foster, Wilson and the rest are just DUP-ing themselves on #Brexit”
This Broadsheet.ie column explains how one low-key but deeply sincere Dublin GAA action did more to get the DUP’s Arlene Foster to move, than months of politicians and pundits haranguing
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. Though I am tempted to pretend that I recall this dusty old latin phrase from my days doing inter-cert latin in Synge St., the truth is that I only know it from watching The West Wing.
It is the title of episode two of season one and its significance is explained by the President Bartlett character when it translates it to his staff saying:
“‘After it, therefore because of it.’ It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. But it’s not always true, in fact it’s hardly ever true.”
Yet another “The West Wing” truism. If only today’s real thing were as clever as Aaron Sorkin could right it. Nonetheless, the point is well made. It’s a common mistake in politics to so imagine that there is order and logic in events that we manage to project some form of order and sequencing on to them.
In politics, the cock-up theory more often applies than the conspiracy one.
Continue reading “How @DublinGAA indirectly got @DUPleader to Clones… via the Somme”
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 29th 2018.
There have been a few Fr Ted references here over the past few days, so let’s start off with another one. Remember that episode of Fr Ted where the lads need to raise money to fix the water leaks in the parochial house?
You know the one, they destroy the car Bishop Brennan gives them for the raffle and thus have to rig the draw to ensure that Dougal’s ticket wins it. Ted gets Fr Billy “Spinmaster” O’Dwyer to do the disco before the draw, but there’s a problem. Fr Billy has only one record with him and it’s “Ghost Town” by The Specials. Undeterred, the Spinmaster plays it over and over and over again, oblivious to the fact that the crowd have stopped listening.
I like Ghost Town. Not only is it a good song, it is a serious piece of popular social commentary, but even the loyalist Special fan would concede that forcing anyone to listen to it over and over again could turn them against it.
This is something that Sinn Féin’s “spinmasters” Mary Lou MacDonald and Michelle O’Neill could do well to bear in mind.
Continue reading “Change the record Mary Lou”
Truth and Reconciliation Platform (TaRP) event at Kennedy Institute, Maynooth University: Stephen Travers, Seamus Mallon, Eugene Reavey and Dr. Rory O’Hanlon (Pic via https://twitter.com/TaR_Platform)
In a week when a referendum campaign that has managed to divide some of us comes, mercifully, to an end; it is worth recalling that this week, in fact this day, marks the twentieth anniversary of a referendum that briefly united us across this island.
Twenty years ago today, almost 2.5 million people across this island went to the polls to vote on accepting the Good Friday Agreement. Just over 2.1 million of them said Yes to the Agreement while 360,000 voted against.
The results, North and South, endorsed what the parties had agreed at Stormont Buildings and saw Northern Ireland set to see a return of devolution based on partnership government.
Heady days. But anyone who thought that having such a sizeable public endorsement and mandate for the Good Friday Agreement was going to ensure its smooth and speedy implementation was soon to be sorely disappointed.
Continue reading “#GFA20: when voting united us – Why Seamus Mallon should be honoured”
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 8th 2018 under the title: There is no Future in England’s Dreaming
I opened my third Broadsheet column with a 1962 quote from the former US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson:
“Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.
When that column appeared at the end of May 2016 the U.K. Brexit referendum vote was still three weeks away. We still had hope.
Almost two years later and Acheson’s quote seems truer than ever. Over the past few weeks we have seen increasing evidence that the UK Cabinet is incapable of agreeing a common and unified position on the Customs Union and the Single Market.
On one side you have the beleaguered Prime Minister and Tory leader arguing for a “customs partnership” that would see the UK just outside the existing EU Customs Union but remaining so aligned with it and EU standards as to render borders unnecessary.
Continue reading “Dean Acheson, Brex-iteers and Theresa May or…. Britain still looking for a role? #Brexit”