This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday February 28th
I start this week’s column, picking up from where I left off last week, by looking at the future prospects of the Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov.
Last Monday I suggested that he be sent home. I was not the first to say it. The call has echoed across most of Leinster House. At the end of last week we heard individual Labour and Fine Gael demand his expulsion. Inside Fianna Fáil, Jim O’Callaghan TD led a coordinated call by the party’s backbench TDs, MEPs, and Senators for the Ambassador to be expelled.
Sinn Féin also read the public mood and, to its credit, did a 180-degree-turn on its decades’ long stance of rarely criticising Putin or Russia by issuing a strong statement calling for both the “…expulsion of Russian Ambassador and tougher sanctions.”
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.
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.
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.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday June 28th. In it I recount my experience of traveling to and from Spain on a 3-day family visit, including 3 x PCR tests and checks at Airports. I discovered after writing this piece that the PCR test required to cut your return quarantine to 5 days is free, via the HSE. Unfortunately, I discovered this information after I had pre-booked and pre-paid for one elsewhere.
It has been about eight months since I recounted my experiences of travelling to Spain during the pandemic. Needless to add, like the vast majority of us I have not been travelling since. That is, up to last week.
As I explained the last time, my travel was essential as I was going to visit my mother who lives in Spain, having retired there, along with my late father (who died in 2011) just over two decades ago. For reasons too personal to go into here, it was essential that I visit my mother now.
The airport staff, the airline crew and the other passengers were extremely careful, cautious and prepared. There were a few bothersome aspects, but none so trying as to be worth commenting on here. The one area on which I will focus is testing… primarily because arranging and securing tests – particularly PCR tests – is not cheap and not always easy.
Long story short – while the journey itself was not too difficult, the bottom line is this: while my return flight to Spain for 3 nights via Ryanair cost about €250, the PCR tests required to make that journey cost €400 for PCR tests. By the way, the gap between the first PCR test and the last one was approx 9 days.
This piece first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday April 26th and looks at the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections and argues that this election will be one of the most consequential U.K. elections of modern times for the politics and future of these two islands.
10-days from now (Mon, April 26th) people across Scotland will vote in what will probably be the most consequential election yet for both the people of Scotland and the of these two islands. I say “yet” as the second Scottish independence referendum that will inevitably follow, will be the most consequential.
With its bold and direct slogan: Scotland’s future is Scotland’s choice. And nobody else’s the SNP has left Scottish voters in no doubt as to what this election is about. It is not just about deciding about who sits in the Scottish Parliament and who forms the next Scottish Government, it is also about preparing for a second independence referendum.
That is why what happens on May 6th will be hugely consequential for us on this island because it will set the course for the final steps in the move to Scottish independence and the breakup of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on November 23rd. In the context of the EU’s Rule of Law pursuit of Hungary and Poland, I examine how ingrained corruption has become in Malta, particularly within the Maltese Labour party. There is a clear case for adding Malta to the list, and insisting that it implement major reforms before any more EU money is provided.
One of the downsides or having such easy access to British news, particularly the BBC, is that we assume Brussels to be as fixated on Brexit as the Brits imagine. As Brexit dominates the headlines here and the UK we suppose that everyone in Brussels and across Europe is as focussed on Brexit as us. They are not.
It is not that the other EU capitals don’t take the looming Dec 31st deadline seriously or are not straining to avoid a hard crash out. They would prefer see a no deal Brexit avoided, as much for Ireland’s sake as their own, but they have long since accepted that Brexit is happening. So, all that is left to resolve is the manner of the post Brexit relationship. Brexit will not be reversed, so there is no point in EU heads of government expending any further political capital on it.
Their attention therefore moves to more pressing matters, so where Brexit still dominates the headlines here, news broadcasts and papers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy feature stories about the deteriorating relationships between Hungary, Poland and the rest of the EU.
As you will see from the opening paragraph below I wrote this column, which appeared on Broadsheet.ie on June 8th, assuming that the three parties would have produced some form of Programme for Government (PfG) – even if it was not one to which all the negotiators (i.e. not all the Green party ones) felt they could sign up..
As we see today (Friday 12th) yet another deadline has slipped in a process that full of missed deadlines and makes Bismarck’s sausage factory look like a place of beauty and efficiency. We also see today via a Michael Gove Tweet that the UK does not want a sensible transition extension and so the Tories are determined to have a hard UK Brexit crash out at year’s end.
Tempting though it is to present you today with yet another analysis piece about the government formation process, I will resist.
My reasons are twofold:
There is a 50/50 chance the process will still be ongoing this time next week
We are in such a state of flux with events moving faster than ever, there is every chance that the facts underpinning any analysis could change while I write it up.
OK, reason one is a bit flippant. I would be extremely surprised if an agreed document, though not necessarily one agreed by everyone, has not emerged by week’s end.
The second reason remains rock solid.
The one thing I can say with any certainty today is that there are so many moving parts and shifting gears that no one outcome, or series of outcomes, is certain.
Broadsheet 129 – They won’t have a winner some day
“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 nighty, though their incantations do seem to come around with a regularity curiously attuned to the electoral cycle.
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?
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 Fein 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.