This week’s columns, which first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday October 11th, looked at Fianna Fáil’s ongoing problems with defining itself and the decision of its leader to contact out the job of defining the party’s aims and beliefs to a 12-person-commission.
As I have mentioned before, the truest rule of politics is Lyndon Johnson’s “never tell a man to go to hell unless you can send him there.”
It recognises that today’s enemies may be tomorrow’s allies, while warning that hollow threats only expose the weakness of those making them.
My second favourite political saying is: “You buy your colours on your way into a match, not on your way out.”
It comes from someone a million miles away from LBJ, the Yellow Rose of Finglas, the late Jim Tunney. Tunney was a junior minister, Lord Mayor of Dublin and a Fianna Fáil TD for 23 years. He prided himself on his absolute loyalty to his party leader, especially Charlie Haughey.
Not only had Tunney a penchant for quoting himself, he did it in the third person. He uttered the phrase less as a strategy and more as a self-description, especially when defending his decision, as parliamentary party chair, to hold open rollcall votes, rather than secret ballots.
This week’s Broadsheet column, which first appeared online on Sept 13th 2021, looked at the history of the no-confidence motion and concluded that while Minister Coveney and his Fine Gael colleagues had probably done enough to earn the dubious honour of having a no confidence motion tabled against him, it did not deserve to pass… just yet
Johnny Carson famously called Oscar night the time when Hollywood stars put aside their petty rivalries and brought out their major rivalries.
So it is with Motions of No Confidence. Oppositions set aside the boring business of holding ministers and governments to account to solely focus on scoring big political points.
Just like the Oscars, motions of confidence are about ritual and theatricality. This applies to both sides – opposition and government.
Opposition politicians who hope one day to become government ministers act outraged and appalled. Governments ministers, who were once opposition hopefuls, accuse their rivals of base cynicism and partisanship.
The script writes itself. Scroll back through no confidence debates of the past fifty years and you see the same formulaic lines pop up each time, just mouthed by different actors, few of Oscar winning standard.
This is my first Broadsheet column in about five weeks… and what an eventful five weeks it has been. What makes it even more interesting and potentially significant is that it leads into the final steps in the re-opening of society via the relaxation of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions. This means a return to normal politics via a return to face to face meetings of the various parliamentary parties. This I believe means that the endgame is near for both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders.
At the end of July I said that come September I would be back and ready to offer my thoughts on what’s happening on the Irish political scene.
Well, I am back, but little did I imagine we would see so much political activity in August. Like many I assumed that politicians from all sides who have – to be fair – endured a difficult 16 months, would leap at the chance of a having a calm and uneventful August.
I was wrong. I failed to the factor-in the capacity of Fine Gael’s officer class to completely overestimate their own guile and ability and to fatally underestimate the public’s impatience with the appearance of ministerial entitlement.
Though the Taoiseach and his allies, more of whom are in Fine Gael these days than in Fianna Fáil, may want to portray #Merriongate / #Zapponegate as a silly season story that is not resonating with the public, his TDs, Senators and Councillors know that’s not the case.
Voters may not be familiar the minutiae of who said what, to whom, in what text and over what platform… but who is? The stories and sequences coming from the Tánaiste and the Foreign Affairs minister seem to change every couple of days, including at today’s second attempt by the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs to establish the facts.
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.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 25th, 2020 about two weeks before Catherine Martin confirmed that she would challenge Éamon Ryan in the upcoming Green Party leadership contest. While events since this column was published confirm that the Green party is not now ready, willing or able to serve in government, they also highlight the depth and intensity of the schism within that party between the fundis (i.e. purists) and the realos (pragmatists).
If, on the night of the election count, you had been asked to bet on which of the three leaders, of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Greens, would face a leadership challenge first, I very much doubt many would have their money on Éamon Ryan.
Why would they? As the counting of ballots ended Ryan was the only one of the three with anything to celebrate. While Martin and Varadkar were trying to explain away seat losses, Ryan was almost iridescent as he watched the ranks of his Dáil party swell from just two TDs to twelve.
Ryan was not just a successful leader, he was the Green’s most successful ever leader in its almost 40-year history, winning twice as many seats as had been won under Trevor Sargent in 2002 or 2007.
It was the leadership careers of Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin which seemed to be hanging delicately in the balance that week.
Maybe it is an indication of how much politics has changed in recent months that both Varadkar and Martin seem relatively (though not equally) secure in their positions, while it is Ryan who could well be struggling for political survival.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 18th. While it primarily deals with the ongoing Irish government formation process, it also focuses on the public row that had been rumbling between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and culminating in the petulant press Fine Gael statement saying that the talks process was now damaged… damage that seemed to disappear quickly just one day later. So is this process going to result in a three party, but four way coalition*? I still doubt it very much
(* i.e. the three parties: Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party plus groups of regional and/or rural independent T.D.s)
As I opened last week’s column talking about how virtual quizzes have helped make this lockdown easier to bear, it’s only fair that I give TV a bit of credit.
Not just TV in general, even though it has helped a lot. I am thinking of one new TV drama series in particular. You know it. Whether you follow it in weekly instalments on RTE, or binge watch it online, it has garnered an enormous amount of attention, stretching well beyond its normal time slot. It has given radio phone-in shows across the country plenty to talk and argue about.
Some say it captures the beauty and brutality of courtship and rejection with compassion and feeling. They point to the how the slow, methodical progression of the will they, won’t they narrative hesitantly gives way to the uneasy tensions of the first fumblings of intimacy. The on screen appearance of a few limp dicks has set folks on to social media to rant about a loss of values, nonetheless it has still been the landmark lock-down drama.
But enough about the government formation process, hasn’t Normal People been a great watch too?
This week’s column appeared on Broadsheet.ie early on Monday May 11th. It looks at the ongoing government formation process and ponders the lessons that Fianna Fáil should take from the recent RedC/BusinessPost opinion poll showing the parties support sliding further… from 22% on polling day to 18% in the last RedC poll to just 14% today. A return to the perilous numbers the party got in 2011… is that where the parallels end?
One of the few enjoyable aspects of the lockdown has been the return to popularity of the old-fashioned quiz. Every day brings another invitation to participate in a quiz, invariably a political one, on Facebook, Zoom, Twitter or WhatsApp.
This stepped up a gear last week when I was asked to write a round of Irish politics questions, for a workplace quiz being organised by a friend via the Kahoot app (no, I hadn’t heard it before now either). So, this week’s column opens with a question the quizmaster deemed too “pointed” for her quiz.
Which senior Fianna Fáil figure said this after a RedC opinion poll put the party on 14% and Fine Gael on 35%:
“I believe that Fianna Fáil must recognize the reality of the current climate of public opinion… I have reluctantly concluded that, in these circumstances, Fianna Fáil should change its leader.”
This Broadsheet column was written last Sunday aand appeared online on Monday morning (April 20th 2020) under the headline: They should be in it together
In 1945, just as the Second World War was ending, Britain faced a general election. Would post-war Britain be shaped by the Conservatives under Winston Churchill or by Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, a partner in the war time unity government.
The choice was clear, but the voters had no doubt who they wanted. They resoundingly rejected Churchill, the man who had led Britain to a victory that had sometimes seemed uncertain and opted instead for Attlee, the understated but progressive social reformer.
While historians offer several reasons for Churchill’s defeat, it boils down to voters seeing that a good wartime leader is not necessarily a good peace time leader. The skills (and policies) required to lead a country through a time of crisis and external threat are not the ones you need when you are trying to rebuild after that crisis. And vice-versa.
The poll ran on Twitter for 48 hours from 11.30am, Mon April 6th to 11.30am Wed April 8th.
2019 votes were cast over that 48-hour period.
The Tweet poll received 7699 impressions and 2476 total engagements
The wisdom of crowds:
Wisdom of Crowds concept was popularized by James Surowiecki in his 2004 book. It is the idea that large groups of people can be collectively smarter than individual experts when it comes to predicting outcomes. Rather than asking individuals what they wish to see happen, you ask what they think the crowd will collectively do.
So, Twitter was asked:
Which of these 4 options do you think is the most likely to happen (NOT which do you prefer)…
• FF/FG/Green/Ind govt
• FF/FG/Lab/Ind govt
• FF/FG/Ind govt
• 2nd election
I wrote this column for Monday’s Broadsheet.ie it again looks at where we are on electing a new government and concludes that it is still the best part of a month away, despite the hype and spin. I decided to run a two day twitter poll to establish what people there fely was going to happen (as opposed to what they personally hoped to see happen). I will post the results on this page shortly.
According to the headline in last Friday’s Irish Times: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are close to agreeing a coalition framework document.
I am sure they are. Comments from the two party leaders confirms this. The Taoiseach has said the document should be ready within a week or two. Mr Martin said it could act as a “catalyst” for other parties to join such a government.
Yes, the parties have made some progress, but there is still a long way to go before there will be a government in place. The optimism exuding from Fianna Fáil sources last week that a new government could in place before the end of April with Martin as Taoiseach, was… to put it at its mildest… a bit premature.
Let’s look at the facts. Together Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have 72 Dáil seats. If everyone votes, 80 is a bare majority. Realpolitik – something Micheál Martin was talking about a few weeks back – dictates that any government hoping to last a full term have a majority that is northwards of 80, preferably in the mid 80s. That or a confidence and supply agreement with another big party, but let’s not go back there, just yet.