Three More Reasons Why The President Is Right to Decline Invitation

This week’s Broadsheet column looks at the faux controversy that has arisen from the decision by President Micheal D Higgins to decline an invitation from the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) to attend a #NI100 Church service in Armagh in October. The Church leaders also invited HM The Queen.  Here I suggest that this situation could have easily been avoided if the Church leaders, and others, had taken better heed of the advised offered back in May 2010 by then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen on the essential principles of commemorating and remembering. 

With any luck, the controversy over President’s Michael D. Higgins decision not to attend next month’s planned church service in Armagh to “mark the centenary of the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland” will soon abate.

It is a row that does no one any credit, least of all those who claim the President has a missed opportunity to extend the hand of friendship to Unionism.

As yesterday’s Ireland Thinks/Mail on Sunday poll reported, a staggering four out of five of us believe that President Higgins is doing the right thing and for the right reason.

He is. But he has more than just popular sentiment on his side. This was not a decision made impetuously or in haste. As the President explained last week, he has been mulling over the invitation from the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) for several months. He shared his concerns with event organisers telling them that the event title was not a politically neutral and presented him with difficulties.

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A brief history of the no confidence motion

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.

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My 2021 Summer Political reading list

This list first appeared on Broadsheet on July 26th and is my 5th annual Summer Political Reading list. 

Welcome to my fifth annual summer political reading list. As the name suggests, the books on the list have a political theme or connection. All the books in this year’s selection are non-fiction and reflect my own tastes and prejudices.

I have included a few biographies, histories, and polemics on issues of domestic and wider interest. While none of the books could be said to be a light read, they are not heavy going either. They are all well-written and accessible. Most have been published over the past 6 – 12 months, which means they are mostly hard backs.

From Whence I Came, Editors Brian Murphy & Donnacha Ó Beacháin

This is a collection of original essays on the Kennedy legacy and the special political ties between Ireland and the United States. Contributors include the editors, both key figures behind the annual Kennedy Summer School, plus a stellar cast of informed and interesting writers, such as Cody Kennan, President Obama’s former speechwriter, Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Human Rights organisation and Tad Devine a former senior adviser to Bernie Sanders, Al Gore and John Kerry election campaigns. In addition to being a cracking good read, all editor royalties are being donated to the New Ross Community Hospital in memory of the late Noel Whelan.

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My interim by-election review for Fianna Fáil

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 12th, a few days after the Dublin Bay South by-Election result. That result shows that Fianna Fáil is facing a crisis of relevance and viability, one that its leader of over 10 years is unwilling to address or acknowledge. This column was offered as an independent review of what I think went wrong in the by-election. 

A few weeks after the February 2020 election I said that Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin needed to stop and “take a hard look at why his party lost support and seats”. I said it again, several times, over the weeks and months that followed. I even offered the independent review the Australian Labour Party had commissioned into its electoral failure as a template.

I thought it was essential that the party examine why it had done so badly before doing anything precipitative, such as going into government with the party it had promised to put out of office.

The leadership thought otherwise. It felt Fianna Fáil’s best course of action was to get into office and that its political revival would come from the government program for recovery. It seemed to miss the inconvenient truth that this meant giving Fine Gael a veto on Fianna Fáil’s fortunes.

This was one of the main reasons I ended my 40 plus year membership of Fianna Fáil. Why would I knock myself out trying to rebuild a party, when the top Fine Gael brass would have a bigger say in it than grassroot members?

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It’s very testing to go travelling

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. 

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There’s no big secret to good government communications

This column appears here out of sequence, as it first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 19th. In it, I look at this government’s problems with communications, particularly the Fianna Fáil side of it.

According to the veteran American comedian George Burns there is no big secret to comic timing. It’s very simple, he said. You tell the joke, you wait for the laughter and when the laughter stops, you tell the next joke. That’s comic timing.

It’s something similar with government communications: you deliver you message and give the public the time to let it sink in.

What you certainly do not do is to talk across your message or try to chop and change the narrative while folks are still trying to take it in.

There is nothing wrong with a minister having a new idea, indeed it is something to be encouraged. What is important is that it is an informed idea. What you don’t do is to contact a journalist to communicate an idea to the public until it has been fully formed and explored with colleagues and – hopefully – some real live experts.

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Less Justice and more just us… aka the continuing Justice Seamus Woulfe saga

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on October 5th and follows the publication by of the review into Mr Justice Woulfe’s attendance at the infamous Clifden #golfgate event. The review included a transcript of the interview Mr Woulfe had with the author of the review, the former Chief Justice Susan Denham – I look at some of the juicier remarks made by Mr Woulfe and wonder if these are indicators of his supreme judgement?

FILE PHOTO Archive (LtoR) Charles Flanagan TD and Chief Justice, Mr Frank Clarke and Seamus Woulfe SC

An accused youth is slouched in the District Court dock, noisily chewing gum. “Tell him to stop masticating” says the judge to the court officer. Dutifully, the officer marches over to the accused and says: “The judge says for you to get your hands out of your pockets” 

Sorry. Wrong old joke.

Another accused, an old lag this time, is standing in the same District Court dock. “Do you plead guilty or not guilty”, asks the judge. “Do you mind if I listen to the evidence first?” comes the reply.

This joke kept popping into my head as I read extracts from the testimony Mr Justice Woulfe gave to former Chief Justice, Susan Denham. The transcript of his testimony appears as an appendix to Ms Denham’s report.

Ms Denham had been asked to “review” Mr Woulfe’s attendance at the now infamous Oireachtas golf society dinner in Clifden. “Review” appears with inverted commas as Mr Justice Woulfe and his counsel were keen to stress (taking up about 8 of the 140 page transcript) that the process was a review and not an inquiry, an adjudication or a determination of anyone’s rights.

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Air travel during #Covid-19

On flight
That’s not fear you see in my eyes, it’s a look that says “I wish I didn’t need my specs to manage to take a selfie”

Amid the anger and confusion over air-travel restrictions, plus stories of people arriving at Dublin Airport and avoiding quarantine, I have chronicled my largely positive experiences of travelling by flight just under two weeks ago. Only one part of my trip made me feel uneasy and that was my arrival back in Dublin.

At the end of June I traveled to Alicante, Spain for a short return trip to visit my mother. My Parents moved to Spain in late 1999. My father died in 2011 and my mother decided to continue living in Spain.

I usually try to get over to visit her for a few days every two months, or so. My last such visit was in early February. I was then planning to visit in late April/early May, but the Covid19 restriction knocked those plans on the head.

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Unless someone votes no, we’ll all be done slowly.

This Broadsheet.ie column appeared on June 22nd, just a few days before voting closed in the three internal parties votes on the proposed Fine Gael/Green/Fianna Fáil Programme for Government.

While I do examine the possible outcomes of those votes and ask how this process was allowed to reverse into a possible political crisis on the Special Criminal Court, I also include a gratuitous and personally satisfying reminder of the acerbic with and invective of former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating.  

1534504156-Screen-Shot-2018-08-17-at-9.08.42-pm

I‘m sure I’ve mentioned before now that I am a great fan of the former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating.  While Keating’s punchy but moderate centre-left politics attract me, it is his feisty, quick witted, no nonsense approach to the fine art of political communications that seals the deal.

The internet is full of classic Paul Keating political quips and put downs. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) has collected some on this webpage.

In one memorable 2007 radio interview alone Keating described John Howard’s Treasurer (Finance Minister), Peter Costello, as “all tip and no iceberg”, before launching a fusillade at his former Liberal Party opponent and successor as Prime Minister, dismissing the balding Howard as the “little desiccated coconut” adding that he was clinging on to the role like “grim death” and was “araldited” to the prime minister’s seat.

Continue reading “Unless someone votes no, we’ll all be done slowly.”

When Campaigns Go Wrong #GE2020

I wrote this piece on Sunday Feb 2nd and it appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Feb 3rd. It was written in the immediate wake of a series of national opinion polls showing Fine Gael slipped further back and Sinn Féin advancing further to either tie with, or pull ahead of Fianna Fáil.

This column looks at the various possible government formation outcomes. I explain why I do not see either a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael grand coalition or a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin coalition as likely. I conclude that the most likely outcome is a Fianna Fáil/Green/Other coalition (probably a minority govt), though it will take weeks, if not months, to negotiate and agree. The only alternative to that is another election. 

I assume, for this coumn, that the polls are broadly correct, but that they both slightly underestimate Fianna Fáil’s support and slightly overestimate Sinn Féin’s. 

GE2020 posters Success has many fathers, defeat is an orphan. As true as this is in sports, it is an absolute certainty in political campaigning. Have no doubt that all those fine young marketing executives who told their colleagues over Christmas how remarkably close they were to the Taoiseach and Fine Gael, now struggle to remember just who Leo, Eoghan or Simon might be.

In the words of the great yellow rose of Finglas, Jim Tunney, there are too many folks around politics who opt to buy their colours coming out of the match, rather than going in.

So, before I look at the events of the last few days and attempt a feeble look forward to what may be to come, let me raise a glass to toast those in all parties and none who are sticking by their party and candidates, despite the polls.

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