“Is Chris Andrews a Shinner or Just a Mé-Féiner”

My column from today’s Herald  on Chris Andrew’s joining Sinn Féin 

My column in today's Herald
My column in today’s Herald

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Cui Bono, who gains? That is the question political analysts normally ask when someone does something unusual or out of the ordinary.

It was the question that came to mind when I heard that my former party and constituency colleague Chris Andrews was joining Sinn Féin.

While Chris may hope he will be the main beneficiary of his defection, he will soon learn that nothing is for nothing in Sinn Féin.

Recent local election boundary changes had made Chris very likely to take a seat as an independent in the new eight seat Pembroke South Docks Ward, even with such tough opposition as local Councillor Mannix Flynn.

While running under the Sinn Féin banner would bring Chris extra votes, it would also drive away a big chunk of his previous support. Either way, as an independent or Sinn Féin he was likely to get elected.

Maybe Chris has his eye on a bigger prize than Dublin City Council and fancies his chances in the European elections? This would mean Sinn Féin bumping a loyal servant like Éoin Ó Broin in favour of a newcomer.

This would doubtless cause dismay among SF activists across Dublin, particularly as the party is already well placed to take the European seat formerly held by Mary Lou McDonald (another former Fianna Fáil-er) and currently occupied by the co-opted Socialist MEP Paul Murphy.

Running Chris for Europe would be an uncharacteristically generous act by them, but politics, especially Sinn Féin politics, does not work like that. It has not grown and developed by charitably adopting waifs and strays.

The Shinner’s acceptance of Chris has meant them closing their eyes to a lot.

Around this time last year we had the saga of Chris’s anonymous “sock puppet” Twitter attacks on Fianna Fáil colleagues both at leadership and local level. But his ire was not aimed solely at them.

Having blasted people who had worked on his campaigns, he then swung his sawn off twitter shotgun at Sinn Féin. Using his “brianformerff” identity he spoke of: “…the amount of people Sinn Féin reps killed over the years. #jeanmcconville” and “…still trying to make his SF gun men party coomrades [sic] trendy and likeable!!”

Perhaps Sinn Féin can find it in itself to pardon anonymous comments made from behind an internet balaclava, but it must be less easy to ignore the fact that Chris spent almost all of his time in the Dáil in the opposite lobby to them?

When Sinn Féin was voting against that Government’s actions – aside from the Bank Guarantee – Chris was resolutely voting for them. Looking back, I can’t remember anyone raising serious questions about Chris’s loyalty during my time in government.

Chris was just as assiduous when it came to attacking Sinn Féin locally. In a Dáil debate on May 27 2009 he spoke out about the local intimidation of Esther Uzell, labelling those responsible as “thugs” and “scum”. Esther’s brother Joseph Rafferty had been killed by the IRA in April 2005. Despite her repeated calls, Sinn Féin had done nothing to help identify her brother’s killer. They had been so unhelpful that she accused them of covering up for her brother’s killer.

Perhaps Chris can assist her again in his new role?

Anyone else making such attacks would not be given the time of day, so what has Chris got that they want so badly? His name. His pedigree.

As an Andrews he potentially allows them claim the linkage, no matter how tenuous, back to the foundations of the State that they so desperately lack and need. The statement welcoming Chris into the fold talks of his grandfather’s “ideals and values” with the added sideswipe that Chris felt Fianna Fáil no longer represented them.

Chris is entitled to that view, just as he’s entitled to decide his future and just as others are at liberty to remind him of his past.

ENDS

uzzellraff2
Esther Uzell leaflet – image from http://irishelectionliterature.wordpress.com/

Plan to give Dublin its own Boris Johnson is bonkers

Tonight's Herald Editorial Page
Tonight’s Herald Editorial Page

My column from today’s Herald on the current discussions to have directly elected mayors for Dublin in the future.

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Should Dublin have its own version of Boris Johnson?

That is the question a Forum of 22 Dublin councillors will consider between now and September. But there is good news: Dubliners will get a say on it in May.

While the forum, drawn from the four Dublin Councils, started its deliberations at the end of July, the idea of Dublin having a directly elected Mayor goes back much further.

According to the Lord Mayor of Dublin website it goes back to Chapter 11 of Minister Phil Hogan’s June 2012 local government reform: Putting People First. It actually goes back to Noel Dempsey’s 2001 Local Government Act.

In case my Boris Johnson reference hasn’t given it away, I am not a fan of the idea. I wasn’t a fan of it in 2000, nor when John Gormley resurrected it in 2008.

Like most Dubliners, I want to see decisions made about Dublin being made by people who are answerable to Dubliners, but I am not persuaded that directly electing a mayor is the way.

My biggest worry is that an office supposedly created to give leadership to Dublin would descend into de-facto focus of attention for opposition to the government of the day.

A directly elected Mayor of Dublin would, after the President, have the biggest electoral mandate in the State, but without the constitutional prohibitions on politicking.

Boris Johnson’s mayoralty has become a focus for those unhappy with David Cameron’s leadership. Given the scale here: a mayor of the greater Dublin area would potentially be elected by up to a third of the total electorate, imagine how much more pronounced those clashes would be, particularly when the Taoiseach and Mayor were from opposing parties?

The potential for political gridlock is huge, especially where the Mayor has no real powers or responsibilities, just what Teddy Roosevelt called “a bully pulpit”. Instead of leadership we would just be getting a personality with a shiny office and access to a microphone.

The use of the London Mayor template only adds to this concern. Chapter 11 of Putting People First, which the Forum is using as its starting point, makes no fewer that six references to London.

It does not mention the directly elected mayors in Berlin, Budapest or Paris, or the strong systems of city governance in Helsinki, or Copenhagen.

This Ministerial and Departmental infatuation with London is hard to understand. I can only imagine that it is because they have never seen the legislation establishing the London Mayoralty and Authority: The Greater London Authority Act 1999.

At almost 500 pages it is the longest piece of legislation passed at Westminster since the Government of India Act. More importantly it does something almost unheard of in Irish public administration: it takes power away from central government.

Boris Johnson pic from @mayoroflondon twitter a/c
Boris Johnson pic from @mayoroflondon twitter a/c

Not that it took enough powers. Earlier this year Johnson was again calling for London to have the power to raise property and new tourism taxes. In May last year 8 out of the 10 UK cities asked if they wanted a directly elected Mayor said: no.

Do we really see the Phil Hogan’s Department of Environment ceding power and controls to anyone?

This is the Minister who, in the same Putting People First document, has slashed the number of local authorities from 114 to 31 and the total number of City, County and Town councillors from 1,627 to 949.

Do we really think he is ready to chop off a large section of his Budget and power to keep us happy?

With most decisions regarding Dublin’s present and future being made by unaccountable and disconnected State bodies and departments, the case for giving more power to Dublin is clear.

What is almost just as clear is that instead of being given viable city government with a budget and authority the most that will really be on offer is a city personality with a big desk, a press officer and an electric car.

ENDS

An analysis of @REDCMD @pppolitics poll & why the @fiannafailparty leadership is not an issue

RedC Polling
RedC Polling

Today’s RedC poll for Paddy Power brings very little good news unless you are an independent or a don’t know. The unadjusted core figures rank the parties in descending order as:

Fine Gael                   23%

Fianna Fáil                18%

Don’t Knows            18%

Independents         17%

Sinn Féin                    13%

Labour                          9%

After adjusting the figures by excluding 50% of the don’t know and adjusting the other 50% back to how they voted in 2011 the ranking positions stay the same. Only the relative gaps between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and between Fianna Fáil and the Independents widen.

Fine Gael                  29%

Fianna Fáil               22%

Independents        21%

Sinn Féin                  15%

Labour                      11%

Sinn Fein’s lead over Labour remains at a steady 4%. While this may, at first glance, suggest some good news for Sinn Féin, the party has been in this territory before only for its good polling numbers to fail to translate into votes.

Back in December 2010, on the eve of a general election, three polls showed the party in the mid teens.  A Red C Poll for The Sun on 03/12/2010 gave the party 16%. The MRBI/Irish Times poll on Dec 16th put it on 15% while a third, the Red C/Sunday Business Post poll of December 18th put its support at 14%. On polling day, two months later, the voters gave it 9.9%.

This is not to discount its advance since. Sinn Féin has been consistently polling in the mid teens since September 2011. That said, though an Irish Times poll in early October 2011 put party support at a hefty 18% its Presidential candidate and possibly most charismatic figure, Martin McGuinness still could not get the party’s actual vote past the 13.7% mark in the ballot boxes a few weeks later.

Despite its considerable and well resourcing organisation it seems to still have a problem translating favourable poll numbers into actual votes.

Though of cold comfort to Fianna Fáil it does not, at least, have this particular problem. The MRBI/Irish Times and Red C/Sunday Business Post polls conducted on the eve of the 2009 Local elections put Fianna Fáil’s support at 20% and 21% respectively. On polling day, the party managed to scrape its way up to 25.4%.

Fianna Fáil problems are more significant. While it has won back some of its lost  “soft” support and pulled itself up from the 2011 hammering it has yet to say or do anything substantive to win back many of those who had voted for it in 2002 and 2007 but rejected it in 2011. There is nothing to suggest it is doing any better with potential first time voters either.

Despite the speculation of last weekend, Fianna Fáil’s problem is not its leader. The notion that Fianna Fáil picking a new leader whose only virtue is that they were not a member of the previous government is almost laughable. Surely no one in the party or the commentariat is delusional enough to think that the electorate is so naïve that it will flock to Fianna Fáil’s cause just because it has a leadership team devoid of anyone who served under Ahern or Cowen?

Despite its apology and acknowledgement of past mistakes, Fianna Fáil has yet to present a researched and substantive alternative policy programme. It has come up with some good micro-policies, not least its family home protection and debt resolution Bills, but many have been light on substance and appear to have been produced as well intentioned responses to specific representative groups, e.g. the Mobile Phone Radiation Warning Bill

Try finding the party’s April 2013 Policy Guide on its website. It is there, but you have to know what you are looking for to find it. Click on the “issues” button on the homepage and you get the Spring 2012 version, to locate the latest version you need to do a search for it by name.

The April 19th 2013 document shows the party has been doing some serious work on policy, but you would be hard pushed to know it from the statements coming from its spokespeople. These still read as knee jerk responses to government statements rather than as co-ordinated parts of a coherent alternative. Fine Gael may have gotten away with tactic this during its time in opposition, but Fianna Fáil does not have the luxury they had: a Government unwilling and unable to communicate with its own supporters.

Perhaps the criticisms of a small and possibly over stretched clique around the leadership have some basis in reality, but as someone who has spent a long time around the party, on both the inside and outside tracks, I think the problem lies elsewhere.

Michéal Martin has shown a remarkable capacity for getting out and about and engaging with members and voters alike, it is curious, therefore, to read of him being less engaged and accessible to members of his own very diminished parliamentary party.

Might I suggest that the fault lies on both sides. Yes, he should be having regular one to one meetings with his 33 parliamentary colleagues – God knows there are not that many of them to make such regular meetings impractical – but they too should be engaging with him.

The traditional deference to the leader needs to change. Gone are the days when you had to wait ages to have an audience with the great leader as he busied himself with the great affairs of state in the Taoiseach’s office. Parliamentary party members have the opportunity for unique access, let them use it. A minority can only exercise sole access when allowed by the majority indifference or reticence.

Despite the job losses and the massive reduction in resources, there still appears to be a sense that the party structures are operating and running as if the party is still as big as it once was. Worse still many of those working those structures have no sense memory of how the party should operate in opposition.

A small number of paid officials are being expected to do the party’s policy research and formulation with minimal input from a vast array of experts across the volunteer membership. Too much power and control is being retained around the centre and around Leinster House: not by the leadership and his supposed clique, but also by members of the parliamentary party who are criticising him for just that.

I am old enough to remember what was put in place between 1982 and 1987, the last time the party was truly in opposition. Back then a series of policy committees were established by the leadership and mandated, working with the various spokespeople, to produce credible and researched policies for submission to the party for adoption.

These committees worked with the TDs and Senators but were not run by them. Outside experts were brought in to assist and work with them.

To borrow a phrase from Fianna Fáil’s past – the phase of its recovery will be dependent on policies and substance – not personality. The party already has the potential to bring itself back into the upper 20s in terms of actual voter support – the question now for the leadership and the party as a whole is if it has the energy, expertise and inclination to innovate the policy approaches that could bring support up into the 30% plus range.

That is the challenge ahead.

#Seanad: an early analysis of the campaign issues so far #seanref

TNT24.ie asked me to take a quick look back over the issues emerging so far in the Seanad referendum campaign. As a protagonist on the Seanad Reform side, I do not claim this to be an impartial observation, but I have attempted to make it as fair as possible. 

The Seanad Chair
The Seanad Chair

Just over eight weeks ago Democracy Matters, the civic society group advocating Seanad Reform rather over abolition, was launched. A week later, in Government Buildings, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore published their proposed amendment to the Constitution which, if passed by the people in about eleven weeks time, will abolish Seanad Éireann following the next election.

While the Seanad referendum campaign has yet to start in earnest: it has still been an eventful eight weeks with several shots fired in anger by both sides. We are already seeing some of the key lines of argument and contention emerging between the pro and anti campaigns. The debate, thus far, has seemed largely to focus on:

  1. Cost
  2. Scale
  3. Relevance

This has been to the advantage of the government side abolitionists so far. The discussion so far seems to have been on the government’s terms with very little real exploration of the No side’s reform alternatives. Nonetheless, the No side have had some success punching holes in some of the government’s case to date.

Costs: This has quickly emerged as an area of contention between the two sides. Fine Gael in particular has been focussing its attention of its claims that abolishing the Seanad would potentially save the State some €20million a year. This claim has been contested by several people on the No side, including Fianna Fáil, Democracy Matters and several Senators – including some Fine Gael and Labour ones. They put the figure at €10million or below

Fine Gael says its figures come from the Oireachtas Commission and offers the following breakdown on the €20m figure:

Total direct costs of running the Seanad of €8.8m (Gross), including

  • members’ salary (€4.2m);
  • members’ expenses (€2.5m) and
  • members’ staff costs (€2.1m)

€2m in annual pensions costs relating to the Seanad.

The additional indirect apportioned pay and non-pay costs of supporting sections of €9.3m:

  • ICT (€1.9m);
  • Superintendent (€1.6m);
  • Procedural sections (€2.8m) and
  • Other support sections (€3m).

Not that Fine Gael always used this figure. At one stage it was suggesting an annual saving of €30 per annum, but this was subsequently slimmed down – to a figure of around €10million. In June an opinion piece appeared in the Irish Times advocating abolition under the name of the then Fine Gael back bench TD Paschal Donohoe. It did not use this €20million figure, but rather suggested the €10m per annum one saying: “…at least €50 million over the lifetime of one Dáil term. Over five Dáil terms, with pension costs and expenses included, these savings alone would have us more than halfway to paying for a national children’s hospital.”

Reform advocates point to the January 2012 testimony of the outgoing Clerk of the Dáil, Kieran Coughlan who estimated the gross annual saving from abolition would be less than €10million. If you take into account that at least 30% of that €10million goes back to the Exchequer in taxes, levies and VAT, the real annual cost of the Seanad to the taxpayer is probably between €6 million and €7 million. The €2 million pensions cost would continue for all former members and might likely increase for the foreseeable future with 60 Senators being made redundant in one fell swoop.

As for the indirect costs the Oireachtas has said that it is not possible to estimate the net actual savings and advises there would be substantial increases in pension costs and redundancy payments.

The government does not mention the estimated €15+million cost of holding the referendum. This is based on the government’s own figures for the costs of the Referendum on the Protection of Children held on the 10th November, 2012.

The whole debate on costs is probably moot. As Senator Professor John Crown has pointed out, Minister Brendan Howlin has stated that money saved from Seanad abolition will be redeployed to Dáil Committees. So there will be no net savings to the Exchequer.

Scale:The government’s next big argument for abolition is that Ireland is too small a country to have a two chambered (bicameral) parliament and to have as many national politicians as we have.

These lines has been trotted out many times with the Taoiseach and Ministers making lots of references to such similarly sized places as Denmark, Finland, Sweden and New Zealand.

Reformists say that there is no direct correlation, between the size of State and parliamentary system. China with a population of over 1.3 billion has a single chamber (unicameral) parliament while the parliament of Saint Lucia (population 170,000) is bicameral.

They argue that bicameral is the norm for common law countries, such as ours – regardless of size. Indeed world’s wealthiest nations are mostly bicameral: of the fifteen countries with the highest GDP only two – the People’s Republic of China and South Korea – have a unicameral parliament.

As for the comparisons with Scandinavian countries, you are not comparing like with like. The overall structure of these Scandinavian political systems is very different from ours. In Denmark, Finland and Sweden local government is at the heart of the political system. In Sweden, for example, there are three tiers of government. These local governments can set their own local income tax. As for the numbers, contrary to having fewer politicians all these countries have more.

 

Local Authorities

Councillors

Denmark

98

2,500

Finland

304

10,000

Norway

423

12,000

Ireland

31

949

 

 

Relevance: Launching the government’s referendum proposal; back in June the Taoiseach questioned the relevance of the Seanad saying that modern Ireland cannot be governed effectively by a political system originally designed for 19th century Britain.

Putting the factual error on 19th century Britain element part down to the rhetorical over exuberance of his speech writer (perhaps the same one who thought Lenin had visited Ireland and met with Michael Collins), it is a theme frequently mentioned.

Does much of the question mark over the Seanad’s relevance stem from how it is elected – mainly by other politicians?

Government just defeats Seanad attempt to refer abolition to Constitutional Convention
Government just defeats Seanad attempt to refer abolition to Constitutional Convention

If so, could it not be addressed by extending the franchise for the Seanad and allowing every voter on the island – North and South – the right to vote in Seanad elections?

The method of elected the 43 vocational Senators is set out in law, not in the Constitution. It would not take a referendum to give every existing (and future) voter the right to vote in a Seanad election. Every voter could decide on which panel they wished to exercise their vote: Labour, Culture & Educational, Agriculture, Industry & Commerce and Administrative and vote accordingly. Everyone would get one vote – no more multiple voting.

With this one simple act – achieved by legislation – the government could do more to address the Seanad’s relevance and the issue of Oireachtas reform than with any number of referendums.

The new, reformed Seanad would be a positive response to the fiscal crisis and loss of sovereignty. The global crisis was exacerbated in Ireland because public policy and economic dogma went unchallenged. Regulators went unregulated, civil society and the party system failed to advance realistic alternatives.

Rejecting abolition and giving ourselves a new reformed Seanad is about ensuring this doesn’t happen again.

ENDS

Scrap the #Seanad? No, we need a new, revamped one more than ever

Sorry for being late in posting this – it is my Herald column from last Friday, May 24th, on why the the Government’s plan to abolish the Seanad is as far from reform as it is almost humanly possible to get 

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Democracy Matters! Campaign
Democracy Matters! Campaign

Next week the Government publishes the legislation that paves the way for a referendum on abolition of the Seanad later this year.

Last week the same Government supported a proposal from independent Senators not to abolish the Seanad but to reform it.

So how can they advocate two such contrary positions within two weeks of each other?

The answer is simple – abolition is not as simple and straightforward as originally thought. It does not mean just rubbing out a few words in the Constitution: it will require about 75 individual amendments.

The origin of all of this is a Fine Gael knees up back in October 2009. That is where Enda Kenny made the surprise announcement that he planned to scrap the Seanad. His new policy came as a surprise as only three months earlier his policy was that it be given greater powers and become a forum on European issues.

So what happened over those summer months, when neither the Dáil nor Senate were sitting, to change Enda’s mind? Nothing it seems, apart from being upstaged by Éamon Gilmore and growing criticism within Fine Gael of his leadership.

Enda needed a soft target – and the slow, lumbering Seanad obligingly painted a nice big un-missable bull’s eye on its own backside.

While it is difficult to present an argument for retaining the Seanad as it is: with most of its members elected just by TD’s and Councillors, that is not the same as saying that we do not need some form of a Second House of Parliament.

Despite its faults, the Seanad has served the country well. It has been a champion of reform and minority rights in a way the Dáil has often not. To quote the President, Michael D Higgins from a 2009 Dáil debate: “historically, the Seanad has been the place where there has been legislative innovation.”

Indeed it has, even with its antiquated system of having 6 seats elected by University Graduates and the Taoiseach nominating 11 members. It has allowed many voices and views from outside the political mainstream not only to be heard but to have a say: from W B Yeats to Seamus Mallon to Éamon de Buitléar to David Norris.

The value of having a second chamber to revise laws and give proposals further scrutiny can be demonstrated with one simple statistic. Since 2011 the Seanad has made 529 amendments to 14 different laws passed by the Dáil with inadequate scrutiny.

Without a Seanad or Second chamber those defective laws would have passed on to the statute without correction.

In today’s Ireland we need more scrutiny and oversight – not less. Abolition strengthens the old system. It means fewer new voices. The answer lies in reform, not abolition: open up the system, don’t close it down.

We need a reformed Seanad that makes those in power accountable. We need a reformed Seanad that has a gender balance. One where all of us, not just an elite, get a vote, including people in the North and those forced into emigration.

These basic, but effective, reforms could be made without a referendum and major constitutional change. All that is required is a Government that has the will to make that change.
Enda Kenny is doing this the wrong way around. We should learn from the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harpers who told his people “…that our Senate, as it stands today, must either change… or vanish.”

We should be given the option of change.

Instead, the government will spend millions on a referendum that only offers a sham choice between keeping something that we know is not working as well as it could and handing its powers and resources over to a Dáil that has proved itself less than capable of holding Government to account.

Have we learned nothing from the crisis?

Do we want to fix the system or merely consolidate it?

My latest column in Friday's Herald
My latest column in Friday’s Herald

 

Why waste time speculating about possible @FiannaFailparty and @FineGaeltoday link-ups?

This piece is also on www.TNT24.ie 

Surely I cannot be alone in realising that there is less chance of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael linking up than there is of Luis Suarez having all his teeth pulled and turning vegetarian.

Yet, within hours of each new opinion poll you will see lots of speculation in print, on air, online and/or on all three that the next government will consist of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in some combination or other.

Such speculation seems to be based just on adding together the numbers that bring you to 50% and ignores the glaring Catch 22 that renders the chances of any such FG/FF or FF/FG alliance impossible: neither party would ever agree to go into a partnership government where it was not the biggest partner.

Kenny Martin
Photo via http://www.dailyedge.ie/

And as, by definition, a partnership government of just two groups cannot have two biggest partners, neither party would agree to be the junior partner in such a relationship. To do so would fly in the face of the fundamental rule of Irish governmental politics: junior coalition partners come off worst.

The strategists in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil know this. Whatever their weaknesses and deficiencies in policy formulation, these are still wily and experienced political operatives, they understand political realities. More critically they understand the laws of self preservation. They know that going into government as the junior partner while leaving Labour and Sinn Féin as the official opposition would be tantamount to writing their own party’s obituary.

Those who argue, on the basis of current opinion polls, that the Fine Gael / Fianna Fáil option may be the only viable one after the next election, do it on the basis that politics is a “numbers game”.

Well, to some degree it is, but numbers do not dictate everything. True, without the numbers you have no role and no say, but the converse is not true. Having the numbers does not mean that you must necessarily do A or B. Having the numbers does not restrict your options, quiet the opposite. Rather than being compelled to pursue some particular course, you have the opportunity to exercise judgement and think strategically.

This is not to discount the temptation and lure of ministerial office, especially to those who may not plan to face the electorate again. Saying no to power is no easy task, but the decision is made somewhat less troublesome if you know that saying yes to office today as a junior partner means that you are almost certainly ensuring that that option will be denied to you and your colleagues for many years thereafter.

Though majorly damaged after electoral pounding it took in the February 2011 General Election, Fianna Fáil is still hard wired for power – perhaps even more so that Fine Gael – so saying no to office would be difficult for some within the upper echelons of the organisation. Perhaps this is why the party leadership has recruited the membership of the party to ensure that any post election decision would be made by the broader party.

The situation is just as true for Fine Gael, though for other reasons. Having spent so long as the second party of Irish politics, it is now relishing its time in the top spot. It will be loathe to surrender that place – least of all to Fianna Fáil.

If the next election were to put Fianna Fáil ahead of Fine Gael, no matter by how small a margin, Fine Gael would do nothing to help Fianna Fáil back into power. Fine Gael would seek alliances with Labour, Sinn Féin, Independents, Socialists, Wallacites; McGrath-ites (of the Mattie or Fintan variety) Greens, People Before Profit, Profit Before People, Cart Before the Horse or whoever to keep Fianna Fáil out.

I know I risk appearing more than a little cynical in not mentioning policies and principles and just discussing the possible make up of a future government in terms of survival strategies but, I believe the chances of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil government are so remote and unrealistic that it is cynical not to dismiss it and to allow any more time and energy be wasted on discussing an option (and the associated policies) that does not exist.

The Strongest Opposition may be within the coalition itself

The text of my column from tonight’s Evening Herald (Mon Sept 17th)

—————————————-

Irish politics is a zero sum game. If the government is doing badly; then the opposition is doing well, and vice versa.

Derek Mooney’s Column in tonight’s Evening Herald

This makes the coming Dáil term just as vital for the opposition as for the government.

But which element of the opposition is set to fare better? The balance between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin is almost as much a zero sum game as that between them and the government.

While the occasional opinion poll shows them in the high teens, Sinn Féin’s vote in the ballot box has remained, at best, stubbornly in the low teens. It did get over 13% at the Presidential election, but failed to break the 10% barrier at the General Election.

The question for the Shinners is whether they are a leftish haven for disaffected Labour voters or a centrist alternative to Fianna Fáil. While its instincts may be to try to do both, it is hard to see that tactic working.

On the left they are in competition with the ULA, several Independents and what is left of Joe Higgin’s Socialists.

On the other side they have Fianna Fáil, which insists on just not going away. The fact that FF has not seen any particular advance in its fortunes in the polls should come as no surprise given the scale of the hatred it engendered.

The past 18 months has been about Fianna Fáil stabilising its position. It has put a floor under its decline, which was no small task. The issue now is if it can recover former ground.

While FF may skirmish with SF over ex FF voters who went to Labour, the main battle will be fought elsewhere and with another enemy. Surveys suggest that up to 40% of those who said they voted FF in 2007 switched to FG in 2011.

This sizeable group are still angry and hurt. They have not been ready to listen to Fianna Fáil so far. Will they become disenchanted over the coming months with Enda Kenny and Fine Gael as it struggles to deliver on its election promises?

Will this be sufficient? Will the disenchantment be enough to allow them to listen to anything the party has to say, never mind be convinced by it? These are questions taxing Fianna Fail reps at their think in today and tomorrow.

The opposition parties and independents will also need to consider the competition they face from the emerging, and varied, opposition within government.

It ranges from Brian Hayes and Joan Burton’s fighting over pensioners to FG backbenchers bemoaning its failure to take on the public sector.

The greatest challenge, though, may come from within the Labour Party. There seems to be something about becoming chairman of the smaller party in government that makes the holder think they are the deputy leader of the opposition. I call it “Dan Boyle Syndrome”.

As a first time Deputy; sitting on the government backbenches; the new Labour Chairman may gaze longingly at the other side of the Dáil wishing he were there opposing and criticising the current Government, but he isn’t.

The public gets the difference between government and opposition. They understand the fundamental truth of Mario Cuomo’s famous maxim: “you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose”.

If he thinks doing solo runs will firewall him from the approaching barrage of criticism and unpopularity, then he is in for a nasty surprise. All he needs to do is Google “Dan Boyle” and “election results” to see how these tactics failed.

FG and Lab TDs would do well to heed the words of Mary Harney: “Even the worst day in government is better than the best day in opposition”. This may seem unlikely, but it is the case, especially if you believe politics is about improving things.

If they doubt it, then they only need call the Marine Hotel and ask any Fianna Fáil TD.

ENDS