DUP Is Down – But Don’t Count It Out Just Yet

The column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday April 4th. Though the DUP’s support is faltering and has been on a steady decline over the past few years, it is still too early to write the party’s political obituary. It may run Sinn Féin close in the race to emerge as the single biggest party. The DUP decline in the polls, past the Robinson era, is due to internal faction fights that are based partly on personality, but primarily due to the inability of a sizeable cohort in the party to grasp the fact that Northern Ireland has changed over the past decade or more, despite the DUP’s political preeminence, and is continuing to change. 

L-R Jonathan Buckley (DUP), Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson – during an anti NI Protocol rally in Lurgan

With the Northern Ireland Assembly election exactly one month away, a great deal of the commentary has focused – naturally enough – on the damage that unionism continues to inflict on itself.

I cannot recall a time when unionism seemed in greater disarray. All due to the ill-judged decisions and actions of hard line, irridentist unionists.

This is not to deny that there is a strong and growing seam of moderate, indeed progressive, unionism. A modern unionism that is more focused on facing the challenges of the future than re-waging the tribal battles of the past. A unionism that sees the grave dangers in the rallies against the Northern Protocol being foisted on many small towns across the six counties.

Continue reading “DUP Is Down – But Don’t Count It Out Just Yet”

Why eat your words when you can delete them?

It is a few weeks since I updated this page to include my most recent blogs. This one first appeared on Broadsheet on March 14th and looks at Sinn Féin’s recent industrial strength spring clean of its online archive of statements 

“Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them.”

This guidance for politicians comes from the late Mo Udall, a long serving Democratic Congressman from Arizona.

It’s an approach you would hope members of today’s Oireachtas, from all sides, might heed – but as we see during the daily set pieces of Leaders’ Questions and the Order of Business, they don’t.

Instead, rather than acknowledging that they might have been wrong and correcting the situation, they double down and insist that they didn’t say what we think they said. We get obduracy and petulance in place of debate and discussion. In the more extreme cases we get some parties going the whole hog and deleting almost anything and everything they have ever said. Continue reading “Why eat your words when you can delete them?”

The Painful Sting Of A Fading DUP

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday February 14th. This was the same day as the Irish News published results of their opinion poll, which was conducted in partnership with the Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool between January 25 and February 7.

Pictured is Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Jeffrey Donaldson with Taoiseach Micheal Martin as he leaves Government Buildings in Dublin, following a meeting between the two leaders. Photograph: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

The latest intrigues of Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP bring to mind the adage: “You can get an awful sting from a dying bee.”

We may well be watching the final throes of Unionist ascendency as the DUP struggles to deal with a fraught situation entirely of its own making.

Last year’s celebration of Northern Ireland’s centenary reminded us how the net impact of five decades of Unionist rule was to undermine the very hegemony that brought it into existence. When Northern Ireland was established in 1921, around 62% identified as Protestant and 34% identified as Roman catholic. This figure remained steady up to the late 1960s when the proportion of Catholics began to increase.

By 2011, 41% were identifying as Catholic and just 42% identifying as Protestant share. A major shift. It was one of two shifts. The other was the emergence of a third category, one where people did not identify as being from either community background, a category that measured 17%.

A decade later, the June 2020 study, Political Attitudes at a Time of Flux, found that this “neither” category was now the biggest of the three categories of political identity, with almost 40% identifying as neither unionist nor nationalist.

Continue reading “The Painful Sting Of A Fading DUP”

Irish Defence Policy – the sleeping dog that’s no longer content to stay sleeping

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday, January 31st with the much snappier title: Indefensible. In it, I explain how a decade of political neglect of both defence policy and the Defence Forces is coming back to haunt the government. Sadly, the comments of An Taoiseach and of Ministers Coveney and Ryan point to them having beither the ideas or the political will to undo the damage of thar decade of neglect. 

Active Measures – Russia’s Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov. Pic via SASKO LAZAROV/ROLLINGNEWS.IE

After a decade of defence issues being pushed so far down the political agenda that you’d need a bathysphere and a decompression chamber to even spot them, they came roaring back up that agenda this week. With a vengeance.

Each day brought a new story. It started with the concern over the build up of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border and the not unconnected tumult over Russia’s plans to mount naval exercises in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.

It then continued with the policy-making-on-the-hoof announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and the Communications Minister Eamon Ryan that they plan to come up a plan to close Cathal Brugha barracks and use it for housing.

Continue reading “Irish Defence Policy – the sleeping dog that’s no longer content to stay sleeping”

For Both Taoiseach and Tánaiste The Question is: To reshuffle, or not…?

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on January 4th and looks at the contrasting approaches that both Taoiseach and Tánaiste appear (from their public comments, at least) to the possibility of a reshuffle of their ministesr when the government mid-point/turnabout comes next December.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee – Picture: Sam Boal Via Irish Examiner

Political commentators hailing a minister who was on maternity leave for half of 2022 as their politician of the year tells you a lot about the state of Irish politics.

Not that I particularly object to their choice of Minister Helen McEntee. Her absence from the cabinet table at a challenging time did nothing to diminish her public profile, while the positive media treatment of her return, did much to enhance it.

Minister McEntee is one of the few recognisable names and faces around the Cabinet table. She has become a political figure in her own right, albeit one who is still untested – a point I made here last February.

This is not something you can say about all her colleagues. While some do stand out as individuals with thoughts and ideas of their own, most come across as either politically shapeless or just innocuous. Mercifully the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have not required certain ministers wear nametags at meetings, if What’s My Line ever returns to our TV screens, the panel would have some trouble discerning precisely what the Minister for Children or the Minister for Agriculture do for a living. Continue reading “For Both Taoiseach and Tánaiste The Question is: To reshuffle, or not…?”

Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday December 13th. It looks at a comparison I would never have thought possible just two years ago – but I explain why the two leaders – who do not share many traits or characteristics – regrettably share one very large negative one

The famous blackboard from Derry Girls – now (a copy) in the Ulster Museum

If you haven’t seen it already, then do yourself an enormous favour and check out the glorious blackboard scene from the second series of Derry Girls. Actually, just go and watch all of Lisa McGee’s deeply affectionate and wildly funny account of life in 1990’s Derry.

In the blockboard scene, Fr Peter invites teenagers from a catholic girls’ school and a protestant boys’ school, brought together for a cross community weekend, to suggest examples of things they have in common. These are then written down on a blackboard.

While they struggle to come up with things they have in common, they have no such problem listing their differences: Catholics watch RTÉ; Protestants love soup. Catholics love statues; Protestants hate Abba. The ‘differences’ blackboard is soon overflowing. The similarities one remains bare.

While I’ve no doubt it wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny, ask a group of Irish people what Boris Johnson and Micheál Martin have in common, and they’d struggle to propose much for the similarities one. Continue reading “Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think”

Yes, filter NPHET but filter the air in classrooms first

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on December 6th and looks at two strained sets of relationships. The first is that between ministers and NPHET and the second is the one between the government and the hospitality industry.

When it comes to the relationship between the Cabinet and NPHET, a mutual preparedness to blur the delineation between roles of decision-maker and decision implementer, is coming back to bite… both . 

Meanwhile, the government’s willingness to propose additional restrictions for the hospitality sector can be seen as an attempt to distract from the same government’s lethargy on ICU beds, ventilation and antigen testing.  

Professor of health systems at Dublin City University, Anthony Staines on BBC’s Newsnight (Dec 3 2021)

Many years ago I was asked to help in the re-structuring and re-invigoration of a voluntary organisation. I was one of a group of outsiders. Each tasked with reviewing key aspects of the organisation’s work, operations, and structures.

Each of us brought a different skillset to the mission, HR, communications, fund raising and organisation. Towards the end of the assignment they brought us together to compare notes.

Governance had been a major issue in the organisation with the odd board member accused of crossing the line and getting involved in the day-to-day operations. So, we were all interested to see and hear what the person looking at organisation and governance would recommend.

Continue reading “Yes, filter NPHET but filter the air in classrooms first”

Does MM stand for: Micheál Martin or Managerial Minimalism?

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Novembe 15th and returns to a familiar theme; the flawed political leadership style of Micheál Martin.  

You can tell that it wasn’t a great week for the current government, when one of the least worst headlines it garnered was: Taoiseach defends Eamon Ryan’s appointment of cronies to climate council roles.

It’s like Zapponegate never happened… or maybe it’s that this administration spends so much time lurching from problem to problem that it hasn’t yet had a chance to learn the lessons of the last one?

Let’s look back over the stories that dominated the headlines during just the first few days of last week.

On Tuesday, we discovered that it would be 2042 before we would see a Dart underground line. We also found that that there won’t be new metro lines south or west of Dublin with the next two decades either. All this courtesy of a National Transport Authority review of its strategy for the capital.

This was the same day that we learned that the Department of Finance was considering going after the home purchase deposits coming via the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’. (It took Pascal Donohoe several days to walk this story back.)

Continue reading “Does MM stand for: Micheál Martin or Managerial Minimalism?”

This week’s #Covid19 reopening should have gone ahead

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday Oct 18th, the day before the government decided not to proceed with its original plan to lift most of the continuing Covid19 restrictions. I think ministers are making a mistake. They should have focused instead on (a) making life less burdensome for the vaccinated and (b) placing increased pressure on the 300,000 or so un-vaxxed to folks to get vaccinated ASAP. Though I accept full 100% coverage is impossible.

Getting more people to get their shots is what drives the Italian workplace Green Pass system (which I indirectly reference below). I recommend listening to this 17-minute Podcast on the Italian system. It is from my colleagues in BEERG/HRPA.  

The idea that the way to stop folks breaking rules is to make more rules is akin to saying if two wrongs don’t make a right… let’s try three.

It is absurd to hear the government talk about not lifting restrictions only days after boasting about our being the Covid resilience world leader.

Yet that’s where we are. You cannot turn on a news show without hearing yet another minister preparing us for the October 22 re-opening not going ahead.

The Taoiseach took it a step further in yesterday’s Sunday Independent. There he hinted that the government had already decided to pause further reopening. As if to sugar coat this failure of policy, Martin sought to comfort us by saying:

“… we are not contemplating going backwards. The only issue facing us now is going forward”

If he is expecting the public to be grateful that we are not going back into lockdown, he will be disappointed.

The government is doing this the wrong way around.

Rather than passively accepting that they cannot go ahead with the October 22 re-opening, they should be proceeding with it. Rather than preparing us for disappointment, they should also be tasking public health officials with putting the necessary measures in place. Continue reading “This week’s #Covid19 reopening should have gone ahead”

When leadership colours matter… Fail to Define Yourself and others Will do it for you

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.   

GE2020 – Fianna Fáil’s missed opportunity to stand for something

 

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.

Continue reading “When leadership colours matter… Fail to Define Yourself and others Will do it for you”