This is my first column in several weeks (apologies for that) and what an eventful few weeks they have been. Rather than trying to unpack all those events, I start with the latest opinion poll and work my way backwards from that… returning to a not unfamiliar theme… Fianna Fáil’s relevance problem.
It is six or seven weeks since I last sat down to wrote one of these analysis pieces. The delay is odd, as there has been no shortage of domestic political events to write about.
From the breakthrough on the Northern Ireland protocol, to the change of leadership in the Social Democrats, and from Bertie Ahern’s return to full Fianna Fáil membership to at least six major opinion polls including one in the North looking at the political attitudes of those who do not identify as either nationalist or unionist.
Where to start? Perhaps it is easiest to start with the latest Ireland Thinks poll from the Sunday Independent and attempt to work back… though knowing that I won’t address much of that backlog in just one article.
In this blog I discuss the principal factors a party leader should consider when contemplating a mid-term reshuffle. Though I draw many of these from British political research, I also consider recent Irish expamples and refrain – largely – from engaging in too much speculation about who may be in or out next Saturday… or next week when the junior ministries are announced.
Aware of Paddy Ashdown’s background as both a Royal Marine and a Special Boat Service officer, Charles Kennedy observed wryly to the House of Commons in Oct 1998 that Ashdown was: “the only party leader who’s a trained killer. Although, to be fair, Mrs Thatcher was self-taught.”
Not that the Iron Lady saw it that way. Speaking about her post-election reshuffle options in a BBC interview on the day after her 1983 election win, she resisted Sir Robin Day’s invitation to call herself a good (political) butcher. Instead, she disagreed with Herbert Asquith’s claim that a good Prime Minister must be a good butcher, before adding that they did need to know how to carve the joint. A distinction without a difference?
In this blogpost I suggest that the latest Fine Gael suggestion that Ireland abandon the UN mandate element of the triple-lock mechanism is just about distracting public focus from its ongoing failure to undo the decade of neglect it has inflicted on Irish defence.
Last Wednesday evening (around 5.30pm) Seanad Éireann debated a Private Members motion on “Ireland’s Military Neutrality.” It is well worth a read (or a viewing) as it is a calm and reasoned discussion of Irish Defence policy and the large gaps that appear therein.
Huge credit is due to the two proposers of the motion: Senators Michael McDowell and Tom Clonan. They crafted a motion that was both measured but frank. The motion, which was passed, ultimately called on the government to:
In my first post in since July I chose to take a “compare and contrast” look at the recent party leader speeches of two of the most important (and long standing) political leaders on these two islands: Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon MSP and An Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, T.D.
This is my first written political blogpost in several months. I certainly cannot blame the absence of political news or activity for the lengthy absence. If anything, the speed, and frequency of developments made writing new blogs impractical, as no sooner had I written some piece of considered political analysis than events had overtaken it.
There were other contributory facts, including a fairly mild dose of Covid that was followed by about two months of relatively minor breathing issues that still sapped my energy levels.
I did post a slightly hurried Mooney on Politics Podcast on the difficulties with the Fianna Fáil/SDLP partnership while I was in Brussels, but this is my first-time putting words on screen since July.
The temptation, therefore, is to review what has happened since, but I have resisted that temptation and chosen to: (a) return to a frequent theme, the leadership of Micheal Martin and (b) look at this through the lens of comparison.
The idea for this comparison suggested itself by the coincidence of both Fianna Fáil and the SNP having their first posy pandemic, in-person party conferences within a few days of each other.
I discussed the implications of the latest political scandal for An Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week show on Sunday August 28th, 2022.
My view is that An Taoiseach was hoping to avoid losing Deputy Troy as a Junior Minister as he did not wish to face into the prospect of nominating a replacement at this time. There are five or six very capable and willing candidates for appointment, each feeling that they have an “understanding” with the party leader that they will be promoted when the reshuffle comes in late December. Continue reading “Implications of the latest political scandal for Fianna Fáil leadership”→
You do really have to wonder if the Taoiseach and Tánaiste understand politics at all?
Their immediate and absolute refusal to accede to calls for a mid-point review of the Programme for Government, coming from senior representatives in their two parties, is an example of this.
What is so wrong with agreeing to a mid-point review, a political stock-take, of the programme so painstaking negotiated back in June 2020?
Why shouldn’t the moment at which the two leaders switch roles also involve an appraisal of how effective this government has been at implementing the lengthy programme announced just over two years ago?
Earlier this week, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, accompanied by ministers Simon Coveney and Eamon Ryan headed to McKee barracks, beside the Phoenix Park, to launch the overdue and long anticipated government’s action plan response to the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, entitled: “Building for the future – change from within.”
It is a good document. It commits the government to moving the State’s level of defence capability to Level of Ambition 2 (LOA) over a period of six years between now and 2028. In terms of cash and people, this means growing the annual Defence budget to €1.5 billion by 2028 (in 2022 prices) plus expanding the defence establishment by 2,000 personnel (civil and military).
A year ago we were told by those close to the Fianna Fáil leader that the persistantly poor poll numbers were due to disunity and sniping at the leader. So why… after 10 months of back benchers holding their tongues…. are the party’s poll figures still stuck in the mid to high teens? The party fared disastrously in Feb 2020…. but that figure now looks like a long distant high water mark.
Exactly two years ago, on June 15th 2020 in a column entitled Better Never Than Late, I stated that there were then three absolute truths for Fianna Fáil. Truths that highlighted how misguided the leadership’s strategy of putting Fine Gael back into government was as it ignored the reality that that Fianna Fáil had options and leverage.
I revisited those three truths several times in both late 2020 and early 2021, but it has occurred to me that I have not examined them again lately.
For the first time in almost six years I am writing a weekly opinion piece which will not appear on Broadsheet.ie. Though I have written for various print magazines and newspapers over the years, writing a weekly opinion piece for Broadsheet was both enjoyable and slightly.
The Broadsheet platform offered me the potential to reach a different audience than when I was writing for the Evening Herald. An audience that might not instinctively identify with my more moderate brand of politics. To judge from the comments on my Broadsheet farewell piece the exercise kind of worked. Many people leaving messages along the lines of “while I didn’t often agree with you, I enjoyed reading your point of view and seeing your analysis.”
I am deeply sorry that Broadsheet is gone. We will miss its eclectic assortment of quirky and whimsical stories, doggie/cat pics, news items, and early sight of the next day’s front pages. We will be the poorer for its demise It served its readers… and its contributors… well.
I am grateful to John – who I have known from the days of In Dublin and Magill – and to all the team behind Broadsheet. I wish them all well for the future.
The fact that I no longer have the Broadsheet platform from which to rant, won’t stop me foisting my weekly analysis on an unprepared and unguarded public, though they may have to search a little harder to find me – be it on my website, podcast and/or Social Media… starting now.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday, May 23rd 2022, and sees me return to a point I have made many times over the past few years, namely the urgent need for a government response on housing that addressing the crisis on the scale required. This government’s “Housing For All” strategy is a dramatic improvement on the near inertia of the previous 6+ years under Fine Gael, but it is still not on the scale or timeframe required to convince the public that this crisis will be over soon. And… to make things worse… inflation, rising interest rates and building cost increases will make a tough task tougher.
Just over a week ago Iarnród Éireann announced that it was no longer able to provide catering services on its Intercity network. With the exception of some Dublin/Belfast Enterprise trains, passengers will not be able to buy a cup of tea/coffee accompanied by a stale Kit-Kat or a half-filled sandwich.
Yes, we will miss the fun of seeing what items the catering service had managed not to pack on to those wobbly aluminum trolleys which dispensed hot water with all the force of a 56-year-old man with a swollen prostate… but as problems facing this country go, this isn’t a big one.
The problem has nothing to do with the complexities of providing a cup of tea on a train and – according to the catering contractor, Rail Gourmet – has all to do with the real difficulties it is having in finding staff to push the trolleys up and down the train. Rail Gourmet says the problem is so acute that it cannot resolve it, and so Irish Rail must now organise a tender competition so it can hopefully restore this fairly basic service sometime in 2023.