Normal Political Service Will Resume When Pubs (ie Wet Bars) Reopen

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Jan 18th, 2021and looked at the impact of the pandemic on the craft and practise of normal politics. I suggest that we will not see a return to the normal exercise and discussion of ordinary politics until we are all able to safely have a pint or a drink without food in a non-gastro pub (the so-called Wet Bars). For that to happen, the vaccination programme will need to roll out much faster.

A faltering start and confusing release of data will not instill confidence in the public. If voters see Northern Ireland and Scotland a long way ahead of us by mid- March, in terms of vaccinating people and preparing to re-open, then public patience with the government, and with the Taoiseach and Health Minister in particular, will snap.

Writing traditional political analysis at a time when the usual power play and open practise of normal politics has been suspended is not easy. Writing it when people are worrying about the damage this pandemic is inflicting on their lives and livelihoods is uncomfortable.

The ups and down of this junior minister or that opposition frontbencher are so unimportant when compared with the concerns of people worried about whether their jobs will be still there, or their business will still be viable after the pandemic.

Even in normal times, the reporting of political processes, the who’s in and who’s out, only serves as a distraction from the real stuff of politics when its discussion is detached from the consequences of those movements on the formulation and implementation of policy.

While these are not normal times, their gradual return is almost within sight, and with those normal times will come a return to the normal practise and discussion of politics.

While no one is foolhardy enough to dare suggest a hard date for that return, I’d wager that we will not see a return to this normal politics this side of the wet pubs re-opening. I say this with deference to the many publicans who may now fear my forecast will act as an incentive for Micheál Martin to keep them closed to 2022! Continue reading “Normal Political Service Will Resume When Pubs (ie Wet Bars) Reopen”

Uncertainty Is More Testing Than The Exam, LeavingCert Decision Must be made soon

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on on January 11th. Though I am agnostic as to whether the 2021 Leaving Cert should be the traditional exam or by assessment, I am certain that Leaving cert students want and need certainty, now. Some favour assessment, as many favour traditional exams, but whatever the decision is to be, it should be made soon, very soon, otherwise the government risks annoying everyone, again.

The government must not allow itself to be excessively worried by opposition taunts on changing its mind or doing a U-turn. Governments everywhere are playing catch-up as they see struggle to get ahead of the virus, particularly when it does not precisely follow the paths the system modellers suggested. There is no shame in changing course when the event or outcome you planned for and doesn’t arrive. To quote Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do?”.

Handout photo issued by Julien Behal of Taoiseach Micheal Martin (left) during a visit to St. Fiachra’s Senior National School in Beaumont, Dublin, with Minister for Education Norma Foley, Sean Haughey, T.D., and Kieran Creaner, School Principal

When, in five- or ten-years’ time, we look back on January 2021 will we think of it as the month:

…when President Trump launched a failed coup that resulted in his being banned from office;

…when a Covid-19 peak drove authorities to get serious about speeding up vaccinations or,

….when Marks & Spencer stores in Ireland ran out of packets of Percy Pig.

I suspect, in a darkest hour is just before dawn way it will be a mix of Trump and the vaccine. Hopefully, we will look back and see this as the inflection point when, to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger’s excellent video message, a jailed or exiled Trump became as “irrelevant as an old tweet.” Similarly, we will see this as the month when Covid-19 was arrested in in Ireland via a pincer of suppression and mass vaccination.   

While I hope this is how our future selves will see things, I know there is a cohort of maybe 70,000 young citizens for whom January 2021 will still invoke memories of doubt and uncertainty. I refer to the 6th year students who want to know what will happen with this year’s leaving cert.
Continue reading “Uncertainty Is More Testing Than The Exam, LeavingCert Decision Must be made soon”

Goodbye #2020: That Was The Year That Was

In this, the last column of 2020, I throw a very jaundiced eye over the political year, a year dominated by Covid and Brexit. I also look at the Taoiseach’s remarkable claim that we didn’t bail out the banks and suggest that his remarks were not an intemperate outburst as some suggest, but a clumsy and failed attempt to call out what he sees as populism.

The version below is a longer version of the column which appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday December 21, 2020.   

To paraphrase the David Frost programme of the 1960’s: That was the year that was — It’s over, let it go… except, we can’t, not just yet. Politically the year is far from over. 2020 is not quite yet finished with the two issues that have so far dominated the year: Brexit and Covid. While the two issues will also dominate 2021, they each have a bit left to be played out in this year.

On Brexit we still have the will they/won’t they saga over whether the EU and UK negotiators can finalise a deal in Brussels. Last week I said I thought they could and would. I still think they can, though it now seems possible that it may take until January to get that deal defined on paper and possibly until February to get it formally passed in Europe. Continue reading “Goodbye #2020: That Was The Year That Was”

As Taoiseach, Micheál Martin’s negatives still far outweigh his positives

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on November 30th 2020. While I am not yet predicting there will be a heave against Martin sometime in 2021, all the indicators are starting to pint in that direct – not least because not moving against the current leader can only mean Fianna Fáil’s support continuing to languish in the mid to low teens nationally and, more worryingly, in single digits in the greater Dublin area.

Pic via: https://www.thejournal.ie/martin-fires-opening-salvo-in-fianna-fail-leadership-battle-69059-Jan2011/

Ever want to know if the Sunday newspapers are running a political poll, then check to see if the Taoiseach is down to do some high-profile media events early that week. If he is, then there is a strong likelihood there is a poll coming.

Maybe I am just cynical. Nonetheless it does seem that the Taoiseach’s TV and Radio appearances seem to coincide with the days on which REDC/Sunday Business Post are collecting responses to their polls.

This may help explain why the Taoiseach was so keen to have Minister McEntee wait until next Tuesday to answer Dáil questions on the Woulfe Saga. This was not his view back in 2017 when he was the one asking the questions about judicial appointments. What a difference three years and a seal of office can make

Continue reading “As Taoiseach, Micheál Martin’s negatives still far outweigh his positives”

Putting A Shared Island In A Shared Seanad

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Nov 16th. Here I propose that the two Seanad Éireann vacancies be filled by nominees representing the two traditions in Northern Ireland. this is something that should have happened when the Taoiseach named his 11 nominees to the Seanad back in June, but didn’t. That was a major mistake, but he now has the opportunity to correct it and prove that his Shared Island project is not just about words, it is about actions.

Taoiseach Michael Martin who gave an address on the Shared Island initiative at Dublin Castle 22nd Oct 2020. Photo: Julien Behal / RollingNews.ie

A few weeks ago An Taoiseach Micheál Martin delivered a major speech to an online audience. At almost any other time the speech would have been seen as important and significant, but it did not receive a great deal of attention coming as it did between Leo the leaker, the Mother and Baby Home saga, Woulfegate, not to mention the process of moving to level 5 Covid 19 restrictions.

The speech, on a Shared Island/Ireland, was delivered live to a wide and diverse audience, north and south. It was a fine speech, though – not for the first time – Martin managed to detract from his speech and trampling over his own publicity, with a far from adroit performance at the event’s question and answer session. As Sean Lemass famously observed, it’s never the little too little that hurts in politics, it’s the little too much.

So, instead of the media focusing on the news that the Irish government was establishing and funding a substantial unit to work on developing major all island projects, it came away transfixed by Martin’s inability to unambiguously state that Fianna Fáil is committed to Irish Unity.

Continue reading “Putting A Shared Island In A Shared Seanad”

A week of important questions… and hopefully some answers

This week’s column is a bit longer than usual as it looks at two separate topics that are only connected by timing. This piece appeared on Broadsheet.ie yesterday (Monday Nov 2nd) as two columns. The first was on the allegations of leaking that beset the Tánaiste:   https://www.broadsheet.ie/2020/11/02/derek-mooney-best-practice/ and the second as an eve of polling day assessment of the US presidential election with a guide to the key states to watch out for on the night: https://www.broadsheet.ie/2020/11/02/a-referendum-on-trump/

NB  Since I wrote this column Prof McDonald has revised his estimate of the total voter turnout to 160.2 million (67%)

Store windows in downtown Washington DC being boarded up last week in anticipation of violence as the results emerge – Pic via Arjen van der Horst on Twitter

Late last Friday I pulled together some quotes and stats in anticipation of today’s column being just about the US presidential election. Then came Saturday morning and that Village magazine exposé. So, while today’s piece will still consider the U.S. election, I will first address the domestic elephants in the room.  

The allegation that Leo Varadkar leaked a confidential government document to a friend is serious. Very serious. To describe the leak as “not best practise” is akin to Sinn Féin saying three £10,000 office grants ended up in their bank accounts “in error”. Using passive language does not make it better.

If anything, it makes it worse. It is like a poker player’s tell that shows the miscreant knows they did wrong, no matter how much they tell themselves otherwise.

To their credit – and this is not a phrase that flows easily from my keyboard – Sinn Féin have tried to deflate their problems with resignations from four party officials, including a Senator and an MLA.

Continue reading “A week of important questions… and hopefully some answers”

Biden will win. #Bigly. Trump is going down… but not in a way he’d like!

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Oct 12th 2020. Here I take my courage in my hands and predict – three weeks out from the official US Presidential polling day – that Joe Biden will win the presidency… and win it comfortably.

This is less based on polling, though national polls continue to show Biden with a clear 7 – 9 pt lead over Trump, and is more predicated on the evidence from the Trump side that it knows its man is beaten and is now focused on challenging the authenticity of the result. The Trump campaign is spending billions so Trump can sit in his Maralago golf resort this time next year and tell himself: I didn’t lose, I was robbed!


When trying to forecast an election result a few weeks out from polling day political pundits protect themselves by saying well, this would be the result if people were voting tomorrow, but there are still a few weeks to go and anything could happen.

But, when it comes to this American presidential election, people are voting tomorrow, just as they were voting today, yesterday, last week and even back to mid-September.

According to Vote.org, 27 States are already voting in person and/or have totally mail-in ballots. 9 out of the 50 States have been open for early voting from six weeks before the November 3 polling date, including Pennsylvania, Illinois, Virginia and New Jersey. Early voting started in California a week ago.   

Over 9 million Americans have already voted, this is 8 – 10 times as many as voted this early in 2016. In five states the number of ballots already returned is more than 20% of the 2016 turnout.

Continue reading “Biden will win. #Bigly. Trump is going down… but not in a way he’d like!”

#Covid19: It’s About Numbers, But It’s About Balance Too

In this column looking at the State’s Covid-19 response, specifically the recent government decision to place Dublin at Stage 3 restrictions. Was this decision 100% evidence based? I suspect the public is moving ahead of the policy and decision makers and that there a developing public sense that a new balance – an acceptable level of risk – should be struck between preventing infection spread and imposing social restrictions.

It first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Sept 21st 2020

2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19

Have you noticed how we talk about numbers when we talk about Covid-19. Daily infection figures, R numbers, hospitalisation rates, daily and weekly testing rates, App download (and deletion) rates.

All these numbers are important. They are key measures of both the threat posed by the infection and our effectiveness in combating it. They inform our responses, both national and personal.

They provide the basis for key public policy decisions and so, if the State is to succeed in supressing the virus while maintaining some economic and social continuity, we need evidence-based decision making. Decision making in which people can have confidence.

Continue reading “#Covid19: It’s About Numbers, But It’s About Balance Too”

Of dead cats and ducks, ‘tis of thee we sing

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday September 14th. It primarily looks at Boris Johnson’s threat to roll back on commitments made in a the Withdrawal Agreement and to undermine the workings of the Good Friday Agreement

It was a week of dead cats and ducks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson slammed his breaking international law in a very specific and limited way dead cat on the table, in the hope that others would be so horrified they’d forget entirely that his government hasn’t the slightest clue what happens when Brexit transition ends.

As for the dead duck… well, as I discussed that at length last week, I will comment briefly on its 10% rating later.  

The dead cat drop is an old political ruse. You only do it when you are in deep trouble. You reach for the dead pussy when your back is against the wall. You hope everyone focuses on the festering, fetid, defunct feline and forgets about your bigger problems.

The “dead cat on the table” tactic is proof that Johnson and his confederate Cummings are still more consumed with campaigning, not governing.  

Continue reading “Of dead cats and ducks, ‘tis of thee we sing”

We Need To Talk About Micheál

This opinion piece appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 7th and continues a set of themes I have addressed in previous op-eds, namely (i) the problems of a rotating Taoiseach, (ii) the paucity of government’s communications and messaging and (iii) the lack of identity and vision dogging a Fianna Fáil led by Micheál Martin

Tánaiste and Taoiseach at Convention Centre…. or joint Taoisigh?

“The office makes the man” is a phrase heard many times before Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny became Taoiseach. It stems from the notion that you cannot properly envision someone as a Taoiseach (or Prime Minister or President) until they assume the office, as the trappings of office and the authority that come with role help increase their stature.

Afterall, very few people, apart from Gregory Peck, Martin Sheen or Oprah Winfrey, can truly act and sound presidential without being it. 

Continue reading “We Need To Talk About Micheál”