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.
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.
This column first appeared on May 9th 2022 on Broadsheet and looks at the Northern Ireland assembly election results and how the two governments in Dublin and London have responded.
For about forty years, from the early 1930s up to the early 1970s, many weighty academic tomes on Karl Marx and on Charles Darwin, attempted to analysis how and why Marx decided to ask the father of the Theory of Evolution if he would accept Marx dedicating one of the volumes of Das Kapital, to him – and why Darwin politely, but firmly, declined the request?
It was a conundrum which intrigued and perplexed many fine scholars from both the left and right. Each side offering complex and multi-layered interpretations about each man’s motivations.
Was Marx just seeking Darwin’s approval – it is certain that Marx admired Darwin’s work – or was he attempting to draw parallels between his and Darwin’s theories and perhaps win the great man over to his arguments? Was Darwin’s refusal driven by a deep wariness of Marx’s politics and the fear of being associated with them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 10th 2022 and looks at Sinn Féin’s 10-year-wait to discover the need for public sector reform. I also examine their record on this issue, in that part of the island, where they have ministerial responsibility for public sector reform
Something unusual, though politically significant, happened during the first 10 minutes of last Friday’s “Gathering” on RTÉ Radio 1’s Claire Byrne Today show.
We have become so accustomed to hearing Sinn Féin spokespeople sticking carefully to their talking points and holding the party line, that hearing one utter even the vaguest criticism of their leader, is jarring.
Yet that is what Sinn Fein’s Louise O’Reilly did when she said that she “wouldn’t use necessarily the words that Mary Lou used…”. The words to which O’Reilly was referring, which she also called “inelegant”, had come from an Irish Examiner interview in which the Sinn Féin leader said of the need for public sector reform:
“But we have, in many respects, a system that is constipated, a system that is slow, and a system that needs to be jolted… “
It’s not often you hear a Sinn Féin spokesperson upbraid their leader in public and get away with it. Louise’s move was politically bold and strategically wise.
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.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet on April 12th. It followed almost a week of disturbances and incidents across the North, though I mainly focus here on the attacks by loyalist youths along the peace wall in West Belfast, specially at the Lanark Way interface. The cause of these riots are complex – they also have immediate and proximate causes. While there are sinister loyalist paramilitary elements who saw this as an opportunity to make trouble for a PSNI that has enjoyed recent successes in thwarting loyalist drug dealing – especially with unionist leaders attacking the PSNI over and calling for the resignation of the Chief Constable – many of the teenagers and youths on the streets will misguidedly see themselves as fighting for their community, their people and their allegiance. Though that allegiance goes increasingly unreciprocated by the State to which they declare their loyalty.
As the riots raged along the peace walls in Belfast last week, I spotted a tweet bemoaning the absence of loyalist leaders of the calibre of the late David Ervine.
David was the avuncular, savvy leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). He was aptly described by Northern Ireland secretary John Reid as “possibly one of the most eloquent politicians in Northern Ireland”.
Ervine died tragically young, aged just 53, of a brain hemorrhage, in Jan 2007. Speaking at the time, the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern called him a “courageous politician who sought to channel the energies of loyalism in a positive political direction.”
I don’t claim to have known David well, though I did meet him several times and even debated against him in UCD before an audience of US politics students. He was characteristically witty and demonstrated a willingness to engage and debate the future of the North, that showed his confidence in his in his identity and position. This is not something you can say about many in today’s unionism.
This week’s Broadsheet column examines how the week beginning Monday March 22 may be a more important one for the medium to long term future of relations on this island that the one before, even though that week featured several important set-piece speeches by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin on the North and the relations with UK and the EU post Brexit. My argument is not that the Taoiseach said anything wrong – he didn’t. My problem is with what he didn’t say. On Unity. I suspect the Taoiseach believes he is far ahead of public opinion in not discussing unity or constitutional change. The reality, I fear, is that Mr Martin is perilously far behind where the centre ground of nationalist and republican opinion public is, North and South.
Given the week that was in it, with St Patrick’s Day and all, and the impressive number of virtual calls and speeches made by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, you’d be forgiven for thinking that last week would have been a more important week for the future of relationships on these islands than this week. But it wasn’t.
To his credit, An Taoiseach seized every opportunity presented to him to speak in detail about what he called the “whole new category of challenges that we have had to deal with” following Brexit. He did so with conviction and belief.
In addition to his crucial virtual Oval Office face-to-face with President Biden and Vice President Harris, he had high profile speeches and exchanges with both the prestigious Brookings and Edward M. Kennedy institutes, plus a range of other important calls and engagements.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 25th 2021 and considers the damage An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has done to his Shared Island Unit. His unfounded claims and ill considered comments during a lengthy RTÉ Radio One interview with Brendan O’Connor hurt the prospects for the Shared Island Unit by undermining his relationship with the NI Executive,particularly with its unionist members.
An Taoiseach may have inadvertently given himself an opportunity to get his Shared Island Unit back on the rails, by accepting today’s new reality and allowing it to engage meaningfully on constitutional issues, including advocating for the positives of a united Ireland. Maybe some good can come from Martin’s little too much.
It’s never the little too little that hurts, it’s the little too much. This was Sean Lemass’s famous advice to aspiring politicians. Keep your own counsel and never say more than you need too, especially when what you are saying is not fully thought through.
Though the advice comes from an age before social media and rolling news, it applies as much today as it did in the 50s and 60s.
It is such a profound piece of political advice that I assumed I had mentioned it here before. But a word search of the Broadsheet pieces I have written over the past 5 years tells me that I’ve only quoted it here once before. That was last November in a piece I wrote about the Shared Island Unit. In it, I suggested that the Taoiseach still “has an awful lot to learn from Lemass’s practical application of vision to action.”
Listening to the Taoiseach’s lengthy Saturday morning interview with Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio One, it appears that it is a lesson he still needs to learn, and urgently.
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.