Varadkar’s future as leader is now no more assured than is Martin’s

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on March 15th, the day after the Sunday Times [Ireland] broke the story that the preliminary Garda inquiry into the leaking of a confidential contract by Leo Varadkar while Taoiseach had been upgraded to a criminal investigation by Garda Headquarters. Here I set out why Varadkar’s grip on the Fine Gael leadership was already starting to loosen before this story broke and why his political future may be every bit as uncertain as Micheál Martin’s. 

Over last few months I have written a lot… an awful lot… about Fianna Fáil’s existential crisis. These articles have mainly focused on the shortcomings of the leader, and Taoiseach, Micheál Martin.

This is to be expected. Even though I now find myself on the outside looking in, it is still the party I understand best, and care about most, having been a member for over 40 years.

But my instinctive focus on my former party should not detract from the problems facing Fine Gael – or, more specifically, those facing its leader, An Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar.

Before yesterday’s Sunday Times front page story about the Tánaiste being the subject of criminal investigation, Varadkar’s position looked unassailable. But looks can be deceiving.

Continue reading “Varadkar’s future as leader is now no more assured than is Martin’s”

If looking for inspiration, the Justice Minister should look more to MGQ than Nora.

In this Broadsheet column, which first appeared on February 8th, I look at the choices facing our Justice Minister, Helen McEntee T.D., as her ministerial inbox starts to fill up with difficult and pressing issues. Does she allow herself to be overwhelmed by the problems that face any Justice Minister, as happened to Nora Owen, or does she get ahead of them and not allow circumstances dictate her record, something Maire Geoghegan Quinn deftly managed to achieve. Time is still on her side… but only just.

Yes Minister – Party Games episode: Hacker to Woolley: “Home Secretary? Don’t be daft, BernardBe responsible for all the muggings, jail breaks and race riots?

In the final episode of Yes Minister, the fictional Minister for Administrative affairs and party chairman, Jim Hacker, is faced with the difficult choice of backing one of two disreputable candidates to be the next Prime Minister.

His primary determining factor is what will the result mean for his career. While backing the losing side would probably see him being sent to Northern Ireland, Hacker concludes that the question facing him is not just one of picking the winner. As party chair his support could tip the balance, so Hacker feels he must ultimately decide whether he wants to be Foreign Secretary or Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Examining his options aloud in the company of Bernard Woolley, his civil servant private secretary, Hacker pronounces that neither job is attractive. To become Chancellor is to become Mr. Killjoy, he says, as all he does is raise taxes on beer and cigarettes. Besides, as no new economic policy has any real effect for at least two years, Hackers opines that he would spend his first two years as Chancellor paying the political price for the mistakes of his predecessor.

As for becoming Foreign Secretary, Hacker tells his private secretary that is an even worse job.  While the Government wants to be nice to foreigners, he knows  the electorate, especially his voters would want him to be nasty to them. Not to mention the fact that the British Foreign Office is now virtually irrelevant as Britain had no real power abroad and had just become a sort of American missile base since the 1950s. [Recall that this episode was first broadcast at Christmas 1984… a long time before Brexit]

Continue reading “If looking for inspiration, the Justice Minister should look more to MGQ than Nora.”

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”

Johnson’s Duplicity Will Not End With #Brexit

This column was written just before the UK and EU agreed a post Brexit deal. It first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on December 14th, 2020. In this column I argue strongly that the lesson we must take from how the British government conducted itself during those talks with the EU is that nobody on these islands, in Europe, or even further afield, can trust the Westminster government. The duplicity and mendacity demonstrated in talks could well succeed Johnson himself for as long as there is a Tory component to any future British government.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hold a Bilateral Meeting in Hillsborough Castle,Hillsborough Northern Ireland. Photograph: JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY / RollingNews.ie

Considering that I have fairly quick to criticise Micheál Martin over the past few months, it is only fair that I be just as swift in acknowledging when he gets it right. That is precisely what the Taoiseach did on yesterday morning’s Andrew Marr Show (BBC1).

The Taoiseach came across as calm, authoritative and knowledgeable. He made it clear that Ireland wanted to see a deal agreed, but that the EU27 were solidly behind Michel Barnier and Ursula von der Leyen. Whatever happens between now and December 2022, Micheál Martin can look back at his Marr Show interview as one of the finer moments of his brief stint as Taoiseach. Continue reading “Johnson’s Duplicity Will Not End With #Brexit”

Nothing special about taking good advice

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 28th. It stems from my Sept 23rd appearance on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne discussing pay increases for TDs, the appointment of special advisers for 10 junior ministers and how this news was playing out as it came on the same day as the government announced a cute in the rate of PUP for many of those put out of work by Covid-19. You can hear the discussion here:

The Irish Examiner also reported on our discussion:

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/arid-40053431


On Wednesday I appeared on RTÉ Radio One’s Today Show with Claire Byrne. I had been invited on to discuss TD’s pay and the cabinet decision to give 10 junior ministers their own special advisers.

You’d have thought that this was something better discussed, if not defended, by a loyal Fianna Fail backbencher. Oddly there didn’t seem to be too many of them around on Wednesday to take the call. So, yours truly made a coffee, sat by my phone and waited to head bravely into the breach and make the case for special advisers. Joining me To debate the issue were Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty, TD and the former Independent TD and junior minister, John Halligan.

Continue reading “Nothing special about taking good advice”

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”

My 2020 summer political reading list

Welcome to my fourth annual summer political reading list. This year’s list first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on August 10th 2020. It is somewhat later than planned as I have not been able to plan my own summer break until now.

With my previous lists I tried, where possible, to pick books you can download onto your tablet or eBook reader. Who wants to stick 6 or 7 heavy tomes into the suitcase and pay Euros to Willy Walsh or Michael O’Leary for the privilege of flying them with you? So, while this is not as big a concern this year, many of the titles I have picked are, happily, available to download, indeed at least one is available for free download.

As in past years the titles are factual. The list reflects my own tastes and prejudices – though I do genuinely attempt to include some books that challenge them.

The list is in no order, though it does start with books prompted by the sad death of one of the greatest men I have ever been honoured to meet and hear speak: John Hume. Feel free to disagree with any of my choices in the comments section below (as if some of you need a license to disagree with me!) but if you are going to disagree then suggest what books you’d include instead.

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John Hume, In his own words Edited by Seán Farren
John Hume, Irish peacemaker Edited by Seán Farren & Denis Haughey
humebooks-300x223

My first entry offers you a choice of two books on the one subject: John Hume.

In the first one: “In His Own Words” Hume’s great ally and colleague, Sean Farren, gathers extracts from some of Hume’s most significant speeches, articles, and interviews. Together they give a comprehensive overview of Hume’s political thoughts on the complexity of relationships within and between our two islands. You see, in Hume’s own words, the origins of his implacable opposition to violence and how he developed his proposals for resolving the Northern Irish conflict. Proposals that underpin the Good Friday Agreement.

Continue reading “My 2020 summer political reading list”

But… aren’t all junior ministers super?

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 27th. Here I look at the unforced error that was the super junior saga – the article appeared just before the government caught up with public opinion and decided to back down. 

ff tds

When this new government was cobbled together… sorry, let me start again… when this new administration was formed, Fianna Fáil’s primary political imperative was to show that this government would be very different.

The assumption was that Micheál Martin and his train of attendants would move quickly to banish the political tone deafness and indifference that characterised Leo Varadkar’s time in office and replace it with the attentive and determined approach of a Taoiseach with his finger on the public pulse.

Four weeks in and all the evidence so far points more to continuity than change. To be fair to Martin, it is not the full picture. As the new Taoiseach has repeatedly said in interviews, the Dáil has rarely been so productive in producing legislation.

The problem is that he has made this point in a series of incredibly low energy TV and radio interviews that have lacked any core message beyond proving that Martin knows his facts.

Continue reading “But… aren’t all junior ministers super?”

Ministering on #Data or #Cyber Defence

This column which looks (eventually) at Ireland’s ongoing political/policy neglect of data protection and cyber security and why the Defence Forces have a vital role to play in defending Ireland’s vital national infrastructure from cyber attacks. This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 20th 2020

biotech-670x310

NEAT graphic via https://businessandfinance.com/news/infographic-why-ireland-for-cyber-security/

Since I wrote my last Broadsheet column, An Taoiseach Michéal Martin has sacked a cabinet minister and reassigned three junior portfolios. According to his supporters this action, a mere 17 days after his first round of appointments, is proof of An Taoiseach’s cool decisiveness and a major rebuff to those who consider him a self-interested ditherer.

They may well be right, but either way his unplanned reshuffle does afford us the chance to look again at the choices made by An Taoiseach on June 27th and July 1st when he chose his team of senior and junior ministers.

Technically, of course, An Taoiseach did not choose most of them. Martin himself only got to name 5 cabinet and 8 junior ministers. 13 out of the 32 positions to be appointed. The rest, 6 Green and 13 Fine Gael were chosen by their respective party leaders and, we are told, beyond the allocation of portfolios, there was no consultation on the identities of any of those to be named.

So let’s look at some of those decisions. Actually, let’s not.

Continue reading “Ministering on #Data or #Cyber Defence”

It’s about loyal-aty… plus, we have a digital Tánaiste and an analogue Taoiseach.

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 13th. It was written before An Taoiseach summarily dismissed Barry Cowen as Minister. It looks at the continuing disquiet and indiscipline within Micheál Martin’s Fianna Fáil and concludes that the problems stem from Martin’s dogged refusal to reciprocate the party’s particular brand of loyalty… loyal-aty.

Fianna Fáil back bench TDs must now exert their influence and insist that they commission and oversee the much promised independent report into the party’s disastrous Feb 2020 national election campaign.

New-cabinet-feat

Like many Dubs, my late Dad had a habit of sticking an extra syllable or letter into certain words.

So, when Sheedy, Quinn, Townsend, Cascarino, Houghton and O’Leary put the ball in the net in Italia 90, they didn’t just score brilliant goals, in my Dad’s phrase they scored goalds.  I won’t go into how he described the Schillaci shot that sent us home. Suffice to say that it had precious few “d”s, but plenty of “f”s, “c”s and “k”s.

Not that my Dad did it consciously or deliberately. Like others, it was just part of the Dublin/Liberties patois they grew up with.

Many Dubs, including this one, still occasionally find themselves doing it. While I can manage to talk about goals without adding the “d”, I do have one word where I sometimes find myself adding an “i” or an “a” between the second “l” and “t”, transforming the word loyalty into loyal-ity or loyal-aty… a higher form of the quality or state of being loyal.

Continue reading “It’s about loyal-aty… plus, we have a digital Tánaiste and an analogue Taoiseach.”