This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 20th, after the first week of the #GE2020 campaign and the first national newspaper poll showing the sharp fall in Fine Gael support which I had been predicting for weeks.
Of all the possible ways he could have responded to yesterday’s bad poll numbers, the Taoiseach went and picked the worst. Ok, it was not quite the worst. He could have nutted a journo and told the rest of the media entourage assigned to go to hell, so at least he didn’t do that.
Where most other leaders would have taken the: well, it’s just a poll, a snapshot in time, there are three weeks of campaigning to go, the Taoiseach decided to shun humility, restraint or conciliation and went on the attack instead. He warned voters
“I think the opinion poll demonstrates that there is a real risk, a real danger that we’ll have a Fianna Fáil-led government”.
It is an approach we have seen before from this Taoiseach, when things are not going his way: the double down.
This post was originally posted on Broadsheet.ie on January 6th 2020. I have written about unity many times here in the years since the Brexit referendum. This piece was written in the heat of the Government’s RIC commemoration fiasco. While some saw that episode as proof that we are not yet ready for a constructive debate on unity, I believe that any moves to quash or stymy open discussion now on how unity might work are wrong-headed – just a wrong headed and counter-productive as charging towards holding unity poll within five years
This may come as a shock to some, but it is entirely possible to want a united Ireland and not favour holding a unity poll within the next five years. Indeed, I would suggest that it is axiomatic that wanting to see Ireland successfully reunited means having reservations about holding a referendum in the next five or even ten years.
The sensible position for anyone who thinks unity is more than just a political slogan is to not consider holding a unity poll until there is a more than a reasonable chance of it being passed. Surely this is evident? Is this not a lesson we have taken from the whole Brexit vote fiasco?
For clarity: when I say “passed” I mean backed by a simple majority: 50% plus one. Just as retention of Northern Ireland’s existing status as a part of the United Kingdom requires a simple majority, then so does any process leading to unity require a simple majority.
This is not just a core principle of the Good Friday Agreement it is the fundamental basis of democratic process: every vote is equal. An individual unionist’s determination to remain in the Union is as legitimate and valid as any republican’s desire to see a United Ireland. The idea of weighted majorities requiring a 55 or 60% threshold for change, as some have suggested, is not just denying parity of esteem it also denies parity of representation.
While making unity work in practical terms would doubtless require a greater public buy-in than just a bare 50% plus 1, the principle of one person, one vote – of equal value, cannot be up for grabs.
This analysis piece first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on December 16th 2019. Here I consider the lessons fron the Tory’s big win in the UK general election and how very little of what happened there should or could play well in an Irish general election.
Addressing the 1992 U.S. Republican convention, the former Nixon and Reagan speechwriter and perennially unsuccessful right-wing challenger for the presidential nomination, Pat Buchanan, described that year’s Democrat convention as “…the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history.”
Buchanan’s problem with the 1992 Democrat convention, and its selection of new-comer Bill Clinton as nominee, was that it wrecked Republican plans to paint them as liberal and disconnected. Instead of going to the radical left as Buchanan and President Bush (1) had wanted Clinton moved quickly to the centre and reached out to the working-class voters who had backed Reagan at the two earlier elections.
Desperate to save the Bush strategy, Buchanan was now trying to claim that the Democrats were still fundamentally liberal (a dirty word in American politics) and were only “dressed up as moderates and centrists” to fool the voters.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Nov. 25 – 4 days before polling in the by-elections in Cork North Central, Wexford, Dublin Fingal and Dublin Mid-West. Here I predict two wins for Fianna Fáil (Wex and Cork NC) on each for the Greens (in Dub Fingal) and Ind (Gogarty) (in Dub MW).
Shortly after he was appointed Conservative Party chairman, Kenneth Baker was presented with internal polls showing the Tories facing near annihilation in the following year’s Local Elections (1990).
The Poll Tax recently introduced by the Tories was not just unpopular, it was hated. There were angry, mass anti-poll tax protests across the UK, in the run-up to the May 3rd polling day. The biggest, in London, turned into a riot with over 300 arrested and 113 seriously injured.
Against this febrile background and with the knowledge that the Tories were going to lose big, Baker set about putting one of the finer political skills into operation: he managed expectations.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Nov 4th, 2019 and looked at the weekend Fine Gael digital attack on Fianna Fáil which backfired badly and ended weak.
Being active on social media is not the same as being good at it. This is something Fine Gael learned yesterday morning.
At 9am it launched a digital attack claiming Fianna Fáil is not producing policies. Pretty basic stuff from a party in government, you’d have thought. Hard to screw that up. Attack the main opposition party for not doing enough. Claim they are just criticising you, trying to score points and acting like an… well… an opposition.
To be fair, Fine Gael got most of the basics right. They produced a decent digital video, loaded with graphics and charts and pumped it out across social media platforms. They backed it up with a press release in the name of Colm Brophy TD, hoping that the following day’s print media would pick up on it.
So far, so meh… yet, within barely an hour their digital campaign was not just misfiring, it was backfiring and going down in flames.
This column appeared on Broadsheet on Oct 21, 2019. This was in the days following the Dáil #VoteGate saga and in this piece I suggested that the Dáil temporarily abandon electronic voting for the rest of this session – up the next general election – and hold all votes by way of divisions as a first step in reassuring voters that votes are conducted fairly and that the people who are supposed to be in the Chamber and voting, truly are.
During the Tory leadership election the YouGov polling organisation did a survey of Conservative party members to ascertain the importance of Brexit to them.
It Specifically asked how many of them would continue to back Brexit even if it meant the last of Scotland and/or the last of Northern Ireland. Remember these are paid up members of the British Conservative and Unionist Party, the clue should be in the name.
The results were surprising, though not disheartening when viewed from Dublin or Edinburgh. Almost 60% said that they would happily see Northern Ireland or Scotland leaving the union if that was the price of Brexit. They marginally preferred seeing Scotland go (63%) over Northern Ireland (59%). Cold comfort for the DUP after a weekend that saw it unable to persuade one single Tory MP to stick by it.
Since Johnson has come to office it seems that he has viewed this polling result less as an indication of the current state of mind within the Tory party and more as a goal for which to aim. Though – like the few things Johnson has succeeded in doing since becoming Prime Minister – it is better that he thinks he is saving the Union, as he usually manages to deliver the opposite of that which he set out to do.
This Broadsheet column first appeared online here on October 1st 2019. Myoriginal title for the piece was: ‘Little things make a lot more than their sum’, but their one works better as the piece is a critique of the poor state of public transport in Dublin.
Dublin’s infrastructure is straining to cope with the city’s growth… so strained that it perhaps the biggest obstacle to the city’s continued growth, but the policy makers seem oblivious to this fact – public transport is just example of that infrastruture stretched beyond breakingpoint.
Benny Hill observed: you can sit on top of a mountain, but you can’t sit on top of a pin. Classical Roman poet, Ovid, put it a little more philosophically, remarking that: “dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence”, but it was the late Albert Reynolds who put it best, saying: it’s the little things that trip you up.
You know the type of thing, the everyday irritants that eventually get to you and send you over edge. For me, last week, it was the total mess that is Dublin’s public transport.
Bad enough that the fares are prohibitive – Deutsche Bank’s 2019 annual survey of global prices and living standards declared Dublin the second most expensive city for public transport in the world – but does it have to be so unreliable too?
With only London having higher fares, Dublin is now more expensive than Amsterdam, Chicago, New York, or even Tokyo, ask a Fine Gael Senator if you doubt that last one.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on September 24th and looks at the current government’s ongoing issues with grasping the critical importance of data and data privacy to our continuing economic growth and development. While the governments response to the Data Protection Commissioner’s findings that it broke its own laws in expanding the scope of Personal Service Cards shows a cavalier attitude to data protection, the total inadequacy of the states response to real cyber-security threats is frightening. The State must immediately given the Defence Forces a lead role in building cyber security capacity and give it the resources right now, including the ability to recruit and train the next generation of cyber security experts.
Twenty years ago (last Sunday) the first ever episode of The West Wing premiered on US TV.
Though anyone who has ever served in government can confirm that The Thick of It or Yes, Minister are more realistic portrayals of life along the corridors of power, The West Wing still represents the ideal, the way we would like to think it is.
This is due, in part, to the excellent characterisations, but it is mainly down to the quality of writing. The dialogue not only fizzed, it was informed by actual policy debates.
There were prescient. Much of it is still cogent despite all that has happened in the intervening two decades.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 17th 2019 and followed the latest Red C poll which showed the two main parties neck and neck and on a combined total of 57%. At the 2016 general election the two parties were also 1% apart, but on a combined total of just 50%. I have thought for a long while that the two parties combined will poll around 60% at the next general election and, right now, I would predict Fianna Fáil to pull ahead of Fine Gael by anywhere between 2% and 4%
Conventional political wisdom used to say that the parties in government welcomed long Dáil recesses. Not only did they free Ministers up from having to hang around Leinster House answering awkward questions, on and off the record, from smartass opposition TDs, irritating journos and panicking backbenchers, they were a time for the government parties to get back on message and hopefully get their poll numbers up.
The idea was that Dáil sittings broadly tend to favour the main opposition parties when it comes to opinion polls, as their insolent haranguing of the Taoiseach is featured nightly on the TV news. Dáil recess means no Dáil TV coverage and no Dáil TV coverage means less of a platform for the opposition to catch the news cycle.
The high visibility, and audibility, of the Taoiseach over the summer would suggest that his team subscribe to this wisdom. He was seen to be out and about. His appearances at the Kennedy and MacGill Summer Schools and the West Belfast Féile an Phobail went down well.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 30th, 2019. Any optimism that existed in my previous article from a week before was, by now, gone
This day last week Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Tory party. Profiling him here I described Johnson as the incoming Prime Minister of the slowly disunifying United Kingdom.
A few days later the SNP leader at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, described Johnson in even starker and bleaker terms hailing him as the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Comments over the last few days suggest that Blackford may well be close to the truth.
Last week I hoped that Johnson might use his admiration for Churchillian rhetoric to define – for the first time ever – what Brexit means.
Johnson had a very small window in which to set out a deliverable form of Brexit and give Britain a transition period during which it could have the best of both worlds. It would be fully out of the political and administrative institutions of the European Union. Out of the Parliament, the Commission and the Council, but would still have the economic benefits of membership while it negotiated the terms of its future arrangement.