NI Assembly result was historic – just not era changing

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. 

AE22 results

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.

Continue reading “NI Assembly result was historic – just not era changing”

Why eat your words when you can delete them?

It is a few weeks since I updated this page to include my most recent blogs. This one first appeared on Broadsheet on March 14th and looks at Sinn Féin’s recent industrial strength spring clean of its online archive of statements 

“Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them.”

This guidance for politicians comes from the late Mo Udall, a long serving Democratic Congressman from Arizona.

It’s an approach you would hope members of today’s Oireachtas, from all sides, might heed – but as we see during the daily set pieces of Leaders’ Questions and the Order of Business, they don’t.

Instead, rather than acknowledging that they might have been wrong and correcting the situation, they double down and insist that they didn’t say what we think they said. We get obduracy and petulance in place of debate and discussion. In the more extreme cases we get some parties going the whole hog and deleting almost anything and everything they have ever said. Continue reading “Why eat your words when you can delete them?”

How Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine undid two decades work in a few days… for no gain.

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday February 28th 

German chancellor Olaf Scholz announcing radical changes to German defence policy Pic via: bundeskanzler.de/

I start this week’s column, picking up from where I left off last week, by looking at the future prospects of the Russian Ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov.

Last Monday I suggested that he be sent home. I was not the first to say it. The call has echoed across most of Leinster House. At the end of last week we heard individual Labour and Fine Gael demand his expulsion. Inside Fianna Fáil, Jim O’Callaghan TD led a coordinated call by the party’s backbench TDs, MEPs, and Senators for the Ambassador to be expelled.

Sinn Féin also read the public mood and, to its credit, did a 180-degree-turn on its decades’ long stance of rarely criticising Putin or Russia by issuing a strong statement calling for both the “…expulsion of Russian Ambassador and tougher sanctions.”

The party leader Mary Lou McDonald reiterated this call on Twitter, taking time off her busy schedule of not explaining why her lone MEP, Chris MacManus voted repeatedly against a European Parliament motion last December that: Continue reading “How Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine undid two decades work in a few days… for no gain.”

Sinn Féin discovers public sector reform, a decade after everyone else… late, but still welcome

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

Sinn Féin, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Continue reading “Sinn Féin discovers public sector reform, a decade after everyone else… late, but still welcome”

The Shinners ready themselves for government… but are we ready for them?

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday November 1st 2022, two days after the Sinn Féin Árd Fheis in Dublin. I explain why I think speculation about Sinn Féin being in government North and South within the next year, or two, is far too premature. I do not say it is impossible, just that it requires the leaderships in the two traditional big parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to continue to mishandle events and misread the public mood. I firmly believe that one of these two former big beasts (at least) will soon come to its political senses and see that it is not offering the change demanded by a sizable cohort of what is still a moderate electorate.   

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, at the 2005 Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis in Killarney

For about twenty years I lived within a ten-minute walk of the RDS and Simmonscourt. This was particularly useful for the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheiseanna.

It meant I could soak up the atmosphere and anticipation in the hall during the build up to the party leader’s speech, but quickly nip home to see the full speech live on TV and catch the RTÉ news review.

This gave me a better sense of how the speech played in the world outside, as I was seeing what the people at home saw… well, those few who bother to watch these things.

Continue reading “The Shinners ready themselves for government… but are we ready for them?”

This week’s #Covid19 reopening should have gone ahead

This week’s column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday Oct 18th, the day before the government decided not to proceed with its original plan to lift most of the continuing Covid19 restrictions. I think ministers are making a mistake. They should have focused instead on (a) making life less burdensome for the vaccinated and (b) placing increased pressure on the 300,000 or so un-vaxxed to folks to get vaccinated ASAP. Though I accept full 100% coverage is impossible.

Getting more people to get their shots is what drives the Italian workplace Green Pass system (which I indirectly reference below). I recommend listening to this 17-minute Podcast on the Italian system. It is from my colleagues in BEERG/HRPA.  

The idea that the way to stop folks breaking rules is to make more rules is akin to saying if two wrongs don’t make a right… let’s try three.

It is absurd to hear the government talk about not lifting restrictions only days after boasting about our being the Covid resilience world leader.

Yet that’s where we are. You cannot turn on a news show without hearing yet another minister preparing us for the October 22 re-opening not going ahead.

The Taoiseach took it a step further in yesterday’s Sunday Independent. There he hinted that the government had already decided to pause further reopening. As if to sugar coat this failure of policy, Martin sought to comfort us by saying:

“… we are not contemplating going backwards. The only issue facing us now is going forward”

If he is expecting the public to be grateful that we are not going back into lockdown, he will be disappointed.

The government is doing this the wrong way around.

Rather than passively accepting that they cannot go ahead with the October 22 re-opening, they should be proceeding with it. Rather than preparing us for disappointment, they should also be tasking public health officials with putting the necessary measures in place. Continue reading “This week’s #Covid19 reopening should have gone ahead”

When leadership colours matter… Fail to Define Yourself and others Will do it for you

This week’s columns, which first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday October 11th, looked at Fianna Fáil’s ongoing problems with defining itself and the decision of its leader to contact out the job of defining the party’s aims and beliefs to a 12-person-commission.   

GE2020 – Fianna Fáil’s missed opportunity to stand for something

 

As I have mentioned before, the truest rule of politics is Lyndon Johnson’s “never tell a man to go to hell unless you can send him there.”

It recognises that today’s enemies may be tomorrow’s allies, while warning that hollow threats only expose the weakness of those making them.

My second favourite political saying is: “You buy your colours on your way into a match, not on your way out.”

It comes from someone a million miles away from LBJ, the Yellow Rose of Finglas, the late Jim Tunney. Tunney was a junior minister, Lord Mayor of Dublin and a Fianna Fáil TD for 23 years. He prided himself on his absolute loyalty to his party leader, especially Charlie Haughey.

Not only had Tunney a penchant for quoting himself, he did it in the third person. He uttered the phrase less as a strategy and more as a self-description, especially when defending his decision, as parliamentary party chair, to hold open rollcall votes, rather than secret ballots.

Continue reading “When leadership colours matter… Fail to Define Yourself and others Will do it for you”

A brief history of the no confidence motion

This week’s Broadsheet column, which first appeared online on Sept 13th 2021, looked at the history of the no-confidence motion and concluded that while Minister Coveney and his Fine Gael colleagues had probably done enough to earn the dubious honour of having a no confidence motion tabled against him, it did not deserve to pass… just yet 

Johnny Carson famously called Oscar night the time when Hollywood stars put aside their petty rivalries and brought out their major rivalries.

So it is with Motions of No Confidence. Oppositions set aside the boring business of holding ministers and governments to account to solely focus on scoring big political points.

Just like the Oscars, motions of confidence are about ritual and theatricality. This applies to both sides – opposition and government.

Opposition politicians who hope one day to become government ministers act outraged and appalled. Governments ministers, who were once opposition hopefuls, accuse their rivals of base cynicism and partisanship.

The script writes itself. Scroll back through no confidence debates of the past fifty years and you see the same formulaic lines pop up each time, just mouthed by different actors, few of Oscar winning standard.

Continue reading “A brief history of the no confidence motion”

My interim by-election review for Fianna Fáil

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on July 12th, a few days after the Dublin Bay South by-Election result. That result shows that Fianna Fáil is facing a crisis of relevance and viability, one that its leader of over 10 years is unwilling to address or acknowledge. This column was offered as an independent review of what I think went wrong in the by-election. 

A few weeks after the February 2020 election I said that Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin needed to stop and “take a hard look at why his party lost support and seats”. I said it again, several times, over the weeks and months that followed. I even offered the independent review the Australian Labour Party had commissioned into its electoral failure as a template.

I thought it was essential that the party examine why it had done so badly before doing anything precipitative, such as going into government with the party it had promised to put out of office.

The leadership thought otherwise. It felt Fianna Fáil’s best course of action was to get into office and that its political revival would come from the government program for recovery. It seemed to miss the inconvenient truth that this meant giving Fine Gael a veto on Fianna Fáil’s fortunes.

This was one of the main reasons I ended my 40 plus year membership of Fianna Fáil. Why would I knock myself out trying to rebuild a party, when the top Fine Gael brass would have a bigger say in it than grassroot members?

Continue reading “My interim by-election review for Fianna Fáil”

Why does an unpopular party have a popular leader?

Last week I rekindled my love affair with the word “paradox”, so expect to see it pop up here a lot, including in this week’s Broadsheet column where I look at the paradox of Fianna Fáil’s poll ratings remaining stubbornly low, while the approval ratings of its leader move up. Has An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin learned how to disassociate himself from his party… and doesn’t this mean that what is in his interest, is not in his party’s.. and vice-versa?   

Ipsos/MRBI Irish Times Poll – June 16th 2021

Though I probably keep this fact well hidden from readers, I really try to not write about polling too often. I say this through clenched fingers as I know it must seem that I have written about little else over the past few weeks and months.

It is a fair criticism to say that political pundits talk and write excessively about polling in the guise of political analysis. While the soap opera aspects of politics, who’s in, who’s out, who’s politically in bed with whom, does help liven up what can often be a dull area, the focus should be on the policies and the decisions rather than who makes them.

The old Heisenberg uncertainty/indeterminacy principle applies to politics as much as it does to physics. If you cannot accurately measure both the position and the velocity of an object simultaneously, then you should focus more on the  trajectory of an object or an idea than analysing snapshots of where it was a few days or weeks ago.   

All of which is a long-winded way of me explaining/excusing – why I am once again talking about polling. In my defence, I do this as there is something that is worth discussing in the two most recent opinion polls: yesterday’s Ireland Thinks/Irish Mail on Sunday one and last week’s Irish Times/IPSOS/MRBI, as they offer some contradictory results.

Continue reading “Why does an unpopular party have a popular leader?”