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 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.
NB Since I wrote this column Prof McDonald has revised his estimate of the total voter turnout to 160.2 million (67%)
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.
This Broadsheet column was written last Sunday aand appeared online on Monday morning (April 20th 2020) under the headline: They should be in it together
In 1945, just as the Second World War was ending, Britain faced a general election. Would post-war Britain be shaped by the Conservatives under Winston Churchill or by Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, a partner in the war time unity government.
The choice was clear, but the voters had no doubt who they wanted. They resoundingly rejected Churchill, the man who had led Britain to a victory that had sometimes seemed uncertain and opted instead for Attlee, the understated but progressive social reformer.
While historians offer several reasons for Churchill’s defeat, it boils down to voters seeing that a good wartime leader is not necessarily a good peace time leader. The skills (and policies) required to lead a country through a time of crisis and external threat are not the ones you need when you are trying to rebuild after that crisis. And vice-versa.
The poll ran on Twitter for 48 hours from 11.30am, Mon April 6th to 11.30am Wed April 8th.
2019 votes were cast over that 48-hour period.
The Tweet poll received 7699 impressions and 2476 total engagements
The wisdom of crowds:
Wisdom of Crowds concept was popularized by James Surowiecki in his 2004 book. It is the idea that large groups of people can be collectively smarter than individual experts when it comes to predicting outcomes. Rather than asking individuals what they wish to see happen, you ask what they think the crowd will collectively do.
So, Twitter was asked:
Which of these 4 options do you think is the most likely to happen (NOT which do you prefer)…
• FF/FG/Green/Ind govt
• FF/FG/Lab/Ind govt
• FF/FG/Ind govt
• 2nd election
I wrote this Broadsheet.ie column on Monday March 30th, the eve of the 5 day long count in the 2020 Seanad Election. As I forecast, Fianna Fáil secured 16 seats out of the 43 available on the 5 vocational panels (as it should have done in 2016) and Sinn Féin fell back from 6 to 5 seats, indeed it was within 2 votes of losing another one and falling back to 4 seats. For the first time in decades all six outgoing university Senators were returned.
At midday today the second act of the 2020 General Election drama will start to be played out. At that time, at the Printworks hall in Dublin Castle, Oireachtas officials will commence the process of counting Seanad election votes.
The count, or should I more correctly say counts – plural, are expected to run until Friday evening. They will decide the identity of the 43 senators who will serve on the Seanad’s five vocational panels. (Seanad election infographic here).
I also look briefly at the current political situation and suggest a straight-forward alternative to setting up a national unity government (though this is still my preferred option). In essence it involves formalising what is already happening by giving the other party and Dáil group leaders a formal role in the oversight of Irish govt’s #CoronaVirus response.
Veteran vaudevillian comedian George Burns used to ask: “why is it the guys who really know how to run the country are cutting hair and driving cabs”?
Whether you call them hurlers on the ditch, Monday quarter-backs or that prick at the end of the bar-counter, there have always been (and will always be) those bolshie, mouthy gits who, in the words of the great Brendan Behan, go about like eunuchs in a harem seeing others doing but knowing they can’t do it themselves.
Most are irritating but essentially harmless nuisances, even the ones who manage to discover how to use social media.
But there are others. Those who go that bit further. Those whose malicious intent is less easy to spot in an online era of nonchalant cynicism and aloof detachment.
This analysis piece appeared on Broadsheeton Monday Feb 24 2020. It looks back over the political developments of the previous week and attempts to look forward to where the government process will end up, [spoiler alret, I still feel a second election is the single most likely outcome]. In summary, it is hard not to conclude that neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael are thinking or acting strategically, Neither are speaking to the public and neither are heeding the lesson of the election just passed. All this is serving to flatter Sinn Féin, who are just re-running their old playbook, playing to their own core (or should that be corps?). They portray themselves as great negotiators, yet they cannot see any route to amajority in a Dáil where FF and FG combined are in a minority?
This time last week I expected the only issue that would be resolved at Thursday’s opening Dáil session was the identity of the next Ceann Comhairle.
To no one’s great surprise that turned out to be the outgoing one, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, T.D., though the scale of his win, 130:28 was impressive. The dark mid-week mutterings that Fianna Fáil colleagues would abandon the avuncular Ó Fearghaíl to keep his vote for Micheál Martin as Taoiseach later that day proved baseless.
I hadn’t expecting the series of votes on electing a Taoiseach to produce any significant or notable movement on the shape of the next government, so I was pleasantly surprised when we did get some, albeit infinitesimally small.
The decision of the left-wing Independent TDs and Solidarity/People Before Profile to back Mary Lou McDonald (though with a strong caveat of ruling out Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) and four independents to back Micheál Martin left both challengers with over 40 votes.
I wrote this piece on Sunday Feb 2nd and it appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Feb 3rd. It was written in the immediate wake of a series of national opinion polls showing Fine Gael slipped further back and Sinn Féin advancing further to either tie with, or pull ahead of Fianna Fáil.
This column looks at the various possible government formation outcomes. I explain why I do not see either a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael grand coalition or a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Féin coalition as likely. I conclude that the most likely outcome is a Fianna Fáil/Green/Other coalition (probably a minority govt), though it will take weeks, if not months, to negotiate and agree. The only alternative to that is another election.
I assume, for this coumn, that the polls are broadly correct, but that they both slightly underestimate Fianna Fáil’s support and slightly overestimate Sinn Féin’s.
Success has many fathers, defeat is an orphan. As true as this is in sports, it is an absolute certainty in political campaigning. Have no doubt that all those fine young marketing executives who told their colleagues over Christmas how remarkably close they were to the Taoiseach and Fine Gael, now struggle to remember just who Leo, Eoghan or Simon might be.
In the words of the great yellow rose of Finglas, Jim Tunney, there are too many folks around politics who opt to buy their colours coming out of the match, rather than going in.
So, before I look at the events of the last few days and attempt a feeble look forward to what may be to come, let me raise a glass to toast those in all parties and none who are sticking by their party and candidates, despite the polls.