This is my first column in several weeks (apologies for that) and what an eventful few weeks they have been. Rather than trying to unpack all those events, I start with the latest opinion poll and work my way backwards from that… returning to a not unfamiliar theme… Fianna Fáil’s relevance problem.
It is six or seven weeks since I last sat down to wrote one of these analysis pieces. The delay is odd, as there has been no shortage of domestic political events to write about.
From the breakthrough on the Northern Ireland protocol, to the change of leadership in the Social Democrats, and from Bertie Ahern’s return to full Fianna Fáil membership to at least six major opinion polls including one in the North looking at the political attitudes of those who do not identify as either nationalist or unionist.
Where to start? Perhaps it is easiest to start with the latest Ireland Thinks poll from the Sunday Independent and attempt to work back… though knowing that I won’t address much of that backlog in just one article.
In my first post of 2023 (apologies for the delay) I look back at the first few weeks of the Donohoe #Postergate saga and explore how Fine Gael has taken the old political dictum: when you are explaining, you are losing, and turned it on its head. Though they may feel it is working in the short-term… I believe that in the longer term, it will not. I do not see Minister Donohoe resigning – even post SIPO investigation – but I think his value (commercial or otherwise) to Fine Gael is now considerably diminished.
If you are explaining, you are losing.
So ubiquitous is this political truism that its authorship is variously ascribed to such election campaigning greats as Ronald Reagan or Karl Rove.
The idea underpinning the phrase is appropriately straight forward. If you want to win voters over to your cause you must sound confident and convinced. You do this best by having a message that is clear and concise. Spend too much time explaining your position and you come off looking desperate to convince.
Though this approach has come in for criticism over the years – one notable critic being the former GOP Congressman J.C. Watts who equated it with “a bumper sticker culture” – it has been the prevailing campaigning mantra… or least it has been, up to now.
In this blog I discuss the principal factors a party leader should consider when contemplating a mid-term reshuffle. Though I draw many of these from British political research, I also consider recent Irish expamples and refrain – largely – from engaging in too much speculation about who may be in or out next Saturday… or next week when the junior ministries are announced.
Aware of Paddy Ashdown’s background as both a Royal Marine and a Special Boat Service officer, Charles Kennedy observed wryly to the House of Commons in Oct 1998 that Ashdown was: “the only party leader who’s a trained killer. Although, to be fair, Mrs Thatcher was self-taught.”
Not that the Iron Lady saw it that way. Speaking about her post-election reshuffle options in a BBC interview on the day after her 1983 election win, she resisted Sir Robin Day’s invitation to call herself a good (political) butcher. Instead, she disagreed with Herbert Asquith’s claim that a good Prime Minister must be a good butcher, before adding that they did need to know how to carve the joint. A distinction without a difference?
In this blogpost I suggest that the latest Fine Gael suggestion that Ireland abandon the UN mandate element of the triple-lock mechanism is just about distracting public focus from its ongoing failure to undo the decade of neglect it has inflicted on Irish defence.
Last Wednesday evening (around 5.30pm) Seanad Éireann debated a Private Members motion on “Ireland’s Military Neutrality.” It is well worth a read (or a viewing) as it is a calm and reasoned discussion of Irish Defence policy and the large gaps that appear therein.
Huge credit is due to the two proposers of the motion: Senators Michael McDowell and Tom Clonan. They crafted a motion that was both measured but frank. The motion, which was passed, ultimately called on the government to:
In my first post in since July I chose to take a “compare and contrast” look at the recent party leader speeches of two of the most important (and long standing) political leaders on these two islands: Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon MSP and An Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheal Martin, T.D.
This is my first written political blogpost in several months. I certainly cannot blame the absence of political news or activity for the lengthy absence. If anything, the speed, and frequency of developments made writing new blogs impractical, as no sooner had I written some piece of considered political analysis than events had overtaken it.
There were other contributory facts, including a fairly mild dose of Covid that was followed by about two months of relatively minor breathing issues that still sapped my energy levels.
I did post a slightly hurried Mooney on Politics Podcast on the difficulties with the Fianna Fáil/SDLP partnership while I was in Brussels, but this is my first-time putting words on screen since July.
The temptation, therefore, is to review what has happened since, but I have resisted that temptation and chosen to: (a) return to a frequent theme, the leadership of Micheal Martin and (b) look at this through the lens of comparison.
The idea for this comparison suggested itself by the coincidence of both Fianna Fáil and the SNP having their first posy pandemic, in-person party conferences within a few days of each other.
I discussed the implications of the latest political scandal for An Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s leadership of Fianna Fáil on RTÉ Radio One’s This Week show on Sunday August 28th, 2022.
My view is that An Taoiseach was hoping to avoid losing Deputy Troy as a Junior Minister as he did not wish to face into the prospect of nominating a replacement at this time. There are five or six very capable and willing candidates for appointment, each feeling that they have an “understanding” with the party leader that they will be promoted when the reshuffle comes in late December. Continue reading “Implications of the latest political scandal for Fianna Fáil leadership”→
You do really have to wonder if the Taoiseach and Tánaiste understand politics at all?
Their immediate and absolute refusal to accede to calls for a mid-point review of the Programme for Government, coming from senior representatives in their two parties, is an example of this.
What is so wrong with agreeing to a mid-point review, a political stock-take, of the programme so painstaking negotiated back in June 2020?
Why shouldn’t the moment at which the two leaders switch roles also involve an appraisal of how effective this government has been at implementing the lengthy programme announced just over two years ago?
Earlier this week, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin, accompanied by ministers Simon Coveney and Eamon Ryan headed to McKee barracks, beside the Phoenix Park, to launch the overdue and long anticipated government’s action plan response to the Report of the Commission on the Defence Forces, entitled: “Building for the future – change from within.”
It is a good document. It commits the government to moving the State’s level of defence capability to Level of Ambition 2 (LOA) over a period of six years between now and 2028. In terms of cash and people, this means growing the annual Defence budget to €1.5 billion by 2028 (in 2022 prices) plus expanding the defence establishment by 2,000 personnel (civil and military).
In this week’s opinion piece I look at what I term the appalling vista: the prospect of a decade of Irish politics dominated by Fine gael versus Sinn Féin. We had a worrying glimpse of what it may look and sound like when Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, T.D., and Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty, T.D. clashed during Leaders’ Questions, last week. It was unedifying for all except the most passionate shinner and blueshirt partisans.
An appalling vista. The phrase most infamously comes from Lord Tom Denning’s odious dismissal of the Birmingham Six’s 1980 appeal against their wrongful conviction.
Denning was so firm a fixture of the British establishment that he refused to entertain the possibility that the West Midlands police had lied and framed six innocent Irishmen, declaring that:
…it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous… That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, “It cannot be right that these actions [the appeal] should go any further.
And so, Lord Justice Denning compounded the injustice being suffered by the Birmingham Six and dismissed their appeal.
A year ago we were told by those close to the Fianna Fáil leader that the persistantly poor poll numbers were due to disunity and sniping at the leader. So why… after 10 months of back benchers holding their tongues…. are the party’s poll figures still stuck in the mid to high teens? The party fared disastrously in Feb 2020…. but that figure now looks like a long distant high water mark.
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.