Poll results: Worst Minister in Government

Last weekend I ran a poll under PR STV on the excellent www.opavote.org website to select/elect the worst Minister in Government. I closed polling a few minutes ago.

Many thanks to all those who took the time to vote. I ran this poll to see how well the site performed.

139 people voted and elected Dr James Reilly with 78 votes on the final count, beating Alan Shatter and Éamon Gilmore. http://www.opavote.org/results/1667002/0

Results in Tabular format
First count as a bar chart

Where votes were tied (for an elimination) the one to be eliminated was picked by reference to their first count vote, where they were tied on first count is was by random selection

Interestingly both Michael Noonan and Simon Coveney received zero votes on the first count – which prompts me to shortly run a poll: Who is the best Minister in Cabinet (I may run that poll on a slightly different basis and seek the top three rather than just the one best)



You are playing senior hurling now lads: why renegotiating the PfG won’t work for @Labour

The late Séamus Brennan: “You are playing senior hurling now lads…”

“You are playing senior hurling now lads – but you are playing with lads with All Ireland medals”.

This, according to Eamon Ryan, is how the late Séamus Brennan greeted the Green Party team as it arrived in Government buildings for the 2007 talks on forming a government with Fianna Fáil.

It is a phrase that every Labour Party TD calling for a renegotiation of the Programme for Government (PfG) should print out and place at the top of their PC screen.

God be with the days when Labour recruited its Dáil candidates from the old ITGWU or FWUI. Those guys knew the first principles of negotiating; they particularly knew that you did not go into negotiations unless you had 1. A strong hand and 2. A fair idea of the outcome. Yet some in Labour are advocating that they enter talks with neither.

They want to enter a renegotiation of the government’s fundamental policy programme at precisely the moment when their party has hardly ever been weaker. Do they seriously expect that their senior partners in Fine Gael will take pity on them and offer them major policy concessions just because they are having a bad hair day?

Do they really underestimate their government partners that much?

Politics is a tough world guys. Wake up.

You do not get your way in politics just because you mean well, you get your way and get policies implemented by getting a mandate and pursuing your goals assiduously.

You certainly do not enter talks with partners from whom you wish to extract concessions with the message: we are in a weakened state and desperately need to give the impression that we can beat you into submission, so please, please, please let us.

It is the equivalent in nature of a lone deer asking a lion to not to devour them as they have a leg injury and cannot run properly today. Indeed it goes further and suggests that the lion should agree to allow the injured deer to bitch slap them around for a while so that any other deer who may be watching from a distance will think more highly of them.

There is no compulsion on Fine Gael to enter meaning renegotiation talks with Labour. They know Labour cannot cut and run now and risk facing the electorate, so they know it is strapped into this arrangement until the bitter end. The very most Labour could hope to get is a sham negotiation where we see TV clips of the pairs of Ministers from each side entering Government buildings for late night talks and the last minute “leak” from a source “close to the Labour leadership” saying the talks are at a crucial point right now and may go well into the night. The optics will look good, they may even fool a few activists, but most others (including the public) will see it as just a gesture. If the guys want to go down this road there is doubtless a battered old playbook for such an exercise laying around Government building somewhere.

The current cohort of Fine Gael TDs is possibly the most right of centre since the late 1950s. They are already getting flack from supporters and voters for the appearance that Labour is dictating too much of the government’s agenda, particularly on social issues, so they are neither motivated nor minded to give any more policy ground to them on the back of what was a bad day for Labour and, conversely, a good day for Fine Gael.

The idea of renegotiating the PfG is at best: naïve, and at worst: dumb.

That so many TDs would advocate it after only two years in office suggests that we are probably beyond the mid point of the life of this government and that the chances of there being a general election in early 2015 just got stronger.

Coalition Junior Partners Come Off Worse Eventually

My column from Thursday’s Evening Herald (27/Sept/2012)  on Eamon Gilmore’s travails following Dep Roisín Shortall’s resignation.


Who would want to be the leader of the Labour party today? No doubt Éamon Gilmore still does, though perhaps with a little less relish than he exuded last Monday when he was sitting cheerfully behind me on the early morning flight to Brussels.

Former Labour Party Leader
The late Frank Cluskey – took a principled stand on Dublin Gas

While the dip in Labour’s fortunes revealed in the previous day’s RedC poll may not have demonstrably dampened his ardour, last night’s dramatic resignation by Roisín Shortall will.

Eighteen months in office and he is looking like the Mr Worthing character in the “Importance of Being Earnest:”: losing  one Junior Minister, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.

But isn’t this what happens to the smaller party in Government? When they get into battles with the larger party, don’t they usually come out the worst?

A quick glance at the history of coalitions and it would appear otherwise.

The electoral reality is that going into office costs the smaller party seats at the next election. It takes the bigger risk and, in return, gets a say in policy above its Dáil strength.

That’s the deal. Both partners they know they need the other. It is not for eternity, maybe not even for the full five years of the term, but each knows that without the other neither would in power. unless one sees an alternative, in which case the balance is disturbed.

I served in two Fianna Fáil led coalitions featuring feisty junior partners: the Greens and the Progressive Democrats. While there were the occasional stand-offs, indeed one partly led to my departure, these were the exception to the rule.

Coalition work and last where there is a well negotiated and defined programme for government around which they can agree.

Naturally, where there are two distinct parties with their own hinterlands and approaches, there will be tensions. In my experience these were confined to issues not specifically covered in the Programme for Government or those thrown up by unexpected events.

The other main source of disruptions were the interventions from senior figures, just outside of government, in the smaller party who saw themselves as the conscience of their party, Dan Boyle was particular master of this dark art. While the major partner was usually the main target of these outbursts they were just as often designed to embarrass, irk and provoke their own ministers.

While deeply frustrating, these things came with the territory.  The larger party in a coalition knows it needs the smaller one to stay in office. While it can never allow itself to be seen as a pushover, it also knew that the smaller party could not stay long in office if their members felt there were being used as a mudguard.

This is what makes Roisin Shortall’s resignation so significant. Unlike most ministerial resignations this was about policy. Yes, there are personality and political dimensions too, but essentially this is about adherence to the programme for government.

Her departure is reminiscent of the late Frank Cluskey’s 1983 resignation from Cabinet not only because it too was about policy, but also thanks to the increasing number of comparisons been drawn between both administrations’ handling of the economic problems facing them.

But, as with most parallels, it is not a perfect one. While his departure was a protest against Fine Gael’s stance on Dublin Gas, Shortall’s resignation is just as much about her own parties role in government as it is about Minister Reilly’s capacity to run a department.

When Frank Cluskey quit he made it clear that he did not expect other labour ministers to follow him out and bring down that government. There was no hint that he had lost any confidence in his colleagues. The feeling was mutual. At the meeting following his resignation he reportedly received a lengthy standing ovation from his parliamentary colleagues. Can Deputy Shortall expect to be cheered to the rafters by messers Quinn, Howlin, Gilmore and Rabbitte when they next week? I doubt it.

Dan Boyle Syndrome

What is it about the position of chairman of the smaller party in government that makes them think they are the deputy leader of the opposition?

Labour’s parliamentary party chairman, Colm Keaveney is not a wet day in the job and already he is showing signs of the delusion.

Labour: In government or opposition?

He disowns government actions and policies like a member of the opposition while enjoying the privileges perks and access that being in office bring.

I call it “Dan Boyle Syndrome”. While the avuncular Cork man was not the first to exhibit the symptom, the condition reached such a virulent pitch during his time as the Green party chairman that he came to define the condition.

The most noted previous sufferer of the condition, one Michael McDowell, did occasionally present with chronic symptoms, including a slight political tourettes, but seemed to affect a recovery.

It is like a form of “Stockholm Syndrome”. In that; the subject comes to identify and sympathise with their captor, In “Dan Boyle Syndrome” the person loses any sympathy or attachment to their partners and projects themselves into the role of in-house opposition.

Deputy Keaveney’s angry reaction to the

latest round of health cuts, suggesting that it could precipitate an early election may have uttered with the intention of convincing the public that he was still on their side, but it only served to suggest that he still does not understand how government works.

Rather than convincing his voters that he is still on their side, they want him to convince his senior colleagues in government to start taking measures

The public is not impressed by politicians repeating their own concerns back to them. They want their representatives to reflect their views to those in authority, not reflect them back to those who hold them like a possessed hall of mirrors.

The public get the difference between government and opposition. They understand the fundamental truth of Mario Cuomo’s famous maxim: “you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose”.

Doubtless Deputy Keaveney is getting a lot of hassle and criticism from people he meets on the street. As a first time Deputy; sitting on the government backbenches; he may gaze longingly at the Fianna Fáil benches wishing he were there opposing and criticising the tough and unpopular choices that government brings, but he would do well to remember the words of Mary Harney: “Even the worst day in government was better than the best day in opposition”.

Though it may not seem like it to Deputy Keaveney now, Harney’s counsel is right, but only if you believe politics is about changing things and improving society.

Having worked in government and opposition, I know and understand the strains and pressures of both. I am not totally unsympathetic to Deputy Keaveny’s plight, but being sympathetic is not the same as supportive.

If he seriously believes that he will firewall himself and his party colleagues from the approaching barrage of criticism and unpopularity, then he is in for a bad surprise.

Just google “Dan Boyle” and “election results” and he will see how his tactics failed. While other Greens, like Trevor Sargent and Eamon Ryan saw their vote collapse by between 40% and 50% last year, Boyle’s already low vote (he had lost his Dáil seat in 2007) dropped by almost 70%.

If Deputy Keaveney truly finds it impossible to reconcile the platform he was elected upon with the policies his party is pursuing in office then he can follow the example of his three former colleagues: Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty and resign the Labour whip in the Dáil.

They were not the only three Oireachtas members elected on a labour ticket missing from the five star Carton House think in. as reported here last Wednesday, three Labour senators also stayed away.

A sign to Deputy Keaveney, perhaps, that if he still around next year he may be chairing an even smaller gathering.


Labour TDs could not cause an election: even if they tried

And so it starts. Only eighteen months into a five year term and some jumpy Labour TDs are talking about snap general elections.

While it may be an idle threat, intended to frighten Fine Gael backbenchers, it is the non unnatural response of inexperienced functionaries to the health cut provocations of an inexperienced and dysfunction Minister.

While Minister Reilly’s bluff and bluster approach to his portfolio has irritated and angered many, in his defence it is not as if these Labour backbenchers were not given plenty of warning about the impending health crisis.

Within a couple of months of the last Budget being passed it was clear that health spending was in trouble and that the Minister had not given the health service the tools and supports to make the almost €750 million in savings he was demanding, but were the Labour TDs threatening a general election then? No.

By July those initial worries were confirmed. The mid year numbers showed that health spending was running out of control and the deficit had almost reached €300 million, and was expected to rise to €500 million by year’s end, but were the Labour TDs threatening a general election then? No.

Only now, with the year almost over and the preparations for the next Budget underway, do they find their voices, so what good can they achieve? To be frank: precious little. While some of them may threaten snap elections, the Dáil mathematics suggests that they are powerless and they could not cause an election even if they tried.

Blessed or Reilly?
Minister Reilly tooling up for a meeting with Labour TDs?

While first time Labour TDs may think that sitting on the opposition back benches would be an easier life than sitting on the government ones, Labour front benchers don’t. Does anyone seriously think that the likes of Brendan Howlin, Ruairi Quinn or Pat Rabbitte are ready, willing or prepared to walk away from office?

These guys cannot believe their extreme good fortune to still be there after so long. Some of their Ministerial careers commenced two and three decades ago. Ruairi Quinn was first appointed a Minister back in 1982, Howlin in 1993. They have no plans to go now, or at any mid term re shuffle.

Similarly, many Labour backbench TDs know from reading the opinion polls in their own areas that an election now would only result in them losing out to other left wing parties or independents.

But even ignoring these two very important reasons, the Dáil numbers suggest that Labour withdrawal from Government would not necessarily result in a snap election.

The results of the last General Election gave Fine Gael 76 seats, Labour 37, Fianna Fáil 20, Sinn Féin 14, and 19 various left wingers and assorted independents. The death of Brian Lenihan and the resulting by-election increased Labour’s total by one at Fianna Fail’s expense.

The other changes to the maths are the election of Sean Barrett as Ceann Comhairle, reducing Fine Gael’s numbers by one and the fact that several Government TDs jumped ship, three Labour and one Fine Gael. The three dissident Labour TDs could be expected to follow Labour if it was to pull out.

The point that we forget, however, is that 5 independent TDs voted for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach when the Dáil first met on March 9th 2011.

If these five independents were to stick with Fine Gael that would give a single party Fine Gael Government 80 seats, just three short of an overall majority. Admittedly, this is a very big “if” though the likes of Michael Lowry would find it hard not to vote for his former friends and colleagues.

There is no guarantee that everyone else would vote together to bring about an election. All Fine Gael need is a few abstentions and it can struggle through. The most the combined left: Labour, Socialist, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and assorted other left leaning independents can muster, at a very big push, is 65.

This gives Fianna Fáil and a few other independents, such as Shane Ross, the effective balance of power. Is that really what these jumpy Labour TDs want?

I doubt it. The bad news for them is that they are stuck on this rollercoaster to the end. They suggested last year that there was as easier way out of this.

There wasn’t. They cannot now just cut and run when the going gets rough. I suppose, in a way, this makes them very much like the rest of us.


Labour could be casualty in Treaty Yes vote

My Evening Herald column from today’s (Thurs May 24th) edition:

Many different reasons to vote yes or no

With less than a week to go the referendum campaign seems more and more to be about less and less.

On the face of it, if you believe the posters, the choice is to Vote Yes to achieve stability or to Vote No to end austerity.

But do any of us really believe these claims? Regrettably, like previous EU referendums the debate has been conducted at the extremes, not the centre. It was the case in the Nice and Lisbon referendums, remember those “€1.84 Minimum Wage after Lisbon” posters?

Mercifully, we have been spared the malign input of Cóir and Youth Defence this time. The are no loss, especially as most of them wouldn’t know a treaty from a tea-bag (to rob a line I recently overheard)

But this absence of any significant ultra right involvement on the no side does highlight a curious undercurrent to the campaign, one, which I suspect, may be a factor in how some people decide how to vote next week.

While the slogans maybe about the EU and the Euro the referendum has morphed into a proxy battle on the future of left / right politics in Ireland.

From the start the battle front was drawn up along left versus right lines.

On the Yes side you had the right and centre right parties: FG, FF and Lab (more about them later), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more established/mainstream trade unions.

On the No side you had the socialist and hard left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgin’s Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.

While the entrance of The Declan Ganley somewhat clouded the the Left/Right delineation, it hasn’t ruptured it.

The sight of him sharing No platforms with irredentist left firebrands is a joy to behold, especially when you consider that they agree on virtually nothing, including Europe. Most on the hard left are euro-sceptic while The Ganley is avowedly Euro-federalist.

While passing the Fiscal Treaty will herald no major day to day changes – mainly because it just restates the centre/centre right economic orthodoxy in place since 2008 – it will cement it into domestic law for the foreseeable future.

It is this that the left fears and opposes most.

Passing the Treaty would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum a few points to the right. It won’t be a seismic or noticeable shift, but it torpedoes the Left’s ambitions of shifting it the other way.

It doesn’t vanquish them, nor does it make them to tone the rhetoric down. If anything, it will do the opposite, but in their hearts they will know that their ambition to shift Ireland economically to the left has been reversed.

This explains why the campaign from Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett and Sinn Féin has been so fierce. But not as fierce as when its over and they start to target each other.

I am not predicting that their poll rating drops are set to drop. They won’t. They will probably rise as voters use them to express their disapproval of government parties going pack on pre election pledges.

But the Irish electorate is sophisticated. It is overwhelmingly aspirational. This applies across all social classes and communities. They want their kids to do better than they did. That decides voting intentions more than anything.

In the meantime Sinn Féin will continue to do well at Labour’s expense, after all Gerry and Mary Lou are saying now what Éamon and Joan were saying two years ago.

It is Labour who will be the biggest casualty. Polls showing 40% of Labour supporters voting No could have longer term ramifications for the leadership. But whatever they may be, they can be so where near as damaging as Gilmore’s infamous “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” slogan.

It may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.

Time to Postpone #EURef ?

Text of my Evening Herald column considering the consequences of the French & Greek election results for our forthcoming Stability Treaty Referendum vote

The EU political landscape has changed dramatically in the last 24 hours. The election of Francois Hollande in France and the defeat of the pro bailout parties in Greece will have repercussions far beyond the borders in both countries.

While both results will come as no great surprise to politicians who have been following the campaigns in France and Greece; it seems no one has given any serious thought as to what may now happen.

The focus of such thought, in so much as there has been any, has been on what Hollande might do to make good on his campaign promise to move the EU’s focus on to growth and investment.

There seems to have been very little thought as to what might happen in Greece. As recently as last week, pundits were citing polls that showed that up to two thirds of the Greek electorate accepted the need for a bailout.

Perhaps they did tell the pollsters that but, as we discovered last night, that sentiment did not transfer itself to the ballot box. The reality is that two thirds of Greek voters opted for anti bailout parties of various hues – from far left to far right, leaving the two pro bailout parties in tatters.

The net result, in the short to medium term, will be political stability that will make markets jumpy and herald problems for counties such as Spain and Italy when they go to the markets to borrow money.

The instability in the Eurozone that we thought had abated for a while looks like returning with a vengeance. M Hollande may not have time to set out his vision for a growth and investment plan for the EU – events may well overtake him.

Uncertainty may now be the name of the game in the EU and the Eurozone – yet the Government here seems to think that nothing that has happened in the last 24 hours has changed the mood music here.

To judge from Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s comments the coalition government here believes that the result there has no consequence for the Stability Treaty referendum. The Tánaiste was in Paris, in a signal of European Socialist grouping solidarity, with PES colleague M Hollande. This contrasts with the fickleness of the FG party chairman,Charlie Flanagan’s “Bon debarras (Good Riddance) Nicolas ! Bye Bye Sarkozy” tweet last night.

@Charlie Flanagan FG Chairman
@Charlie Flanagan FG PP Chairman

In Feb 2011 Fine Gael were championing their relations with Sarkozy, Merkel and the EPP – now they deny their former friends. You could almost hear the cock crow three times.

I am no fan of the Stability Treaty. Like others. I believe it is a missed opportunity. It fails to tackle the root cause of the problems in Ireland and Europe – a failed and dysfunctional banking system. But I am not convinced that voting it down brings us one millimetre closer to resolving our problems.

I am a reluctant Yes voter. I hope that passing it may give Germany the cover it needs to allow real reforms to the European Central Bank and the Euro architecture,

For that reason I want to give the Treaty every chance to gain public support. I do not believe that ploughing ahead with a vote on a Treaty that may yet be further reformed – or even improved – serves any purpose. I genuinely fear that going ahead against a background of uncertainty and volatility puts the outcome in doubt.

It is not that I think the combined forces of Sinn Féin and the ULA will convince the people to vote No, but rather that the public will opt not to endorse a Treaty that may be defunct within weeks of passing it.

This is not a new fear. I wrote about the imprudence of holding the vote this early on my website some weeks ago. While I know many would suggest that postponing the referendum sends out the signal that the Government is weak, I think that is better than landing itself with a no vote based on bad timing.

While the Tánaiste is technically right in saying that we wouldn’t need to come back and vote again if a growth package were eventually added to the Treaty – can he really justify putting only half the question to a vote? Would it not be wiser, and more democratic, to wait a few months and put a definitive position to the people?#

It would require more courage and leadership to postpone the referendum than proceed with it. This just may be the reason why it doesn’t happen
May 7th 2012

Is Government the Biggest Threat to a Yes Vote?

The next French President? François Hollande
(Photo taken from the Hollande Campaign site)

Though the early polls have been positive I am getting a sense that the No side may picking up some momentum as we near the May 31st polling date for the Fiscal Stability Treaty Referendum.

One of the main grounds for this sense of foreboding may indeed be the May polling date itself. I fear having the poll this early may prove the biggest threat to a Yes outcome for three reasons:

1. It allows no side to raise the prospect of a second referendum later in the year. The more astute and sophisticated side of the No campaign is starting to run an argument that goes as follows: We have voted twice on the last two EU treaties.In each case we have come back with a better deal the second time. This Treaty does not come into force until January 2013. We have the time to Vote No now and use the following months to go back and get a better deal and then Vote Yes later in the year. A late September polling date would have denied this argument to them

2. This Sunday see’s the first round of the French Presidential Elections, The Second roubnd of voting will be two weeks later at the beginning of May. While Sarkozy has had a good campaign to date and has closed the gap in the first round the polls there still suggest that Francois Hollande will win the Second Round by approx 55:45.Hollande is standing on recovery platform that rejects Sarkozy’s austerity plan and talks of renegotiating the Fiscal Compact,

While this position may be dismissed as a Gallic version of Gilmore’s “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” – ie a promise that sounds good in the campaign but doesn’t survive past polling day – it does look like Hollande is serious. His determination to imeddiately set out a renegotiation the Fiscal Compact to include a growth programme, Euro Bonds etc has probably been strengthened by the attempts of Merkel and other Centre Right EU leaders to snub him.

We will be going to vote during the first days of a Hollande presidency, the background noise to ouyr vote to pass the existing threaty will be his moves to renegotiate that very treaty – almost making a farce of that vote. The politically astute move for our Government would have been to hold off until September and see if Hollande will make a difference.

3. The one great lesson learned from previous referenda, particularly NIce I & II and Lisbon I & II is that the public needs a longer run up/lead in period to tease out the issues. The traditional three or four week campaign has been found to be insufficient, particularly in the absence of “on the ground” campaigns.

Though polling day is about six weeks away there is little sign of that debate is starting yet. Will the Refendum Commission have the time to do the job? Based on the last referendums, it would certainly appear not.  The Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs had a thirty minute slot on RTE 1 last Saturday where he could have used 5/6 miinutes to explain why voting Yes is important. He didn’t. He chose instead to just give the poll a passing reference, 125 words in a script over 3100 words long. “referendum” featured only once in his script.

While the timing of the polling day is just one factor, it may prove a crucial one. The Treaty should stand or fall on its own contents alone. I am on record here as having my own qualms about the Treaty (see my post here on why I will be a reluctant Yes voter). The debate will be essential. This vote is not like others, we do not have a veto, we cannot delay or deny the progress of this Treaty by our vote alone. The EU has been horrendously slow to act to save itself from the start of this crisis. It has chosen the path of half measures over swift decisive action – usually at the behest of a Franco-German leadership that put domestic political considerations ahead of pan european ones. But we should not be blind to the developing EU real politik.

The appointment of Simon Coveney and Joan Burton as the Fine Gael and Labour campaign directors somehow does not imbue one with a sense of confidence. Coveney’s nomination does echo Charlie Haughey’s appointment of Paddy Lalor as Fianna Fáil national director of elections – a move that spurred the late Frank Cluskey to comment: “There’s confidence for ya”

Labour Leader Gilmore Ranked Second Worst in Poll of Ministers’ Performance

Over the past few days (Tues Apil 11 – 13) I ran a simple poll on my website www.derekmooney.ie . In it I asked people to select the three government ministers they believed were performing best in office.

 182 people voted in the online poll.

The results are as follows: You can download the results in pdf format Rate the Ministers


Finance Minister Michael Noonan


Welfare Minister Joan Burton


Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney


Pub Exp Minister Brendan Howlin


Transport Minister Leo Varadkar


Education Minister Ruairi Quinn


Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton


Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald


Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte


Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan


Justice Minister Alan Shatter


Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore


Health Minister James Reilly


Environment Minister Phil Hogan*

‘Hero to zero’ Gilmore has got only himself to blame


My take on Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore’s dilemma from The Evening Herald Thurs Sept 8th – see online here


THE much-missed RTE journalist Gerald Barry gave his name to possibly the one basic rule of Irish politics.

It states that “every leader of the Opposition is the worst ever leader of the Opposition”. Not only does it still apply, but our “new” politics seems to dictate that it be expanded to apply to Tanaistes.

As Eamon Gilmore is learning, being the deputy can be a thankless job. President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president, John Nance Garner, described the job as “not worth a bucket of warm spit”. Though being a rough Texan, it is likely he put it a bit stronger

President Reagan’s VP, George Bush Snr, put it a bit more delicately, saying the job involved a lot of quiet diplomacy, possibly a reference to the number of state funerals he attended during his time.

Gilmore’s current stint in the doldrums is almost inevitable. He came into Government promising most, and with the highest public approval ratings. Remember the Gilmore For Taoiseach posters? If only I had held on to one! He could never deliver on these high expectations, given his lack of experience in office.

In Opposition, Gilmore outshone and outclassed Kenny. He was the one who seemed more capable and focused. He was better able to capture the public mood. His pithy and apparently off-the-cuff contributions contrasted with Enda’s heavy long-winded scripted ones. Those days are now long gone. The Taoiseach now outpolls the Tanaiste, as ex-FF voters see him more in tune with their concerns.

The cracks in the Gilmore edifice first began to appear in the leaders’ debate between Eamon and Micheal Martin. Contrary to expectations, the new Fianna Fail leader faired well, while Eamon seemed over- prepared, even defensive.

Looking back, it may have been a foretaste of Eamon’s difficulty: changing from Opposition mode into governance mode.

His weakening situation was compounded by taking the job in Government often seen as the most remote from everyday life at home — foreign affairs — and by his choice of ministers.

He appointed a team with both experience and youth, yet he has uniquely managed to rub many of his backbenchers up the wrong way –particularly those who served on the front benches before the election only to find themselves passed over in favour of relative newcomers for junior ministries.

This leaves him caught in a bind. On one side he is being daily eclipsed by his more experienced colleagues, Quinn, Howlin and Rabbitte — while on the other he is being sniped at by disgruntled backbenchers.

A situation not made any easier by the fact that he is not a “gene pool” Labour Party man, just a “stickie” blow-in.

Small wonder his polling numbers have fallen amid stories of his less-than-impressive contributions to Cabinet.

I was hearing these during my recent trips to Brussels as local officials spoke of how pedestrian his performances had been at EU meetings.

His dilemma is now threefold, at least.

First, his platform in Opposition was that we needed to tax more and cut less. That is not the view of the majority voters now.

Second, if he had taken a more central big-spending department he risked exposing his inexperience, so he chose to play safe.

Third, if he was more aggressive and assertive, we would be lambasting him for damaging the cohesiveness of the Coalition and putting party politics above national interest.

In these circumstances it is possible to almost feel sympathy for his plight … but only almost. He alone is the architect of his current misfortunes.

They may ease a little if his candidate fares well in the presidential election, though October 27 is a distance away and a Labour victory is by no means assured.

That would at best prove a temporary respite as already unhappy backbenchers grapple with the consequences of cuts in social welfare and services.

Gilmore’s place is secure for the moment, but all bets (and gloves) will be off come the mid- point of this Government’s term if his role and input into Government has not improved significantly.