This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday May 31st and looks at the main issue occupying the minds of most Irish voters, Housing. Now that public concerns about Covid-19 are beginning to ease, its attention has almost immediately returned to the issue that dominated before the pandemic: housing… particularly the seeming inability of the two main parties to grasp the scale of the crisis for many people.
Regular readers, by which I mean those who have read a few of my columns, opposed to those who have read just one while eating a bowl of fruit and fibre, will know that I have a few themes to which I like to occasionally return.
These include, Fianna Fáil’s future, Northern Ireland, defence/cyber security, and the old hardly annual: electoral politics. It is why opinion polls can be a useful grist to my mill. I say “can” as most of the polls published since last December have not – with the exception of one Sunday Times/B&A poll – shown much political movement.
The shifts in support between the parties over the past five months have been negligible. Across that time Red C has had Sinn Féin in a range of 27% to 29% and Fine Gael in an even tighter range of 29% to 30%. In effect, Red C polling has the two biggest parties in a continuing dead heat for first spot.
The range widens when you turn to Fianna Fáil. But is also drops. Like the proverbial stone. Red C has the party of Lemass in a range from 11% to 16%. If you treat Fianna Fail’s numbers as if they were high-diving scores (plummeting more like, says you), by removing the highest and lowest ones, the party ends up in the much tighter 13-14% range.
This column appears here out of sequence, as it first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 19th. In it, I look at this government’s problems with communications, particularly the Fianna Fáil side of it.
According to the veteran American comedian George Burns there is no big secret to comic timing. It’s very simple, he said. You tell the joke, you wait for the laughter and when the laughter stops, you tell the next joke. That’s comic timing.
It’s something similar with government communications: you deliver you message and give the public the time to let it sink in.
What you certainly do not do is to talk across your message or try to chop and change the narrative while folks are still trying to take it in.
There is nothing wrong with a minister having a new idea, indeed it is something to be encouraged. What is important is that it is an informed idea. What you don’t do is to contact a journalist to communicate an idea to the public until it has been fully formed and explored with colleagues and – hopefully – some real live experts.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet on March 15th, the day after the Sunday Times [Ireland] broke the story that the preliminary Garda inquiry into the leaking of a confidential contract by Leo Varadkar while Taoiseach had been upgraded to a criminal investigation by Garda Headquarters. Here I set out why Varadkar’s grip on the Fine Gael leadership was already starting to loosen before this story broke and why his political future may be every bit as uncertain as Micheál Martin’s.
Over last few months I have written a lot… an awful lot… about Fianna Fáil’s existential crisis. These articles have mainly focused on the shortcomings of the leader, and Taoiseach, Micheál Martin.
This is to be expected. Even though I now find myself on the outside looking in, it is still the party I understand best, and care about most, having been a member for over 40 years.
But my instinctive focus on my former party should not detract from the problems facing Fine Gael – or, more specifically, those facing its leader, An Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar.
Before yesterday’s Sunday Times front page story about the Tánaiste being the subject of criminal investigation, Varadkar’s position looked unassailable. But looks can be deceiving.
This opinion piece appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 7th and continues a set of themes I have addressed in previous op-eds, namely (i) the problems of a rotating Taoiseach, (ii) the paucity of government’s communications and messaging and (iii) the lack of identity and vision dogging a Fianna Fáil led by Micheál Martin
“The office makes the man” is a phrase heard many times before Bertie Ahern and Enda Kenny became Taoiseach. It stems from the notion that you cannot properly envision someone as a Taoiseach (or Prime Minister or President) until they assume the office, as the trappings of office and the authority that come with role help increase their stature.
Afterall, very few people, apart from Gregory Peck, Martin Sheen or Oprah Winfrey, can truly act and sound presidential without being it.
This Broadsheet.iecolumn comes from June 29th. It is a bit more personal than usual as it explains why I decided to resign from Fianna Fáil, the party I first joined back in 1978. Some suggested that I should allow my membership to lapse, rather than resign… but, as I have been a lifetime member since 2016, dropping dead appeared a lot more cumbersome than just sending an email saying: “I quit”
Last week I suggested there was a possibility my Fianna Fáil membership could come to an unseemly and abrupt end for daring to challenge the leadership orthodoxy on the Programme for Government (PfG).
I wrote that particular section with a tongue (my own, I should point out) firmly planted in my cheek. The observation was at best, flippant and at worst, facetious. It was not intended as a prediction. More than once I was just a click away from deleting the entire paragraph as I tried to edit 150 words out of the piece.
Little did I imagine as I hit “send” that that one week later I would find myself no longer a member of the party I joined over 42 years ago.
Let me clear. I am not in this position because anyone asked, cajoled or compelled me to leave, but because I decided by myself and for myself that my time in Fianna Fáil had sadly come to an end, for now.
This Broadsheet.ie column appeared on June 22nd, just a few days before voting closed in the three internal parties votes on the proposed Fine Gael/Green/Fianna Fáil Programme for Government.
While I do examine the possible outcomes of those votes and ask how this process was allowed to reverse into a possible political crisis on the Special Criminal Court, I also include a gratuitous and personally satisfying reminder of the acerbic with and invective of former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating.
I‘m sure I’ve mentioned before now that I am a great fan of the former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating. While Keating’s punchy but moderate centre-left politics attract me, it is his feisty, quick witted, no nonsense approach to the fine art of political communications that seals the deal.
The internet is full of classic Paul Keating political quips and put downs. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) has collected some on this webpage.
In one memorable 2007 radio interview alone Keating described John Howard’s Treasurer (Finance Minister), Peter Costello, as “all tip and no iceberg”, before launching a fusillade at his former Liberal Party opponent and successor as Prime Minister, dismissing the balding Howard as the “little desiccated coconut” adding that he was clinging on to the role like “grim death” and was “araldited” to the prime minister’s seat.
Written early on Monday June 15th, this Broadsheet.ie column appeared online just a few hours before the FG/Green/FF Programme for Government landed – a document which Fianna Fáil TDs did not get until a two or three hours before they met to explore and agree its 140 pages of aspirations.
Here I explain why I resolutely oppose the PfG and reject its false T-I-N-A mantra… there are alternatives, several of them. What is missing is the political will and focus. Indeed the roadblock on which this PfG push depends may be lifted entirely if next week’s court action by a group of Senators succeeds and the Seanad is permitted to convene without the 11 Taoiseach’s nominees.
Depending on how you look at it, when it arrives the Fine Gael/Green/Fianna Fáil Programme for Government (PfG) will arrive either 15 hours, 3 days, 9 days or 3 weeks later than expected.
This is assuming it is published sometime this morning and is not once again deferred, delayed, postponed or otherwise held up by a talks process that appears to have been designed as a slow punishment for both those who work within it and those misfortunates who must write about it.
Before I tell you why I disapprove of both the deal and the government formation it hopes to underpin, let me start out by saying something (vaguely) positive.
As you will see from the opening paragraph below I wrote this column, which appeared on Broadsheet.ie on June 8th, assuming that the three parties would have produced some form of Programme for Government (PfG) – even if it was not one to which all the negotiators (i.e. not all the Green party ones) felt they could sign up..
As we see today (Friday 12th) yet another deadline has slipped in a process that full of missed deadlines and makes Bismarck’s sausage factory look like a place of beauty and efficiency. We also see today via a Michael Gove Tweet that the UK does not want a sensible transition extension and so the Tories are determined to have a hard UK Brexit crash out at year’s end.
Tempting though it is to present you today with yet another analysis piece about the government formation process, I will resist.
My reasons are twofold:
There is a 50/50 chance the process will still be ongoing this time next week
We are in such a state of flux with events moving faster than ever, there is every chance that the facts underpinning any analysis could change while I write it up.
OK, reason one is a bit flippant. I would be extremely surprised if an agreed document, though not necessarily one agreed by everyone, has not emerged by week’s end.
The second reason remains rock solid.
The one thing I can say with any certainty today is that there are so many moving parts and shifting gears that no one outcome, or series of outcomes, is certain.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 25th, 2020 about two weeks before Catherine Martin confirmed that she would challenge Éamon Ryan in the upcoming Green Party leadership contest. While events since this column was published confirm that the Green party is not now ready, willing or able to serve in government, they also highlight the depth and intensity of the schism within that party between the fundis (i.e. purists) and the realos (pragmatists).
If, on the night of the election count, you had been asked to bet on which of the three leaders, of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Greens, would face a leadership challenge first, I very much doubt many would have their money on Éamon Ryan.
Why would they? As the counting of ballots ended Ryan was the only one of the three with anything to celebrate. While Martin and Varadkar were trying to explain away seat losses, Ryan was almost iridescent as he watched the ranks of his Dáil party swell from just two TDs to twelve.
Ryan was not just a successful leader, he was the Green’s most successful ever leader in its almost 40-year history, winning twice as many seats as had been won under Trevor Sargent in 2002 or 2007.
It was the leadership careers of Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin which seemed to be hanging delicately in the balance that week.
Maybe it is an indication of how much politics has changed in recent months that both Varadkar and Martin seem relatively (though not equally) secure in their positions, while it is Ryan who could well be struggling for political survival.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 18th. While it primarily deals with the ongoing Irish government formation process, it also focuses on the public row that had been rumbling between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and culminating in the petulant press Fine Gael statement saying that the talks process was now damaged… damage that seemed to disappear quickly just one day later. So is this process going to result in a three party, but four way coalition*? I still doubt it very much
(* i.e. the three parties: Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Green Party plus groups of regional and/or rural independent T.D.s)
As I opened last week’s column talking about how virtual quizzes have helped make this lockdown easier to bear, it’s only fair that I give TV a bit of credit.
Not just TV in general, even though it has helped a lot. I am thinking of one new TV drama series in particular. You know it. Whether you follow it in weekly instalments on RTE, or binge watch it online, it has garnered an enormous amount of attention, stretching well beyond its normal time slot. It has given radio phone-in shows across the country plenty to talk and argue about.
Some say it captures the beauty and brutality of courtship and rejection with compassion and feeling. They point to the how the slow, methodical progression of the will they, won’t they narrative hesitantly gives way to the uneasy tensions of the first fumblings of intimacy. The on screen appearance of a few limp dicks has set folks on to social media to rant about a loss of values, nonetheless it has still been the landmark lock-down drama.
But enough about the government formation process, hasn’t Normal People been a great watch too?