Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think

This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Monday December 13th. It looks at a comparison I would never have thought possible just two years ago – but I explain why the two leaders – who do not share many traits or characteristics – regrettably share one very large negative one

The famous blackboard from Derry Girls – now (a copy) in the Ulster Museum

If you haven’t seen it already, then do yourself an enormous favour and check out the glorious blackboard scene from the second series of Derry Girls. Actually, just go and watch all of Lisa McGee’s deeply affectionate and wildly funny account of life in 1990’s Derry.

In the blockboard scene, Fr Peter invites teenagers from a catholic girls’ school and a protestant boys’ school, brought together for a cross community weekend, to suggest examples of things they have in common. These are then written down on a blackboard.

While they struggle to come up with things they have in common, they have no such problem listing their differences: Catholics watch RTÉ; Protestants love soup. Catholics love statues; Protestants hate Abba. The ‘differences’ blackboard is soon overflowing. The similarities one remains bare.

While I’ve no doubt it wouldn’t be anywhere near as funny, ask a group of Irish people what Boris Johnson and Micheál Martin have in common, and they’d struggle to propose much for the similarities one. Continue reading “Martin and Johnson… a lot more alike than you’d think”

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”

The pubs are re-opening, so normal politics is resuming… and endgame is near

This is my first Broadsheet column in about five weeks… and what an eventful five weeks it has been. What makes it even more interesting and potentially significant is that it leads into the final steps in the re-opening of society via the relaxation of the remaining Covid-19 restrictions. This means a return to normal politics via a return to face to face meetings of the various parliamentary parties. This I believe means that the endgame is near for both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders. 

“I didn’t show up here with a speech, I came here well-resourced with material…”

At the end of July I said that come September I would be back and ready to offer my thoughts on what’s happening on the Irish political scene. 

Well, I am back, but little did I imagine we would see so much political activity in August. Like many I assumed that politicians from all sides who have – to be fair – endured a difficult 16 months, would leap at the chance of a having a calm and uneventful August.

I was wrong. I failed to the factor-in the capacity of Fine Gael’s officer class to completely overestimate their own guile and ability and to fatally underestimate the public’s impatience with the appearance of ministerial entitlement.

Though the Taoiseach and his allies, more of whom are in Fine Gael these days than in Fianna Fáil, may want to portray #Merriongate / #Zapponegate as a silly season story that is not resonating with the public, his TDs, Senators and Councillors know that’s not the case.

Voters may not be familiar the minutiae of who said what, to whom, in what text and over what platform… but who is? The stories and sequences coming from the Tánaiste and the Foreign Affairs minister seem to change every couple of days, including at today’s second attempt by the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs to establish the facts.

Continue reading “The pubs are re-opening, so normal politics is resuming… and endgame is near”

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”

My 2020 summer political reading list

Welcome to my fourth annual summer political reading list. This year’s list first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on August 10th 2020. It is somewhat later than planned as I have not been able to plan my own summer break until now.

With my previous lists I tried, where possible, to pick books you can download onto your tablet or eBook reader. Who wants to stick 6 or 7 heavy tomes into the suitcase and pay Euros to Willy Walsh or Michael O’Leary for the privilege of flying them with you? So, while this is not as big a concern this year, many of the titles I have picked are, happily, available to download, indeed at least one is available for free download.

As in past years the titles are factual. The list reflects my own tastes and prejudices – though I do genuinely attempt to include some books that challenge them.

The list is in no order, though it does start with books prompted by the sad death of one of the greatest men I have ever been honoured to meet and hear speak: John Hume. Feel free to disagree with any of my choices in the comments section below (as if some of you need a license to disagree with me!) but if you are going to disagree then suggest what books you’d include instead.

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John Hume, In his own words Edited by Seán Farren
John Hume, Irish peacemaker Edited by Seán Farren & Denis Haughey
humebooks-300x223

My first entry offers you a choice of two books on the one subject: John Hume.

In the first one: “In His Own Words” Hume’s great ally and colleague, Sean Farren, gathers extracts from some of Hume’s most significant speeches, articles, and interviews. Together they give a comprehensive overview of Hume’s political thoughts on the complexity of relationships within and between our two islands. You see, in Hume’s own words, the origins of his implacable opposition to violence and how he developed his proposals for resolving the Northern Irish conflict. Proposals that underpin the Good Friday Agreement.

Continue reading “My 2020 summer political reading list”

The UK’s #Brexit politics is so bust that it even makes the #Dáil look good

This column appeared first on Broadsheet.ie

If you ever start to despair while watching Dáil Éireann live – stop, take a deep breath and think… well, at least it’s not as bad as the House of Commons.

While this may not offer a huge amount of comfort and certainly does not ease the frustration of seeing the current Dáil initiating some decent pieces of legislation, only for them to disappear into a black hole of money messages and other governmental devices designed to stifle debate, it is still something to bear in mind.

For decades I have been listening to some folks opining on how the UK political and legislative system works better than here. While some of this may have been driven by an element of cultural cringe, it was also informed by the idea that politics in the UK is more policy driven and based on ideas.

Irish politics, they argue, is just too tribal, too based around the centre. We do not have the benefits of the big policy debates and arguments between left and right as happens in the UK.

Continue reading “The UK’s #Brexit politics is so bust that it even makes the #Dáil look good”

Might the Irish/Irish border be the issue that derails #Brexit?  

This is a Brexit analysis piece I wrote for the weekly BEERG newsletter on Nov 9th, 2017

(FILES) File picture of  British Prime M

During the course of a debate on “Brexit and the Bar” held at the annual Bar conference in London earlier this week, senior British and Irish legal figures raised questions over the compatibility of Brexit with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (also called the Belfast Agreement), warning that the landmark peace agreement may even have to be renegotiated if Britain leaves the customs union as a result of Brexit.

Paul McGarry, SC, chairman of the Bar Council of Ireland, said that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and likely exit from the customs union was “incompatible” with the provisions of the deal on issues such as citizenship and the free movement of people, saying:

“A hard Brexit presupposes no membership of the customs union and no membership of the single market. If you start off from that premise, you are automatically looking at some form of border and that’s incompatible with a whole variety of things, [including] the concept of citizenship for everyone born on the island in the Good Friday agreement… It’s incompatible with the common travel area, which is not part of the Good Friday agreement but predates the EU.”

Liam McCollum, QC, chairman of the Bar of Northern Ireland, echoed this analysis saying that Brexit. “[It] is as an insoluble an issue as you could possibly imagine,” and would “undermine the Good Friday agreement”. 

Continue reading “Might the Irish/Irish border be the issue that derails #Brexit?  “

Will President Higgins seek a double instead of a single…?

This column on whether President Higgins will run for a second term comes from Sept 25th and first appeared online on Broadsheet.ie. 

imageTo have voted in just one presidential election you would need to be at least 24 years of age now. To have voted in at least two of them; you would now be 38, at minimum. If you voted in three presidential elections you are at least 45 and if you voted in four, then the very youngest of you will be 60 before the next one.

That, of course, is if there is a next one. Though I personally think there will.

If today’s Ireland Thinks/Irish Daily Mail poll is correct, and there is no real reason to assume it isn’t, then 76% of us would like President Higgins to continue on after his first term expires in late 2018.

Continue reading “Will President Higgins seek a double instead of a single…?”

The Tories road to #Brexit is paved with bad intentions

This is my Broadsheet.ie column from August 21, 2017. You can find the original online here

thank-you-samantha-bee-for-helping-us-americans-relate-to-the-brexit-mess

According to its Brexit position papers issued last week, the British Government is absolutely determined to avoid a hard Brexit and is hell bent on making sure that there will be no changes to how the border between the two parts of this island operates.

If only it were true.

It isn’t. As many others have already pointed out, you have barely to scratch the surface of the British government’s argument to quickly realise that its glistening yet imprecise language masks a dark and base core.

Last week’s papers were not about the massive machinery of the British government and civil service setting out its key positions on crucial realities arising from Brexit, but rather they were a crude and infantile political attempt to prepare a platform from where current British Ministers can accuse the EU27 of imposing borders and costs when the inevitable hard Brexit happens.

The former Tory Chancellor, George Osbourne called it right a few months back in a tweet when he predicted that the EU/UK Article 50 negotiations will end in failure in 2019 and that the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal and end up a transitional arrangement that resembles Norway’s.

Continue reading “The Tories road to #Brexit is paved with bad intentions”