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.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 17th 2019 and followed the latest Red C poll which showed the two main parties neck and neck and on a combined total of 57%. At the 2016 general election the two parties were also 1% apart, but on a combined total of just 50%. I have thought for a long while that the two parties combined will poll around 60% at the next general election and, right now, I would predict Fianna Fáil to pull ahead of Fine Gael by anywhere between 2% and 4%
Conventional political wisdom used to say that the parties in government welcomed long Dáil recesses. Not only did they free Ministers up from having to hang around Leinster House answering awkward questions, on and off the record, from smartass opposition TDs, irritating journos and panicking backbenchers, they were a time for the government parties to get back on message and hopefully get their poll numbers up.
The idea was that Dáil sittings broadly tend to favour the main opposition parties when it comes to opinion polls, as their insolent haranguing of the Taoiseach is featured nightly on the TV news. Dáil recess means no Dáil TV coverage and no Dáil TV coverage means less of a platform for the opposition to catch the news cycle.
The high visibility, and audibility, of the Taoiseach over the summer would suggest that his team subscribe to this wisdom. He was seen to be out and about. His appearances at the Kennedy and MacGill Summer Schools and the West Belfast Féile an Phobail went down well.
My Broadsheet column from May 1st looks at the poor political environment against which the CervicalCheck scandal is playing out
Last week’s Dáil furore and the heightened tensions between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael persuaded me to use this week’s column to discuss the worsening relations between the main government and the main opposition parties.
I still intend to do that, but in much lesser detail. The scandal engulfing the CervicalCheck scheme and the torment that Vicky Phelan, her family and hundreds of other families have been put through by the State and the HSE makes any discussion of the friction between the parties pale by comparison.
But, as experienced political commentators have noted, the screening scandal has the makings of major political crisis if it were to emerge that more was known by the Department and, by extension, by a Minister.
This is my first Broadsheet column of 2018 – looking how Fine Gael and Leo Varadkar are more concerned with selling their story of governing than the actual business of government
One of the nicest things about the run up to Christmas are those chance encounters with former colleagues and old acquaintances as you frantically rush around town looking for those presents you claimed you ordered online six weeks earlier.
I had a few of those, but two may be of interest to you. Both involved high level civil servants, from different departments, who I knew from my time in government. After catching up with each on the whereabouts of mutual friends, we got to talking politics.
Both reported that there was virtually no real policy work going on within government and that ministers, specifically the Fine Gael ones, were focused exclusively on PR, ferreting out any possible item of good news that may be in the pipeline and getting it announced ASAP, courtesy of the Strategic Communications Unit, with the maximum fanfare and hoopla.
Here is my Broadsheet column from December 12th – apologies for the delays in posting these columns on here… hopefully I will have my site updated completely later today (Friday).
Though I did a bit of leaflet dropping for Fianna Fáil in the 1977 general election, the first election campaign in which I really canvassed was the 1979 European and Local elections.
There I learned the skill of ‘marking the register’. This involved writing a letter after the voter’s name as it appears on the electoral indicating, after you had canvassed them whether you thought they were for Fianna Fáil (F), against us (A), doubtful (D) or where you got no reply (NR) or CB for call back.
In 1979 there a lot of ‘A’s to mark on my sheet. These fell into two categories, the first were the people who voted FF two years earlier and were now very angry at how the country was going. The second were the group who had never and would never stoop to vote for “your shower”.
When encountering a person from this second group, usually after walking up a long gravel driveway and climbing a flight of granite steps to reach the ornate front door, one of fellow canvassers, a very nice woman, several years my senior, would call out “NOCD”.
“…still has one last opportunity to somewhat redeem his reputation by taking some right steps now.”
At the time of writing this, it appears that the Taoiseach remains doggedly determined not to take the steps needed to diffuse this ministerial-made crisis.
While sacking an old and valued colleague is not a pleasant task, it comes with the job. He is the Taoiseach, he hires and fires. He is also a politician and it must have been obvious to him since Friday that the mounting evidence of Frances Fitzgerald’s failure to act meant that that Dáil Éireann could no longer have confidence in her as Tánaiste or as minister.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on November 24th as the Frances Fitzgerald saga was coming to a peak:
How did we get to this situation? Well, as with any crisis, we got to it one step at a time.
Leo Varadkar did not start this week with a plan to trigger a snap election, no more than Micheál Martin did, but with a series of serious missteps Leo Varadkar walked this government to the brink and last night whipped things up to a point that the country is now on a course that means a general election either before Christmas or early in 2018.
Misstep number one came with the Taoiseach’s opening comments on Leader’s Question in the Dáil last Tuesday. when he attempted to address the issue
“The House will appreciate, once again, that I do not have first-hand knowledge of any of these matters.”
With those words it was clear that an Taoiseach was approaching the issue of Minister Fitzgerald’s level of knowledge on the campaign against Sgt McCabe satisfied that it had nothing personally to do with him and, so it was not something for him to be worried about.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on September 20th 2017
One of my favourite political anecdotes comes from the late Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Whitlam was on a trip to China to meet the infamous Mao Tse-tung. His officials warned Whitlam that Chairman Mao disliked small talk intensely and advised that he come up with a couple of substantive questions if he wanted to keep the conversation going. Whitlam decided, given that the visit was coming around the tenth anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, that he would ask Mao to speculate on what might have happened to the world order if Nikita Kruschev had been shot that day instead of Kennedy.
Delighted with the substance and depth of his question he set off to meet Mao and to hear the Chairman’s thoughts on this great “what if”. He sat down with Mao and, after the usual formal introductions, he proceeding to ask his question. The Chairman seemed pensive and intrigued. Then, after a few moments thought, he replied, ‘I don’t think Mr Onassis would have married Mrs Kruschev’.
This column originally appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 8th 2017 and suggests that Fine Gael will come to regret dumping Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and leader as speedily as they have…www.broadsheet.ie/well-miss-him-eventually/
“But as I leave you I want you to know – just think how much you’re going to be missing. You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore”
With these words, Richard Nixon departed the political scene, well almost. It was November 7th, 1962. He was concluding what he assumed would be his last ever political press conference after losing the race to become Governor of California. Two years earlier he had narrowly lost the Presidency to John F Kennedy.
While Enda Kenny’s departure, when it comes – possibly over the next week or two – will not be as bitter and waspish as Tricky Dicky’s, there may just be the slightest hint of the same sentiment: just think what we will potentially be missing.
Love him or loathe him, during his time as Taoiseach Enda has been anything but colourless or bland. For all his faults and failings, he showed quickly that he realised that one of the main roles of any Taoiseach is re-assuring the public that there is someone with a plan in charge.
He also grasped that this role as the nation’s re-assurer-in-chief requires you to get out and about and meet people as much as possible. In some ways, Enda has spent the past six years doing a passable Bertie Ahern impression.
Here is my Broadsheet column from September 5th 2016. This looks at the important and positive role Special Advisers (Spads) can play in government, particularly a partnership one. www.broadsheet.ie/treated-like-interlopers/
“To provide spurious intellectual justifications for the Secretary of State’s prejudices”
This is how the late Maurice Peston (father of ITV’s political editor Robert Peston) responded in the early 1970s when a senior UK civil servant asked him to explain how he saw his role as Roy Hattersley’s newly appointed Special Adviser (Spad).
It was more than just a casual witty remark from the Professor of Economics: it specifically referenced the fears the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection had about having an acknowledged policy expert in their midst and gainsaying their more generalist advice.