This is an important week for relations across these islands

This week’s Broadsheet column examines how the week beginning Monday March 22 may be a more important one for the medium to long term future of relations on this island that the one before, even though that week featured several important set-piece speeches by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin on the North and the relations with UK and the EU post Brexit. My argument is not that the Taoiseach said anything wrong – he didn’t. My problem is with what he didn’t say.  On Unity.  I suspect the Taoiseach believes he is far ahead of public opinion in not discussing unity or constitutional change. The reality, I fear, is that Mr Martin is perilously far behind where the centre ground of nationalist and republican opinion public is, North and South.    

Jim O’Callaghan TD delivering his Cambridge Speech on Unity

Given the week that was in it, with St Patrick’s Day and all, and the impressive number of virtual calls and speeches made by An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, you’d be forgiven for thinking that last week would have been a more important week for the future of relationships on these islands than this week. But it wasn’t.

To his credit, An Taoiseach seized every opportunity presented to him to speak in detail about what he called the “whole new category of challenges that we have had to deal with” following Brexit. He did so with conviction and belief.

In addition to his crucial virtual Oval Office face-to-face with President Biden and Vice President Harris, he had high profile speeches and exchanges with both the prestigious Brookings and Edward M. Kennedy institutes, plus a range of other important calls and engagements.

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Martin May Be Learning Lessons Of Last Week’s Mistakes

This week’s Broadsheet.ie column follows on from last week’s one, starting from it ended and hoping that the Taoiseach can take the opportunity presented by his Brendan O’Connor Show gaffe and start to abandon his seeming agnostic stance on unity, and become more of an advocate for unity and a champion of starting the detailed debate and discussion on what a united Ireland could look like, now. 

The prospect of starting the second century of Irish independence with the challenge of building a new and better Ireland is so exciting, why would any Taoiseach delay the start of that process for even one day?

To say that was not a good week for North/South relations is to understate how utterly damaging and chaotic the past seven days have been.

They started with the Taoiseach’s inopportune comments on Brendan O’Connor’s radio show (I dealt with these last week) and finished with the astonishing suggestion from Brussels that it could invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol .

While the week may have finished yesterday, the Article 16 debacle has not. It is far from over. Though the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs worked hard over the weekend to limit the damage, be in no doubt damage has been done to relations on this island. A price will be paid here and a big price must also be paid in Brussels.

Dublin must insist that those responsible for this mess are held accountable. Hailing the Commission decision not to do the wrong thing as a “positive”, may be very diplomatic, but it is neither sufficient nor proportionate.

Returning to my observations last week on the Shared Island Unit, I do not flatter myself to imagine the political crew currently occupying government buildings read any of my scribblings. I mean, why would they read them now when they paid scant attention to what I said on the odd occasion I was ever asked for my thoughts. Nonetheless, I was genuinely gratified yesterday to hear some tiny incremental movement from the Taoiseach along the lines I suggested last week.

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Did Martin Manage to Accidentally Throw His Shared Island Unit Under A Bus?

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on January 25th 2021 and considers the damage An Taoiseach Micheál Martin has done to his Shared Island Unit. His unfounded claims and ill considered comments during a lengthy RTÉ Radio One interview with Brendan O’Connor hurt the prospects for the Shared Island Unit by undermining his relationship with the NI Executive, particularly with its unionist members.

An Taoiseach may have inadvertently given himself an opportunity to get his Shared Island Unit back on the rails, by accepting today’s new reality and allowing it to engage meaningfully on constitutional issues, including advocating for the positives of a united Ireland. Maybe some good can come from Martin’s little too much.

mm on boc

It’s never the little too little that hurts, it’s the little too much. This was Sean Lemass’s famous advice to aspiring politicians. Keep your own counsel and never say more than you need too, especially when what you are saying is not fully thought through.

Though the advice comes from an age before social media and rolling news, it applies as much today as it did in the 50s and 60s.

It is such a profound piece of political advice that I assumed I had mentioned it here before. But a word search of the Broadsheet pieces I have written over the past 5 years tells me that I’ve only quoted it here once before. That was last November in a piece I wrote about the Shared Island Unit. In it, I suggested that the Taoiseach still “has an awful lot to learn from Lemass’s practical application of vision to action.”

Listening to the Taoiseach’s lengthy Saturday morning interview with Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ Radio One, it appears that it is a lesson he still needs to learn, and urgently.

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Putting A Shared Island In A Shared Seanad

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Nov 16th. Here I propose that the two Seanad Éireann vacancies be filled by nominees representing the two traditions in Northern Ireland. this is something that should have happened when the Taoiseach named his 11 nominees to the Seanad back in June, but didn’t. That was a major mistake, but he now has the opportunity to correct it and prove that his Shared Island project is not just about words, it is about actions.

Taoiseach Michael Martin who gave an address on the Shared Island initiative at Dublin Castle 22nd Oct 2020. Photo: Julien Behal / RollingNews.ie

A few weeks ago An Taoiseach Micheál Martin delivered a major speech to an online audience. At almost any other time the speech would have been seen as important and significant, but it did not receive a great deal of attention coming as it did between Leo the leaker, the Mother and Baby Home saga, Woulfegate, not to mention the process of moving to level 5 Covid 19 restrictions.

The speech, on a Shared Island/Ireland, was delivered live to a wide and diverse audience, north and south. It was a fine speech, though – not for the first time – Martin managed to detract from his speech and trampling over his own publicity, with a far from adroit performance at the event’s question and answer session. As Sean Lemass famously observed, it’s never the little too little that hurts in politics, it’s the little too much.

So, instead of the media focusing on the news that the Irish government was establishing and funding a substantial unit to work on developing major all island projects, it came away transfixed by Martin’s inability to unambiguously state that Fianna Fáil is committed to Irish Unity.

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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.

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Sinn Féin Off Target on the #Border

This column first appeared on broadsheet.ie Feb 26, 2019/02/26

D0GV-zPWsAAldNDThere was a time when Sinn Féin was the master of targeting. It used to know to aim its attacks and not to waste its time or resources.

But not anymore. Maybe it’s the loss of the old big beasts or the ascent of a new middling style of leadership, but whatever the cause, it is increasingly clear that it has lost its ability to target.

We saw it last year with the misguided and misfiring presidential campaign. We saw it last week with its no confidence motion in Simon Harris. While it was supposedly aimed at the floundering health minister, most Sinn Féin speakers had Fianna Fáil in their sights.

They were not the only ones. Minister of State, Jim Daly… no, me neither… bizarrely concluded that the best way of defending Harris against Sinn Féin criticism was not to launch himself at the provos but rather to join them in lambasting Fianna Fáil.

If Sinn Féin wanted to get rid of Harris and cause an election, they would have gone after the independent TDs whose Tá votes are keeping the Taoiseach and his ministers in office. But they didn’t.

This Sinn Féin propensity to miss the target was on display last weekend when it went into an online meltdown over SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood telling the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis, referencing Donald Tusk’s recent comments,  that there would be a special place in hell for those who call for a border poll in Ireland with no plan on how to deliver it.

No sooner had the applause for Eastwood died down than the online warriors were tetchily pounding their keyboards slamming Eastwood, the SDLP and its partners in Fianna Fáil.

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Change the record Mary Lou

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 29th 2018.

fr-billy-o-dwyer-spinmasterThere have been a few Fr Ted references here over the past few days, so let’s start off with another one. Remember that episode of Fr Ted where the lads need to raise money to fix the water leaks in the parochial house?

You know the one, they destroy the car Bishop Brennan gives them for the raffle and thus have to rig the draw to ensure that Dougal’s ticket wins it. Ted gets Fr Billy “Spinmaster” O’Dwyer to do the disco before the draw, but there’s a problem. Fr Billy has only one record with him and it’s “Ghost Town” by The Specials. Undeterred, the Spinmaster plays it over and over and over again, oblivious to the fact that the crowd have stopped listening.

I like Ghost Town. Not only is it a good song, it is a serious piece of popular social commentary, but even the loyalist Special fan would concede that forcing anyone to listen to it over and over again could turn them against it.

This is something that Sinn Féin’s “spinmasters” Mary Lou MacDonald and Michelle O’Neill could do well to bear in mind.

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