You can watch and listen to my brief interview on RTE’s Morning Ireland on Ireland’s participation in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mission here on Youtube
This is the handbook prepared by US Republican pollster Frank Luntz in 2009. It sets out the language and arguments that Israeli Government spokespeople should use on the media to explain and defend Israel’s then occupation of Gaza.
You can hear lines from this 2009 being used again today to defend the latest onslaught on Gaza.
Here are the results of the survey I have been running via Polldaddy over the past two weeks.
The question was straightforward: which Ministers should An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny drop and which Ministers should he keep.
The full poll results in pdf format can be downloaded here: Poll Results
For the purposes of this poll I am presuming that Joan Burton is elected Labour Leader and is thus assured of a seat at the cabinet table.
To take the survey click here: RESHUFFLE POLL
@sluggerotoole: Derek Mooney on @FiannaFáilparty’s long road to recovery #ep14ie #le14 #ee14 ##ep201419 May
This is an analysis piece I penned for the Slugger O’Toole website
While there are worse jobs in the world: the worst job in politics is certainly leader of the opposition.
If he didn’t already know this, it is certain that Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheal Martin will know this in just over a week.
The 2014 European and Local Election campaigns for which he and his HQ team have prepared and planned for over 18 months are proving themselves to be a source of unalloyed joy. It is hard to believe that these are the campaigns they wanted.
The latest round of opinion poll findings only confirm this. They suggest that
- His Dublin Euro candidate will fail to take the seat
- His Midlands North West duo may struggle to win a seat
- While his Ireland South candidates have the best part of two quotas between but are so imbalanced as to render a second seat impossible.
If the ballots cast on Friday confirm these poll findings, then it will be hard to make any of this sound like an achievement.
Add to this a series of resignations and protests over local election candidate selections, including the Blackrock Hanafiasco that has seen my one time political rival Mary Hanafin returned as a non authorised/unrecognised Fianna Fáil candidate and you can see that the weeks ahead will be difficult ones for those at the top of the party.
The frustration of this for Martin and his supporters is that they have, on one level, a fairly decent tale to tell. If the most recent polls, which are not exactly joyous for the soldiers of destiny, are correct, then the gap between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has closed by between 13.5% and 15.5%.
The problem is that Fianna Fáil is not the biggest beneficiary of the decline. Fine Gael looks set to lose almost a third of the support it won in February 2011, but Fianna Fáil looks, at best, like convincing less than half of those disenchanted voters to look to it.
Where Fianna Fáil has made gains it has been among those groups it has least let down (definitely a relative term): younger and older voters. The group it has and will find hardest to convince are the middle ground – those struggling to pay mortgages and cope with massive negative equity.
Martin’s twin challenge upon becoming leader was first: to halt the decline and then to try win to win back as many of those people who voted for it in 2002 and 2007, but who chose Fine Gael in 2011.
That he has succeeded in the first task is clear but, his scorecard on the second may not be as impressive. Many of those who voted Fine Gael in February are deeply disenchanted by their performance in Government.
The party that promised new politics and a major break with the way things had been done by the previous crowd, has delivered neither. Instead; it merrily implements the broad policy approaches of the last Fianna Fáil led administration without their protections for those most hurt by the recession.
Despite this, the majority of these voters are prepared to either stick with Fine Gael or look to Independents or others. While these voters are prepared to engage with Fianna Fáil candidates at the doors, particularly newer, younger candidates – they remain largely unconvinced.
Meanwhile, for a huge swathe of voters unhappy with the government, Fianna Fáil is effectively as much a part of the “government” as either Fine Gael or Labour. Right now voting Fianna Fail is most certainly not the way to go if your aim is to register protest at what the government is doing.
Martin’s Fianna Fáil still has a lot of work to do to convince them, it has yet to offer a clear and comprehensive statement of either what it stands for in a post-recession Ireland or how it plans to secure and expand the recovery to benefit everyone.
While the biggest job of work it faces is on the policy side, the last few weeks and months have also exposed some serious organisational issues. The party’s structures are still centred on its elected reps and candidates. Offend a candidate and you lose their organisation.
Worse still: select a bright candidate with great ideas but poor organisational abilities and you have neither the capacity nor the available expertise to help them get elected. This helps, in part, explain some of the party’s problems with its MEP campaigns.
Fianna Fáil’s problem with being seen as the “same as the government” is also reflected in the European Elections. While middle ground voters have not turned Eurosceptic, they are certainly euro critical. They are looking for MEPs who will go to Brussels to bang the table and tell them what for. This may explain Sinn Féin’s strong European showings, plus Ming Flanagan’s apparent lead over fellow Independent and long standing MEP, Marian Harkin.
The irony is that Fianna Fáil belongs to a group, ALDE, whose nominee for the Commission Presidency Guy Verhofstadt: recently reflected precisely these euro critical views in a debate with his rivals saying that the “current Commission leadership always phones Berlin & Paris before making a decision. That is the main problem”
But have you heard any of Fianna Fáil’s European candidates say this forcefully in recent weeks?
The German narrative of the eurocrisis – which is also the EPP, Merkel, Sarkozy, and Barosso narrative – needs be challenged. It is something I have written about several times since mid-2011. See this one from April 2013 –
Perhaps some of them will do this during the final day’s debates – I sincerely hope they do.
We should be critical of Europe for precisely the reasons Verhofstadt outlined. No one knows this better than the members of the last government.
Yes, we did need Europe to help us bail out the banjaxed banks, but that help came at a massive price. Sarkozy and Merkel contrived to defend the Euro on the cheap on Irish soil… failed… then insisted that we pay the bill for the whole escapade.
It is this part of the narrative of the past six/seven years that Fianna Fáil has failed to develop, perhaps thanks to the understandable fear that no one really wants to hear its side of the story.
Before concluding I should admit a vested interest.
Though I have referred to Fianna Fáil in the third party throughout this piece; I am no impartial observer. I am a Fianna Fáil-er and have been involved at a senior level for decades. I am involved in several local election campaigns in Dublin. I backed a candidate other than Mary Fitzpatrick for the Dublin nomination. I was mooted as a possible Director of Communications for the Dublin euro-campaign, though the idea was binned. I ran against Mary Hanafin twice… but came out the wrong side of the encounter.
That said, I think Micheal Martin has done a decent job. He has done well on phase one: halting the decline, but not so well on phase two – making Fianna Fáil a party capable of governing.
The parallels with the party’s biggest political achievement of recent decades: The Good Friday Agreement, are significant.
While reaching that Agreement was a mammoth task that sometimes seemed impossible, looking back this part of the process was as nothing when compared to the difficulties in implementing it and making those institutions work.
So it is with phase two of Fianna Fáil’s recovery.
There is still a long way to go – and the leadership needs to look far beyond its own limited circle for the skills and energy to see it through.
This piece can be downloaded in Pdf format: FF and the long road to recovery
Here is a piece I wrote for the BEERG weekly newsletter just over two weeks ago. Sorry for the delay in posting this on here.
BEERG’s Derek Mooney writes: With just three weeks to go to voting for the European Parliament elections across Europe it seems that the “don’t knows” may be the winners.
While campaigning is stepping up across Europe and despite a major push from the EU to drive up voter turnout, most polling forecasts suggest that turnout in the 2014 EU parliament elections will drop below the 46% turnout achieved in 2009, with young voters particularly disinterested in electing MEPs.
Open Europe has produced a detailed briefing paper http://goo.gl/7LndzP in which it suggests that a surge in support across the EU for populist anti-EU, anti-austerity, anti-immigrant and anti-establishment parties, could see them win up to 31% of the vote in May.
Couple this strong showing from these parties with another low turnout and, Open Europe estimates, that 74.4% of all voters across Europe will have voted against the EU, for radical change, or not bothered to vote at all. This means that only 25.6% of all eligible voters will have actually come out and voted in favour of parties that broadly support the status quo or favour or more integration.
While these status quo/centrist parties, mainly the EPP, S&D and ALDE will see their aggregate share of the vote decrease, it does not necessarily mean that they will lose their grip on Parliament. While these “fringe” parties will do well in what is widely considered a “second order” election – i.e. not that important to voters’ day to day concerns and a means of registering a protest – these parties are not a coherent group. They span the political spectrum from far left to far right and differ as much from each other as they do from the parties of the centre. The latest forecast suggests that the far right’s Le Pen and Wilders will have enough MEPs from enough member states to form a group: with approximately 38 MEPs from 7 member states.
The net impact of these divergent political trends, Open Europe suggests, is that we paradoxically end up with a more integrationist EU Parliament. It argues that moderate parties (i.e. ones that believe the EU is in need of fundamental reform) will lose out to anti EU parties and this dynamic will reinforce what it terms “the corporatist tendency” of the two main groups (the centre Right EPP and centre left S&D) to freeze out the anti-EU MEPs by binding the Parliament and Commission closer together in pushing an integrationist, Brussels-focused agenda.
The most recent PollWatch2014 prediction of the outcome of the 2014 European Parliament elections suggests that centre-right EPP group and the centre-left S&D group are neck and neck. While previous polls (such as the one I posted here recently) had indicated a slight S&D majority in the new parliament PollWatch now predicts the EPP to pull ahead – with the EPP now forecast to win 222 seats, and the S&D Group 209. Past PollWatch predictions were in the region of 98% correct
It also estimates, based on recent polling data across the EU, that the number of MEPs who could be identified as supporting free market policies is also expected to fall from 242 to 206. Amongst other this this would be bad news for David Cameron, as the incoming Parliament will effectively have a veto over some of many of the EU reforms he seeks.
Cameron’s best hope for his reforms, lies, it seems in the EU Council, but only if he can get other leaders on board and secure agreement in nominating a pro-competitiveness Commission in the autumn.
Meanwhile the candidates for the Commission Presidency had the first of their two live TV debates on EuroNews last Monday. On the podium were (pictured from left to right) the ex-Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (for the Liberals/ALDE): the outgoing European Parliament chief Martin Schulz (from the centre-left S&D), the Greens Ska Keller MEP and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker (of the centre-right EPP),
A snap online poll conducted by Europe Decides judged Verhofstadt the debate winner with 55% and placed Juncker, the current front runner for the post, last with a paltry 9%. Most commentators felt the debate was short of any firm or details proposals.
Juncker said that he wanted “a serious Europe. A Europe that doesn’t dream, but gets things done”. During the course of the debate, the former chairman of the Eurogroup that oversaw the tough bailout programmes for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, called for a legal minimum wage across the EU.
Schulz’s promised “to give back justice and fairness” and to create “a Europe of citizens not of banks and speculators” pledging to publish the Commission’s negotiating mandate on the ongoing trade talks with United States.
Verhofstadt said that the EU needed “less internal market regulation, but more common policies” arguing that “the crisis and unemployment” had turned young people against the EU.
At one point Verhofstadt said his model for Commission president was Jacques Delors, causing Martin Schulz to point out that Delors was a Socialist.
The issue of how the next Commission President would be selected also came up. As the nominees of the two largest groups, Juncker and Schulz are keen to avoid any last minute negotiations that might lead to another name entering at the last minute as a compromise.
Schulz said that stitching-up the Commission presidency via a back-room deal would reduce the elections to “a little game” while Verhofstadt said that not choosing one of the formal candidates (i.e. ones already nominated) would be “unthinkable”.
On 27 May, after the election results are known, the EU Parliament President and the group leaders in the parliament will meet together to discuss the results. Their discussions will feed into deliberations by EU government leaders who will meet later that day to decide who to nominate for Commission President.
This is an article I have written for the March 2014 Árd Fheis issue of Fianna Fáil’s members’ magazine Cuisle.
A few months before the 2011 election, Michael Gallagher (the TCD Professor of Politics, not the Donegal postman and amateur weather forecaster) posted a blog where he asking how long Fianna Fáil could expect to spend in opposition. In it he wrote:
“Fianna Fáil is not a party accustomed to spending time there. Its longest spell on the opposition benches is still the nearly six years between its foundation in May 1926 and its entry into government in March 1932. Since then, the party has never spent more than one consecutive Dáil term in opposition and the longest spell it has been out of power remains the 4 years and 4 months of the Cosgrave coalition in the mid-1970s.”
Underpinning Gallagher’s 2010 comments is the idea that Fianna Fáil has never been that good at opposition. It is a fair point.
Not only have we not spent much time in opposition, as Gallagher points out, it is almost 30 years since we last spent a full Dáil term there.
We thought our world had ended in Nov 1982 when we ended up a mere 5 seats ahead of Fine Gael, though it is worth recalling that its vote then, 39.2%, is still the biggest percentage vote Fine Gael has ever won.
Not only was Fine Gael on 70 seats, it was ensconced in Government with its most popular leader to date. Faced with those realities we could not be blithely sure that we would spend just one term in opposition. The prospect of two successive terms was a stark possibility.
That is why we should look to that period for lessons and insight.
We quickly grasped that we needed to perform strongly in opposition – we needed to hold the Government to account. To that end the party established a series of policy committees, manned by party members with demonstrable abilities or expertise in specific areas.
These committees worked with the spokespeople but were not run by them. Neither were they mere talking shops, members were assigned very specific tasks, there were no passengers in this process.
While these committees did not “make policy”, that remained the prerogative of the parliamentary party, their work and inputs helped underpin the policy platform that emerged in the run up to the 1987 election.
Back in the 1980s the party looked to the membership to take up the slack on the policy side – and it is what we must do again today.
While the party’s membership, its structures, its needs and demands are as great as they ever where, the truth is that we do not have the resources we had.
Actually, that is the point: even the pre-2011 manpower levels in both party HQ and Leinster House would not be sufficient to meet today’s demands. Not only have the staff numbers been halved, the Programme Managers and Ministerial Advisers, of whom I was one, that once supplemented those teams are also gone.
These reductions have hit us particularly hard on the policy side. We are now making ever more demands on fewer people, people who have no sense memory of how a party operates in opposition
Yet, conversely, there appears to be some unexpressed reluctance to properly harness the real expertise we possess within the party.
This is not a demand to allow individual members to start writing the next manifesto – far from it. Neither is it a call for everyone to email in their two-line pet idea: we need considered analysis, not random suggestions.
Rather, is it is a plea for us to recognise that we need, in this area, to take a leaf out of our 1982-87 playbook and structure expert membership inputs.
Our party’s research people have come up with some important and innovative proposals, not least our Family Home Protection and Debt Resolution Bills. They have done some serious work: but you would be hard pushed to know that from the press coverage.
In the absence of any over arching narrative or analysis our individual statements can come across as micro policy responses rather than as co-ordinated parts of a coherent alternative.
Fine Gael could get away with that flannel during its time in opposition, but Fianna Fáil does not have the luxury they had: a Government unable to communicate with its own supporters.
To borrow a phrase from the 1980’s: the next phase of our recovery will be dependent on policies and substance. While the headline numbers in recent published polls have brought us little comfort, the high level of voter dissatisfaction with the current Government demonstrates that there is demand for a realistic viable alternative.
That alternative must be based on sound analysis and presented by a purposeful opposition that utilizes all the tools, skills and talents available to it.
This is a piece I wrote for the March 14th issue of the BEERG global labour newsletter. It examines the consequences of the EU Parliament’s overwhelming vote on the General Data Protection Regulation and acknowledges the hard work and valid concerns raised by the Irish MEP Sean Kelly (EPP & Fine Gael)
Though it is now accepted across the EU that the Data Protection Regulation is not likely to be approved until 2015 at the earliest, the European Parliament has scheduled a debate on the legislation on Tuesday (11 March) with a full First Reading vote on it on Wednesday.
The vote comes just 10 weeks before voters across Europe go to the polls to elect the next European Parliament.
The plenary vote on Wednesday is no mere gesture, however. It is the outgoing Parliament setting out its position so that the incoming one can start negotiations with the Council of Ministers, as soon as they have adopted their position, though the timetable for the Council’s part of the process remains uncertain
It is not the European Parliament’s only debate on Data Protection this week as it is also set to approve the final report of its own inquiry into alleged mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency.
That report not only demands that the US/EU trade talks not lead to a softening of data protection standards, it also calls for the suspension of a programme to share bank transfer data with the US, and calls on member states to strengthen oversight of their intelligence services.
As mentioned earlier, the ball now lies with the member states governments via the EU’s Council of Ministers. The Justice Ministers met last week and held a policy debate on outstanding issues relating to the data protection regulation framework.
ASs the communique issued after the meeting said: “Ministers broadly supported the draft provisions as regards the territorial scope of the regulation and confirmed the understanding that international transfers of personal data to third countries should take place on the basis of key principles contained in chapter V of the draft regulation.”
It then went on to diplomatically express the ongoing delays and problems saying:
“Ministers agreed that more technical work will need to be done on important aspects of this chapter and that the question of alternative models for international data transfer will need to be studied in depth.”
“The Council confirmed that the work will continue at a technical level on the basis of the progress achieved so far on: pseudonymisation as an element of the risk-based approach, portability of personal data for the private sector and obligations of controllers and processors.”
“Whilst a majority of delegations appeared to be of the opinion that the scope of the profiling provision in the future regulation should, like the current Directive 95/46/EC, limit itself to regulating automated decision-making that has legal effects or significantly affects individuals, some other delegations pleaded in favour of specific provisions on profiling. Work at a technical level should therefore continue on that basis.”
Others involved in the process expressed their frustrations with the Council’s difficulties in reaching a consensus less delicately. Ralf Bendrath, the Green Party’s data protection expert and an adviser to the German Green MEP who is the Rapporteur who has steered the Regulation through Parliament thus far said on Twitter: “Germany again – embarrassingly – less supportive than all other member states on progress”. He went on to dismiss Germany’s observations that the issue will “need more debate” and chided them for not specifically stating their objections.
While Ministers are still a long way off reaching agreement on their draft of the Regulation, that is not to say that a great deal of technical work and progress is going on behind the scenes.
The Greek EU Presidency has been working away very assiduously in recent months with a series of DAPIX and other Data Protection officials meerting. The Greeks have also been engaging with the Italian government (it is the the next country to hold the 6 month rotating Presidency of the EU) to work out a road map for agreeing on the data protection reform swiftly.
While their original objective of agreeing on a mandate for negotiation with the European Parliament before the end of the Greek Presidency looks unlikely to be achieved, they are busily dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s they reasonably can awaiting some direction from the member states.
Meanwhile in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Junior Minister at the Justice Ministry, Simon Hughes MP, has announced a review of the criminal sanctions available for breaches of the UK’s Data Protection Act. He said the review would help the UK government “decide whether to increase the penalties as the law permits”.
Feeding into this process Pinsent Masons’ specialist in data protection law Kathryn Wynn has suggested that the government should go further than reviewing the criminal sanctions and should also consider strengthening the civil monetary penalty regime too, arguing that a previous increase in the maximum level of fine in 2010 had prompted organisations to take the issue of data protection seriously.
Using the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation as an example she suggests that the review take the approach envisaged there, where the level of penalty for a data breach is calculated on the basis of a percentage of their annual turnover.
So, even before it is passed, we could see the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation is influencing domestic legislation across Europe.
While surfing the internet tonight I dam across this little nugget, Lyndon Baines Johnson’s “Rules of Life”. The ebullient LBJ was a larger than life character who contemporaries descibed as highly driven, ambitious and devoid of any interests or past-times outside politics.
Though mainly remembered now ad the President who even further embroiled the US in the Viet Nam war (a policy he inherited from JFK) too many forget his personal campaign for massive social reform, entitled: The Great Society. You can find the text of LBJ’s first Great Society speech here
While some of these rules encapsulate his own very earthy style, not to mention and his cynical approach to the apparatus of government and office, others – especially number 7 – are worth noting by anyone considering a life in politics.
1. “Never trust a man whose eyes are too close to his nose.”
2. “Always be sure to have 25% cotton in your undershirts; otherwise your titties will itch.”
3. “Remember the CIA is made up of boys whose families sent them to Princeton but wouldn’t let them into the family brokerage business.”
4. “The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character.”
5. “When you are handshaking on the campaign trail, never let the other fellow grab your hand first—grab his hand and elbow and throw him past.”
6. “Before getting into a motorcade, always go to the bathroom and pee.”
7. “Don’t tell a man to go to Hell unless you can send him there.”
8. “When things haven’t gone well for you, call in a secretary or a staff man and chew him out. You will sleep better and they will appreciate the attention.”