Confidence & Supply: St Leo’s next letter to the Corkonian? #GE2019

3 Oct

This Broadsheet column first appeared on Oct 2nd. It appeared there under the headline: Confidence, Supply And Demand though my preferred title is: St Leo’s next letter to the Corkonian?

new-testament-survey-no19-paul-letter-to-ephesus-1-638The news last night that one of the two Fine Gael T.D.s for Louth will henceforth be the Independent T.D. for Louth will gladden the hearts of very few in Fine Gael, not even the Dundalk Cllr selected only a few nights ago to replace him.

While Peter Fitzpatrick may not have been of much strategic importance to the Taoiseach while he was an FG backbencher, he has improved his status now as an Independent – especially one whose support for the budget seems to be conditional.

Fitzpatrick’s withdrawal of support for Varadkar’s minority government comes barely a week after another old school Fine Gael TD and Junior Minister, Catherine Byrne TD, put a shot across the bows of both the Taoiseach and his beleaguered Housing Minister.

If long(ish) serving members of the Leo Varadkar’s own parliamentary party are having public misgivings about this government’s future, then why would Varadkar seriously expect the main opposition party to rush to commit to extend its Confidence and Supply (C&S) agreement for another year, once the Budget speech is done?

The question is rhetorical as that probably is what he does expect. It is what he has been preparing himself and us. Over the summer we saw Varadkar writing lengthy homilies, in the guise of letters, at the Leader of Fianna Fáil like a latter-day St Paul writing to the Ephesians.

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Ferreting for a #Brexit that travels…

3 Oct

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 25th 2018 

uk ferretJust when you thought Brexit could not get worse… guess what happens… it gets worse.

I am not talking about the last week’s Salzburg debacle (though I will later), rather I am referring to the news coming from the UK’s Brexit ministry yesterday that post Brexit an English person will not be able to travel to the EU with their ferret.

Was it for this that Margaret Thatcher hand-bagged Mitterrand and Kohl?

According to the latest guidance from Her Majesty’s Government on what might happen if there is a no-deal Brexit, British pet owners who want to take their dogs, cats or ferrets on holidays with them to the EU post Brexit will have to prepare for travel “at least four months ahead in advance of the date they wish to travel”.

No longer will they be able to just pop a ferret down their trousers and head away for a day trip to Bruges. It gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase compo-culture (apologies for that appallingly belaboured Last of the Summer Wine gag. Watching all those repeats on UK Gold has melted my brain).

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My Summer 2018 @broadsheet_ie political reading list

3 Aug

This is my Broadsheet.ie 2018 Summer Political Reading List

books1

If you are thinking of taking a few political books away with you as you wind down in August, then the list below may be of help.

As with last year’s list, the books here appear in no particular order. These are the books that caught my attention over the past few months, including some from the second half of 2017 and one that I wanted to like, but couldn’t.

As this list broadly reflects my personal biases, feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments section below. Enjoy the Summer and see you back here towards the end of August.

Beyond The Border, The Good Friday Agreement And Irish Unity After Brexit by Richard Humphreys

A timely read, this book by High Court judge and former Irish Labour Party Sp/Ad, Richard Humphreys examines how the structures and principles that underpin the 1998 Good Friday Agreement could work in a post Brexit, United Ireland.

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Debunking the first three myths of #Aras18

22 Jul

This Broadsheet.ie column looks at the upcoming Irish Presidential race (#Aras18). It debunks the following three myths about that election. 

  • The main parties want to deny us the right to vote.
  • Only for Sinn Féin there would be no contest
  • There is no way Michael D can lose

It first appeared online on July 17, 2018. 

20180625_163959857_iOSThough the 2018 Aras race has not officially started, it is already producing some political myths. Doubtless there will be many more before October, so no harm in putting an end to a few of the more tedious ones now.

Myth No 1. The main parties – or the Elites as the elite myth spreaders call them – want to deny us the right to vote.

This one is exposed by simple arithmetic. There are two routes to getting a nomination. The first is the Oireachtas one, where you need the backing of 20 members of the Dáil and/or Seanad. The second is the Council path, which means getting four city or county councils to propose you.

The Oireachtas route had been the preserve of the two big parties, but as their dominance started to wane in the early 90s, so too did their grip on the Presidential nomination process. Continue reading

Real audience for Varadkar’s @UN Security Council bid not in NYC, it’s here

22 Jul

In this Broadsheet.ie column I welcome the Irish government’s campaign to win a seat on the UN Security Council, but wonder just who precisely was the target of the high profile launch in NYC…? 

unseat

Last week the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister of State for Defence and the Minister of State for the Diaspora went on manoeuvres in New York.

While their jaunt was ostensibly to “launch” Ireland’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, their real purpose was more domestic.

It was an impressive display.

In addition to these four government members, curiously all of them from Fine Gael, were a former Irish President, the Defence Forces’ Chief of Staff, Bono, U2, a contingent of uniformed Defence Force members and an even bigger contingent of Irish political correspondents.

If UN Security Council (UNSC) seats are allocated on the basis of display, then Ireland should be a shoo-in.

But, UNSC seats are not won by those who just put on the best display.

They are won by years of horse trading and deal making.

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How @DublinGAA indirectly got @DUPleader to Clones… via the Somme

22 Jul

This Broadsheet.ie column explains how one low-key but deeply sincere Dublin GAA action did more to get the DUP’s Arlene Foster to move, than months of politicians and pundits haranguing 

192414946-a4dfa92e-086c-418c-84fd-8c7989444412Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. Though I am tempted to pretend that I recall this dusty old latin phrase from my days doing inter-cert latin in Synge St., the truth is that I only know it from watching The West Wing.

It is the title of episode two of season one and its significance is explained by the President Bartlett character when it translates it to his staff saying:

“‘After it, therefore because of it.’ It means one thing follows the other, therefore it was caused by the other. But it’s not always true, in fact it’s hardly ever true.”

Yet another “The West Wing” truism. If only today’s real thing were as clever as Aaron Sorkin could right it. Nonetheless, the point is well made. It’s a common mistake in politics to so imagine that there is order and logic in events that we manage to project some form of order and sequencing on to them.

In politics, the cock-up theory more often applies than the conspiracy one.

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Lights, Camera, Inaction – @finegael is a production company, not a government

22 Jul

This Broadsheet.ie column appeared online on June 19, 2018

20180615_103600600_iOSAs part of the hoopla to mark Leo Varadkar’s first year as Taoiseach, Fine Gael produced a nifty infographic setting out some of the new leader’s biggest achievements.

The list offers an interesting insight into what the Taoiseach cares most about or, to be more accurate, what the Fine Gael pollsters tell him that his potential voters care most about.

Pride of place goes to the very frequently hyped national framework plan, Project Ireland 2040, followed by “Brexit Leadership” and the “8th Referendum”.

At the other end you find “and gardai” shoehorned into a claim about hiring more nurses and teachers, followed by curiously worded item on housing, though the word itself fails to make an appearance.

To avoid embarrassing Leo by putting a figure on the number of houses and apartments built over the past year, the copywriters had to come up with some phrasing that managed to convey the idea of progress, without breaching the standards in advertising code. The result is this extraordinarily clunky and impersonal boast that: “There were 4,700 exits from homelessness in 2017”.

“Exits”?

If ever a single phrase summed up Orwell’s description of political language “… as giving an appearance of solidity to pure wind”, it is surely this.

It reads as if it came from the pen of someone who writes real estate ads. You know the ones, where “open plan apartment” means the bed is between the cooker and the lavatory and “close to nightlife” means the place is directly over an all-night, bikers’ bar.

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Its work is done, time to retire #hometovote and time for an Electoral Commission

22 Jul

This Broadsheet column appearing online first on June 5th 2018. 

749aa29a488f3df8a3ab91d3bb1e4228Type #HomeToVote into Google and you will find pages and pages of links to news items from around the globe detailing the stories of thousands of young Irish emigres travelling back to vote at the recent referendum.

You need to dive a few pages into the results to find items relating to the 2015 origins of the hashtag during the Marriage Equality campaign. Its history, in so much as there is a history, is set out on pages 158-159 of Ireland Says Yes: The Inside Story of How the Vote for Marriage Equality Was Won (One of the books on my 2017 Summer political reading list).

#HomeToVote spontaneously appeared late in the afternoon on the eve of polling day. The campaign had its own #BeMyYes campaign which had generated tens of thousands of messages from people committing themselves to Vote Yes, including many from young Irish people abroad considering returning home.

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Change the record Mary Lou

22 Jul

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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My thoughts for @guardian on #8thRef result. It shows that #Irish voters understand nuance and complexity

26 May

The Guardian newspaper asked me for my quick analysis of the Irish abortion referendum results. My comments appear on their live blog.  Below is a fuller version of my comments, including a link to what I believe was one of the most perceptive (and overlooked) tweets on the campaign.   

results full

Final Full Results via RTÉ – https://www.rte.ie/news/eighth-amendment/results/

“A landslide. To call the scale and extent of the Yes vote anything else is to way understate and underestimate it.

While most people saw a Yes majority coming, very few – and this includes the pundits and commentators – forecast anything on this scale.

The general assumption right up to the last week was that the Yes would win decisively, with a comfortable margin, leaving the No side in the low 40s nationally and tipping just over the 50% mark in the western, more rural constituencies.

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