This Broadsheet.ie column from June 18th looks at the Government’s plans to hold a referendum later in 2019 to extend voting rights in future Irish presidential elections to both Northern Irish voters and the diaspora.
If last week’s reports are right – and the Taoiseach has said that they are – then all of us will be heading back to our local polling stations sometime in October or November.
No, it won’t be to elect new Dáil and a new government… well, it does yet not seem that will be the reason, but who knows what may change over Summer?
For now, it looks like Irish citizens across all 40 Dáil constituencies are about to be invited to vote in yet another referendum. This one on extending voting rights in future presidential elections. (I mention the 40 Dáil constituencies, as voters in four of them will likely be voting in by-elections occasioned by the election to the European Parliament of TDs: Billy Kelleher, Frances Fitzgerald, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace).
Confirming the reports in the Dáil last week the Taoiseach said that Cabinet has signed off on legislation to “extend voting rights for presidential elections to Irish citizens in Northern Ireland and around the world” and that he plans to have it debated before the Dáil rises for its summer recess [planned for July 11th].
He also said that the government has produced a 100-page, detailed paper on how it is going to work.
I sincerely hope it has, but why are we still waiting to see it?
I have written several times about the developing crisis in Irish Defence policy-making and the impact this is having on morale and retention in the Irish Defence Forces. In this Broadsheet post from June 11th, 2019, I suggest how swapping ministers of state might help in the short-term to start the process of addressing this crisis.
It takes a rare political talent to make the Irish defence brief controversial, yet the hapless Paul Kehoe appears to have somehow managed it.
Stories of declining morale, chronic low pay, skills shortages and personnel retention problems fill the airwaves, and still the crisis worsens. Defence force strength which should today stand at 9,500 has been hovering perilously below 8,500 for months.
The 9,500 figure is itself misleading. The 2000 Defence White Paper set the number at 10,500. The reduction in 2009 to 9,500 was only intended as a temporary measure, yet it has entered the political psyche as some fixed upper limit.
While very little of the blame for these crises attach personally to Kehoe, realpolitik dictates that the time has come for him to move on. Kehoe must go.
This is my Broadsheet.ie analysis of the 2019 Local Election results (this first appeared on May 28th). Here I set out why the results brought bad news for the leaders of both Sinn Féin and Fine Gael.
It is almost exactly two years since Leo Varadkar was selected as Fine Gael leader. On June 2nd, 2017 after a two-week contest involving FG members and councillors, but primarily TDs and Senators, Varadkar was declared the winner. He beat Simon Coveney with 60% in a weighted ballot in which TDs and Senators had 65% of the total vote, the membership had 25% and councillors had 10%.
While Coveney won the popular vote among the membership He secured 35 per cent in the membership ballot, Varadkar got the backing of 51 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party.
Six months later, in January 2018, Mary Lou MacDonald was announced to absolutely no one’s surprise as the sole candidate to succeed Gerry Adams. Adams had announced that he would step down after four decades as Sinn Féin leader at a special Árd Fheis the following month.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on May 21st, just a few days before Limerick, Waterford and Cork cities voted on having directly elected mayors. Only Limerick voted in favour.
On Thursday voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls to elect three members of the European Parliament. Given the dominance of Sinn Féin and the DUP the focus will be on the contest for the last seat between the SDLP’s Colum Eastwood and Alliance’s Naomi Long. While a win for either will be a win for progressive politics, many at the top of Sinn Féin are hoping Long makes it, though their voters may not agree.
On Friday, voters down here will find themselves confronted by three ballot papers when they get to the polling station.
Not only do we get to choose Ireland’s 13 MEPs (two of whom will sit on the reserve bench until Brexit is resolved) we also get to elect 949 City and County Councillors from the almost 2,000 candidates on offer across the State.
And, as if all that responsibility was not heady enough, most voters (i.e. Irish citizens) will also get a third ballot paper, asking them to approve or reject two specific changes to the constitutional provisions on divorce.
But wait, there’s more.
Some very lucky voters will get a fourth ballot paper. These are the voters residing in Limerick, Cork and Waterford, who are eligible to vote in the local elections. They will get to vote in local plebiscites on whether those cities should have directly elected mayors from 2022.
Broadsheet 129 – They won’t have a winner some day
“Beyond the Fringe” was a 1960s British comedy revue that was seminal to the rise of British satire… well, according to Wikipedia, it was.
Even if you never heard of the show, you will know its cast. They were: Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennet
The revue had lengthy sell-out runs in London’s West End and Broadway and introduced several classical comedy sketches. One in particular has been coming to mind over the past few weeks.
It opens with a group of obsessive devotees gathering at the top of a mountain. They are counting down to midnight and, they believe, the end of the world. Their shaman tells them of what is to befall the world and assures them that they will be safe. Meanwhile the individual followers sheepishly wonder about mundane things like who brought the tinned food… and the tin opener.
The countdown nears its climax. 3… 2… 1. [Spoiler Alert] There is silence. Nothing happens. Unperturbed, the shaman concedes “this wasn’t quite the conflagration I’d been banking on… same time tomorrow lads, we must have a winner one day”.
And so it is with Sinn Féin, Ming, Daly et al. With the same fixated zeal as the lads on the mountain they are once again predicting the end of neutrality. Mercifully, it is not nighty, though their incantations do seem to come around with a regularity curiously attuned to the electoral cycle.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend, two Sunday newspapers published political polls. They were detailed. They were professionally conducted. But above all else, they offered very different insights into the state of the main parties.
RedC, polling for the Sunday Business Post, reckons that Fine Gael is pulling well ahead of Fianna Fáil. According to its findings, the ratings for the top 4 groupings are, in decreasing order: FG 33%, FF, 23%, Inds 16% and SF% 14.
Not so, according to B&A, polling for the Sunday Times (Ireland). According to its research, voters are now shifting significantly from FG to FF, putting Fianna Fáil in first place with 29%, followed by FG on 28%, SF 21% and Inds 10%.
The field work for both polls concluded around the same time April 16/17, though RedC did its field work over a week, while B&A took about almost two.
For an informative and detailed comparison of the methodologies employed by both sets of pollsters, check out Prof Michael Marsh’s blogpost on the RTE website.
Last week Brussels gave Theresa May six more months to sort out Brexit. They could have given her a Tardis, a Stargate and Boris Johnson’s weight in dilithium crystals and she still couldn’t do it.
Time is not May’s problem – it is authority and trust. She has squandered both putting the unity of the Tory party before everything else.
Along with their six-month gift came a poison chalice. The UK now must hold European elections on May 23. Not that anyone had any choice.
The law is quite clear, perhaps because it was drafted with this contingency in mind. If Britain is still an EU member state when the European elections are underway, then it must participate. If it didn’t, the UK would have to leave the EU without a deal on June 1st otherwise there could be legal challenge to the validity of the next EU Parliament’s mandate.
It is a mess, but hasn’t everything about Brexit proven itself a complete and utter mess?
No matter how I try, I just cannot get worked up about Leo Varadkar’s hand written letter to Kylie Minogue.
I can see how some folks may see it as a bit cringey, but I also know that if I had been in Leo’s position back in 1989 when Frank Sinatra was playing Lansdowne Road with Sammy Davis Junior and Liza Minnelli, I would not have stopped at just writing a fan letter.
I would have happily agreed to replace Amhrán na bhFiann with The Best Is Yet To Come and offered to make Italian our first national language just to get an invite to the after-show party in the Horseshow House. I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky lucky… (Where did this come from?).
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.
Winston Churchill famously said that the United States always does the right thing – but only after exhausting all other options. If only the UK were somewhere near that point.
But it is not, it is still fumbling through just a few of the worst possible option while closing its eyes to the only right option now, revoking Article 50.
Theresa May’s speech last night was a disgrace. She appeared before the public with all the trappings of office, but with none of its authority. She tried to act like an authoritarian, an unpopular populist telling a divided public that it’s you and me against the others… against all those MPs stopping us from doing what we must do.
It was like a very bad live re-enactment of the disgraceful Daily Mail November 2016 front page that branded those judges who ruled that Parliament must be consulted on Brexit as: Enemies of the People.
It was a shocking performance and it is to be hoped that it is the one of the last acts of a British Prime Minister who may still be well intentioned, but whose continuance in office remains a blockage to any progress.