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.
Though 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.
Here is my analysis of where the two sides in the upcoming referendum on repealing the 8th Amendment currently stand. It first appeared on Broadsheet.ie here
Back in late 2014 I was invited to assist the nascent Marriage Equality campaign with its preparations. They asked me to help draft a campaign playbook, or ‘campaign bible’ as it was labelled by some, along the lines of the one I had put together for the successful 2013 Seanad referendum.
As part of my groundwork I tried to get some insights into the mindset of No voters. To this end I went for a few beers and a chat with an old political colleague who I knew to be quite socially conservative. I dragged the conversation slowly and steadily around to the topic of gay marriage and prepared myself for the explosion. None came.
This column is from two weeks back (July 3rd, 2017) and is both a guarded defence of the political party system and a warning of the dangers of the constant desire of the hard left fringe parties to take politics out on to the street.
It is said that France has the only “tricameral system” in the world – the National Assembly, the Senate and the Street – but history and experience shows that the Street has always been the biggest hindrance to reform. Origianl column online here: www.broadsheet.ie/who-would-want-to-be-a-td/
Who in their right mind would want to become a T.D.?
The pay is good, the perks are decent and the scope for promotion (career and ‘self’) is none too bad either, but can these incentives really outweigh the forfeiture of a private life, never mind the ongoing press, public and social media opprobrium whenever you express an opinion?
Shouldn’t politics be a vocation, not a career path?
The problem with that view is not just that it is naïve, it is that it simply won’t work. Try it and we end up with a Dáil full of only those who can only afford to be there by virtue of their profession, their families’ money or simple “pull” – by the way not all of them would be on the right, a fair few would also come from the comfortable left, but that’s just an aside.
This is my Broadsheet column from just over a week ago – September 12th 2016 – it concerns the then MoS John Halligan will he/won’t he resign saga. Though he didn’t resign, keep this one on file for the next time this political soap opera comes around. The original column can be viewed here: www.broadsheet.ie/in-a-field-of-his-own/
Though he may not realise it: John Halligan’s pronouncements over the weekend (such as the headline [left] in the Sindo) may just be a very small part of a world-wide phenomenon.
No, I am not claiming there is global movement to secure a second catheterisation (cath) lab for Waterford. What I am saying however, is that his statements, particularly his most recent ones, contain many of the elements of the decline of public language in politics that we have heard elsewhere.
I accept that Halligan and the local consultants in Waterford hospital are sincere in desperately wanting a second cath lab, but wanting something is not the same as needing it – especially when resources are not unlimited.
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.
What exactly is this “New Politics” we have been reading and hearing about so much lately?
It was the question that should have occurred to me as soon as the Public Relations Institute asked me to participate in a panel discussion they held last Thursday as part of a half day seminar entitled: Public Affairs in the era of ‘New Politics’.
But it didn’t. Like many others, I have been throwing about the phrase “new politics” in the two and a half weeks since the Dáil elected a Taoiseach as if everyone understands what it means.
I have now updated my initial thoughts, musings, observations and mild rantings on the implications of the local election results, particularly Fianna Fáil’s stronger than expected showing.
This was first posted on Sunday morning – updated on Monday morning to reflect the revised party national totals in the Local Elections.
“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw.
Quite a lot, it seems.
Yesterday we saw history repeating itself, with the electorate visiting upon Fine Gael and Labour almost exactly the same devastating blow it had served up to Fianna Fáil and Labour five years earlier.
In 2009 Fianna Fáil lost around 39% of its support (when compared with 2007) while the Greens endured a massive reduction in its vote of 76%.
Yesterday, based on the Local Election results to hand, Fine Gael lost 34% of its support and Labour lost 63%.
While the story of the Local Elections is the rise in support for Sinn Féin and the Independents and the scale of the loss for Labour, the Fine Gael haemorrhaging of support should not be ignored.
Indeed, the case can be made that the real story of the election is this massive Fine Gael loss – a loss that should not be glossed over by what might appear to be its reasonable performance in the European Elections.
Losing 100 plus Councillors, on a day when you have increased the number of available council seats, is a political meltdown of Fianna Fáil in 2009 proportions. It will send a shiver around the Fine Gael backbenches that will match that currently coursing along the spines of their Labour colleagues.
Leo Varadkar’s line that the next election will be a battle between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin was a clever attempt to calm the troops with the notion that their lost support will come back when the Irish voters realise that Fine Gael is all that stands between them and the Shinners.
It’s clever line, but a flawed one.
For it to offer any comfort it would need to be underpinned by Fine Gael still remaining the largest party – but it hasn’t. By the time the dust settles it will become clear that the other big story of the locals is the return to frontline politics of Fianna Fáil, even if its European results are a bit rocky.
If the battle of the next election is, as Varadkar suggests, to be fought on the question of where you stand with regard to Sinn Féin then Fianna Fáil, with a few more weapons in its armoury, is standing on better – and now even firmer – ground than the depleted followers of Enda.
While Fine Gael may see itself as the antithesis of Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil can challenge SF’s voodoo economics every bit as credibly as FG, but with the added bonus that that can better undermine and dismantle the Shinner’s fallacious claim to Republicanism, especially in its back yard.
The other story of the Fianna Fáil result is its incredible variety. Its national level of support at just over 25% belies some very good and incredibly bad local results, especially in urban centres.
They range from the sublime such as its 49% in Bailieborough-Coothall 39% in Castlecomer and 38.4% in Ballymote-Tobercurry to the ridiculous: such as its 4.9% in Dublin North Inner City, 6.8% in Tallaght South and 8.7% in Lucan.
While there are several other disappointing low teen results in urban centres across the country e.g 9.6% in Waterford City South, 10.5% in Bray and 13% in Limerick City North, it is no coincidence that the single digit performances are in Dublin.
That is not to say that the Capital is a wasteland for Fianna Fail. Contrast the single performance mentioned above with the parties stunning 27.3% in Castleknock, its 24.2% in Clontarf and its 22.3% in Stillorgan.
While the overall Dublin result of 16% points to a major problem for the party, the variety in results, highlighted above, shows Fianna Fáil’s further potential for growth and renewal in large swathes of Dublin.
It is the very patchiness of its result that points up where the party needs to work harder and better. Far too many candidates in Dublin were left to struggle on by themselves with no structured national campaign to underpin their efforts.
Having “Fianna Fáil” on your poster does not guarantee a good new candidate a certain base level of support in Dublin and other urban centres in the same way as having “Sinn Féin” on your poster did for their new first time candidates. Indeed it does not offer the prospect of that base level of support as it does in non-urban Ireland.
The candidates in Dublin raised the Fianna Fáil vote to their level, not the other way around. The vote in Dublin and other urban centres, is not the party vote plus the candidate’s unique personal support – it is just the latter. In certain parts of the city is it the unique personal support minus the residual antagonism to Fianna Fáil.
The “Fianna Fáil” identity is Dublin is not a coherent identity based on a core defining message from the party as a national political party: it is the collective identities of its various candidates.
This is not to underestimate the particular nature of Dublin voters, especially their looser party allegiances; it is just to point out that Dublin voters are just as likely to be receptive to a national message, just less continuously loyal to it.
Despite some clearly very good results in Dublin, most Fianna Fáil supporters still struggle to answer the questions: why should I vote Fianna Fáil and what does Fianna Fáil stand for. Most of the successful candidates I have encountered in Dublin answer it with the words: here is what I stand for…
It is not that there are not answers to these questions, but rather that the party has not sufficiently defined and substantiated them.
It is work that can and must be done. That work is not aided or encouraged by intemperate outbursts or Quixotic threatened heaves. The issues are policy and organisation – not personality.
The 24.3% of voters who abandoned Fine Gael and Labour saw their political alternatives this week. Some said independents, some said Sinn Féin – though not by a large margin as the swing to Sinn Féin since the 2011 election is in the 5.3%, but even more said Fianna Fáil with a swing of just over 8%, but the point should not be lost that the biggest single section of them said: none of the above.
The ones who stayed at home are the ones who were badly let down by Fianna Fáil and are now just as angry with Fine Gael and Labour for promising them a new politics and then delivering the old failed politics as usual.
Perhaps they concluded that they could afford to sit out these second order elections, as they do not see how the results will change their lives, they will not be as sanguine at the next election.
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.
My column from today’s Herald on Chris Andrew’s joining Sinn Féin
Cui Bono, who gains? That is the question political analysts normally ask when someone does something unusual or out of the ordinary.
It was the question that came to mind when I heard that my former party and constituency colleague Chris Andrews was joining Sinn Féin.
While Chris may hope he will be the main beneficiary of his defection, he will soon learn that nothing is for nothing in Sinn Féin.
Recent local election boundary changes had made Chris very likely to take a seat as an independent in the new eight seat Pembroke South Docks Ward, even with such tough opposition as local Councillor Mannix Flynn.
While running under the Sinn Féin banner would bring Chris extra votes, it would also drive away a big chunk of his previous support. Either way, as an independent or Sinn Féin he was likely to get elected.
Maybe Chris has his eye on a bigger prize than Dublin City Council and fancies his chances in the European elections? This would mean Sinn Féin bumping a loyal servant like Éoin Ó Broin in favour of a newcomer.
This would doubtless cause dismay among SF activists across Dublin, particularly as the party is already well placed to take the European seat formerly held by Mary Lou McDonald (another former Fianna Fáil-er) and currently occupied by the co-opted Socialist MEP Paul Murphy.
Running Chris for Europe would be an uncharacteristically generous act by them, but politics, especially Sinn Féin politics, does not work like that. It has not grown and developed by charitably adopting waifs and strays.
The Shinner’s acceptance of Chris has meant them closing their eyes to a lot.
Around this time last year we had the saga of Chris’s anonymous “sock puppet” Twitter attacks on Fianna Fáil colleagues both at leadership and local level. But his ire was not aimed solely at them.
Having blasted people who had worked on his campaigns, he then swung his sawn off twitter shotgun at Sinn Féin. Using his “brianformerff” identity he spoke of: “…the amount of people Sinn Féin reps killed over the years. #jeanmcconville” and “…still trying to make his SF gun men party coomrades [sic] trendy and likeable!!”
Perhaps Sinn Féin can find it in itself to pardon anonymous comments made from behind an internet balaclava, but it must be less easy to ignore the fact that Chris spent almost all of his time in the Dáil in the opposite lobby to them?
When Sinn Féin was voting against that Government’s actions – aside from the Bank Guarantee – Chris was resolutely voting for them. Looking back, I can’t remember anyone raising serious questions about Chris’s loyalty during my time in government.
Chris was just as assiduous when it came to attacking Sinn Féin locally. In a Dáil debate on May 27 2009 he spoke out about the local intimidation of Esther Uzell, labelling those responsible as “thugs” and “scum”. Esther’s brother Joseph Rafferty had been killed by the IRA in April 2005. Despite her repeated calls, Sinn Féin had done nothing to help identify her brother’s killer. They had been so unhelpful that she accused them of covering up for her brother’s killer.
Perhaps Chris can assist her again in his new role?
Anyone else making such attacks would not be given the time of day, so what has Chris got that they want so badly? His name. His pedigree.
As an Andrews he potentially allows them claim the linkage, no matter how tenuous, back to the foundations of the State that they so desperately lack and need. The statement welcoming Chris into the fold talks of his grandfather’s “ideals and values” with the added sideswipe that Chris felt Fianna Fáil no longer represented them.
Chris is entitled to that view, just as he’s entitled to decide his future and just as others are at liberty to remind him of his past.
My column from today’s Herald on the current discussions to have directly elected mayors for Dublin in the future.
Should Dublin have its own version of Boris Johnson?
That is the question a Forum of 22 Dublin councillors will consider between now and September. But there is good news: Dubliners will get a say on it in May.
While the forum, drawn from the four Dublin Councils, started its deliberations at the end of July, the idea of Dublin having a directly elected Mayor goes back much further.
According to the Lord Mayor of Dublin website it goes back to Chapter 11 of Minister Phil Hogan’s June 2012 local government reform: Putting People First. It actually goes back to Noel Dempsey’s 2001 Local Government Act.
In case my Boris Johnson reference hasn’t given it away, I am not a fan of the idea. I wasn’t a fan of it in 2000, nor when John Gormley resurrected it in 2008.
Like most Dubliners, I want to see decisions made about Dublin being made by people who are answerable to Dubliners, but I am not persuaded that directly electing a mayor is the way.
My biggest worry is that an office supposedly created to give leadership to Dublin would descend into de-facto focus of attention for opposition to the government of the day.
A directly elected Mayor of Dublin would, after the President, have the biggest electoral mandate in the State, but without the constitutional prohibitions on politicking.
Boris Johnson’s mayoralty has become a focus for those unhappy with David Cameron’s leadership. Given the scale here: a mayor of the greater Dublin area would potentially be elected by up to a third of the total electorate, imagine how much more pronounced those clashes would be, particularly when the Taoiseach and Mayor were from opposing parties?
The potential for political gridlock is huge, especially where the Mayor has no real powers or responsibilities, just what Teddy Roosevelt called “a bully pulpit”. Instead of leadership we would just be getting a personality with a shiny office and access to a microphone.
The use of the London Mayor template only adds to this concern. Chapter 11 of Putting People First, which the Forum is using as its starting point, makes no fewer that six references to London.
It does not mention the directly elected mayors in Berlin, Budapest or Paris, or the strong systems of city governance in Helsinki, or Copenhagen.
This Ministerial and Departmental infatuation with London is hard to understand. I can only imagine that it is because they have never seen the legislation establishing the London Mayoralty and Authority: The Greater London Authority Act 1999.
At almost 500 pages it is the longest piece of legislation passed at Westminster since the Government of India Act. More importantly it does something almost unheard of in Irish public administration: it takes power away from central government.
Not that it took enough powers. Earlier this year Johnson was again calling for London to have the power to raise property and new tourism taxes. In May last year 8 out of the 10 UK cities asked if they wanted a directly elected Mayor said: no.
Do we really see the Phil Hogan’s Department of Environment ceding power and controls to anyone?
This is the Minister who, in the same Putting People First document, has slashed the number of local authorities from 114 to 31 and the total number of City, County and Town councillors from 1,627 to 949.
Do we really think he is ready to chop off a large section of his Budget and power to keep us happy?
With most decisions regarding Dublin’s present and future being made by unaccountable and disconnected State bodies and departments, the case for giving more power to Dublin is clear.
What is almost just as clear is that instead of being given viable city government with a budget and authority the most that will really be on offer is a city personality with a big desk, a press officer and an electric car.