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.
My take on the various Brexit votes in the House of Commons this week. This appeared on Broadsheet earlier today (March 13, 2019)
Over the past few weeks we have seen a parade of British pro-Brexit talking-heads confidently telling us that the EU/UK Brexit negotiations “will go down to the wire” and that Brussels will do, what they claim it always does, and make a deal at the very last minute.
David Davis was at it before he became Brexit Secretary and has continued at it since quitting the job. Ian Paisley Jr MP was at it on Newsnight last night, asserting that the EU “…are the kings of the last-minute fudge.”
How I wish that trite political phrases such as “going down to the wire” could be expunged from every politician’s lexicon.
It is an empty, meaningless phrase. It is on a par with someone watching you looking for your lost keys or credit cards and declaring: “it’ll be in the last place you look”. D’uh, yeah. It obviously will be in the last place you look… you are hardly going to keep looking after you find it, are you?
So it is with negotiations. They end when they end. It is hardly surprising that most negotiations go right on to the deadline you set. It is called a deadline for a reason, both sides knew it was the time framework they work within it.
There is even less depth to the phrase when it comes out of the mouths of Brexiteers because it only confirms that they haven’t (i.) realised that Brexit is not a negotiation and (ii.) bothered to find out how Article 50 works.
Though this be hard for some folks to accept, I do plan these columns. My usual routine is to type up a few paragraphs late on Monday night and then finish off the column over coffee and toast on Tuesday morning.
This week, as I have a couple of meetings early today, I did it differently. Around 2pm yesterday I sat down in front of a blank screen and hoped for inspiration. As I started to type I was still unsure which one of two routes to pursue. Should I write a follow-up to last week’s column and respond to the online criticisms from Sinn Fein supporters for calling out their confusion on a border poll or should I write about Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan’s churlish tweet chiding the Seanad for doing precisely what it is supposed to do, scrutinising and amending legislation.
I had started to write some rough opening paragraphs on both topics when I received a piece of political news which wiped both options off my screen. A good friend called to tell me that it would shortly be announced that Mark Durkan would be Fine Gael’s Dublin European Parliament candidate.
There 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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“There are two things in the world you never want to let people see how you make ’em: laws and sausages.”
If my memory and a OneDrive word search are both right, this is the second time I have used this beloved Leo McGarry West Wing quote to illustrate a point. The first time was at the end of March 2018.
Back then, I was bemoaning this minority government’s blatant contempt for Dáil decisions with which it disagreed and was especially irked at how it was treating James Lawless T.D.’s Online Advertising and Social Media (Transparency) Bill 2017 and the various opposition amendments tabled to Shane Ross’s awful Judicial Appointments bill.
This time… well, it’s the same thing, only slightly different.
British Prime Minister, Theresa May is in Belfast today to make a speech at… sorry… to give a speech to local business leaders. The speech will re-state her “absolute commitment” to avoiding a hard border, post Brexit.
Her statement of commitment is welcome, just as welcome as it was when first made over two years ago, but with only seven weeks to go to the March 29th exit and after 18 exhaustive months of negotiations, surely it is not asking too much to expect her to say how she will turn this commitment into reality?
This is a crisis of her own making. She says she is committed to no hard border, but then she also says that she is equally committed to having a Brexit that takes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and parts of Northern Ireland out of the EU’s Customs Union and the Single Market, as well as out of the EU institutions.
The hard truth is that she cannot commit to ensuring no customs union, no single market and no hard border at the same time. You can do two out of three, but you cannot do all three.
In the aftermath of the disastrous June 2016 Brexit referendum result, a result we should remember went 56:44 in favour of Remain in Northern Ireland, I started talking here about the need for the political system on this island, most particularly in Northern Ireland, to start catching up with the changing political landscape.
In a range of articles from late 2016 onwards I frequently quoted from a series of thoughtful speeches from the SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood. As well as talking about the current crisis he was also looking to the longer-term implications of the Brexit vote, in particular the difference between the results in England those in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Eastwood was repeatedly saying that Brexit had consequences for all of this island because Brexit meant that the English had chosen, albeit narrowly, a very different future from that of the Irish people, north and south.
This column appeared on Broadsheet at the end of January 2019. The full original version can be viewed here. This is a shortened version which looks only at Fianna Fáil’s upcoming Dublin European Selection Convention.
Within Dublin the race for the Fianna Fáil party nomination will be critical. On the surface it looks like a four-way competition but, to be brutally frank, the choice is binary.
In Column A you have Tiernan Brady, who many of you may know as an equality campaigner from his leadership in the Irish and Australian marriage equality campaigns.
And if you think Tiernan is not the kind of candidate you would expect Fianna Fáil candidate to field, well think again – because Tiernan is as dyed in the wool Fianna Fáil as any candidate the party has produced over the past decade.
I first met Tiernan back in 1992 when he was one of the Kevin Barry UCD Cumann members who came in to help Ben Briscoe TD on the (in)famous 10 day “long count” to decide the last seat in Dublin South Central – an event referred to by Ben at the time as “The Agony and the Ex TD”.