This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Monday Nov. 25 – 4 days before polling in the by-elections in Cork North Central, Wexford, Dublin Fingal and Dublin Mid-West. Here I predict two wins for Fianna Fáil (Wex and Cork NC) on each for the Greens (in Dub Fingal) and Ind (Gogarty) (in Dub MW).
Shortly after he was appointed Conservative Party chairman, Kenneth Baker was presented with internal polls showing the Tories facing near annihilation in the following year’s Local Elections (1990).
The Poll Tax recently introduced by the Tories was not just unpopular, it was hated. There were angry, mass anti-poll tax protests across the UK, in the run-up to the May 3rd polling day. The biggest, in London, turned into a riot with over 300 arrested and 113 seriously injured.
Against this febrile background and with the knowledge that the Tories were going to lose big, Baker set about putting one of the finer political skills into operation: he managed expectations.
This column first appeared on Broadsheet on Nov 4th, 2019 and looked at the weekend Fine Gael digital attack on Fianna Fáil which backfired badly and ended weak.
Being active on social media is not the same as being good at it. This is something Fine Gael learned yesterday morning.
At 9am it launched a digital attack claiming Fianna Fáil is not producing policies. Pretty basic stuff from a party in government, you’d have thought. Hard to screw that up. Attack the main opposition party for not doing enough. Claim they are just criticising you, trying to score points and acting like an… well… an opposition.
To be fair, Fine Gael got most of the basics right. They produced a decent digital video, loaded with graphics and charts and pumped it out across social media platforms. They backed it up with a press release in the name of Colm Brophy TD, hoping that the following day’s print media would pick up on it.
So far, so meh… yet, within barely an hour their digital campaign was not just misfiring, it was backfiring and going down in flames.
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on Sept 17th 2019 and followed the latest Red C poll which showed the two main parties neck and neck and on a combined total of 57%. At the 2016 general election the two parties were also 1% apart, but on a combined total of just 50%. I have thought for a long while that the two parties combined will poll around 60% at the next general election and, right now, I would predict Fianna Fáil to pull ahead of Fine Gael by anywhere between 2% and 4%
Conventional political wisdom used to say that the parties in government welcomed long Dáil recesses. Not only did they free Ministers up from having to hang around Leinster House answering awkward questions, on and off the record, from smartass opposition TDs, irritating journos and panicking backbenchers, they were a time for the government parties to get back on message and hopefully get their poll numbers up.
The idea was that Dáil sittings broadly tend to favour the main opposition parties when it comes to opinion polls, as their insolent haranguing of the Taoiseach is featured nightly on the TV news. Dáil recess means no Dáil TV coverage and no Dáil TV coverage means less of a platform for the opposition to catch the news cycle.
The high visibility, and audibility, of the Taoiseach over the summer would suggest that his team subscribe to this wisdom. He was seen to be out and about. His appearances at the Kennedy and MacGill Summer Schools and the West Belfast Féile an Phobail went down well.
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.
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”.
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?
The 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.
My Broadsheet column from May 1st looks at the poor political environment against which the CervicalCheck scandal is playing out
Last week’s Dáil furore and the heightened tensions between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael persuaded me to use this week’s column to discuss the worsening relations between the main government and the main opposition parties.
I still intend to do that, but in much lesser detail. The scandal engulfing the CervicalCheck scheme and the torment that Vicky Phelan, her family and hundreds of other families have been put through by the State and the HSE makes any discussion of the friction between the parties pale by comparison.
But, as experienced political commentators have noted, the screening scandal has the makings of major political crisis if it were to emerge that more was known by the Department and, by extension, by a Minister.
Though it would probably be more accurate to call it an idiom than a word, “fake news” it now 2017 new word of the year. Not just in English. Norway’s Language Council pronounced ‘fake news’ (falske nyheter) as the new Norwegian word of the year saying:
“The word is not completely new, but its use has exploded over the last year… It is a word that has set the agenda and was given a lot of attention during the 2016 US election, and that attention has continued.
Though they probably said it in Norwegian.
Though idiom has its origins in last year’s U.S. Presidential slug fest between Trump and Clinton, it has come to be the hallmark of Trump’s presidency. A few months back we saw President Trump bizarrely claim, in an interview with fellow Republican nut job Mike Huckabee that was so soft (and full of crap) that it could have been sponsored by cushelle toilet rolls, that he invented the word “fake”.
It is not only the charge Trump levels at established news organisations who put out stories or commentaries he does not like, it is also the tactic that Trump’s surrogates use to deflect criticism.
“…still has one last opportunity to somewhat redeem his reputation by taking some right steps now.”
At the time of writing this, it appears that the Taoiseach remains doggedly determined not to take the steps needed to diffuse this ministerial-made crisis.
While sacking an old and valued colleague is not a pleasant task, it comes with the job. He is the Taoiseach, he hires and fires. He is also a politician and it must have been obvious to him since Friday that the mounting evidence of Frances Fitzgerald’s failure to act meant that that Dáil Éireann could no longer have confidence in her as Tánaiste or as minister.