Polling mays and may nots

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%

Red C

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.

Continue reading “Polling mays and may nots”

Forget Dear Kylie… it’s the letters Leo that won’t write that matter

This piece appeared on Broadsheet.ie on April 2nd. 2019:

kylie-01 (1)

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?).

Continue reading “Forget Dear Kylie… it’s the letters Leo that won’t write that matter”

I admire Durkan, but he won’t get my vote in #EP2019 #EE19

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on March 5th 2019

20150502_150039347_iOSThough 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.

To say I was flabbergasted is to put it mildly.

Continue reading “I admire Durkan, but he won’t get my vote in #EP2019 #EE19”

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

Continue reading “Lights, Camera, Inaction – @finegael is a production company, not a government”

#2017 and @campaignforleo: not so much a brand new story – more the story of a New Brand

This is my first Broadsheet column of 2018 – looking how Fine Gael and Leo Varadkar are more concerned with selling their story of governing than the actual business of government

One of the nicest things about the run up to Christmas are those chance encounters with former colleagues and old acquaintances as you frantically rush around town looking for those presents you claimed you ordered online six weeks earlier.

I had a few of those, but two may be of interest to you. Both involved high level civil servants, from different departments, who I knew from my time in government. After catching up with each on the whereabouts of mutual friends, we got to talking politics.

Both reported that there was virtually no real policy work going on within government and that ministers, specifically the Fine Gael ones, were focused exclusively on PR, ferreting out any possible item of good news that may be in the pipeline and getting it announced ASAP, courtesy of the Strategic Communications Unit, with the maximum fanfare and hoopla.

Continue reading “#2017 and @campaignforleo: not so much a brand new story – more the story of a New Brand”

Govt response to @lawlessj draft Social Media Transperancy law shows just how much @finegael depends on #fakenews

This is my Broadsheet column published online on December 19th last. 

Lawless

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.

Continue reading “Govt response to @lawlessj draft Social Media Transperancy law shows just how much @finegael depends on #fakenews”

Leo walked into the #emailscandal one step at a time

This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on November 24th as the Frances Fitzgerald saga was coming to a peak:

emailscandalHow did we get to this situation? Well, as with any crisis, we got to it one step at a time.

Leo Varadkar did not start this week with a plan to trigger a snap election, no more than Micheál Martin did, but with a series of serious missteps Leo Varadkar walked this government to the brink and last night whipped things up to a point that the country is now on a course that means a general election either before Christmas or early in 2018.

Misstep number one came with the Taoiseach’s opening comments on Leader’s Question in the Dáil last Tuesday. when he attempted to address the issue

“The House will appreciate, once again, that I do not have first-hand knowledge of any of these matters.”

With those words it was clear that an Taoiseach was approaching the issue of Minister Fitzgerald’s level of knowledge on the campaign against Sgt McCabe satisfied that it had nothing personally to do with him and, so it was not something for him to be worried about.

Continue reading “Leo walked into the #emailscandal one step at a time”

Taoiseach Varadkar is more Gordon Brown than Tony Blair

This column first appeared on Broadsheet.ie on September 20th 2017

varadbrownOne of my favourite political anecdotes comes from the late Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Whitlam was on a trip to China to meet the infamous Mao Tse-tung. His officials warned Whitlam that Chairman Mao disliked small talk intensely and advised that he come up with a couple of substantive questions if he wanted to keep the conversation going. Whitlam decided, given that the visit was coming around the tenth anniversary of the assassination of President John F Kennedy, that he would ask Mao to speculate on what might have happened to the world order if Nikita Kruschev had been shot that day instead of Kennedy.

Delighted with the substance and depth of his question he set off to meet Mao and to hear the Chairman’s thoughts on this great “what if”. He sat down with Mao and, after the usual formal introductions, he proceeding to ask his question. The Chairman seemed pensive and intrigued. Then, after a few moments thought, he replied, ‘I don’t think Mr Onassis would have married Mrs Kruschev’.

Continue reading “Taoiseach Varadkar is more Gordon Brown than Tony Blair”