Tag Archives: Ireland

I have my doubts about Enda Kenny’s emigrants’ votes plans

13 Mar

Enda Kenny’s fascination with his predecessor John A. Costello continues. Not only is Enda determined to beat Costello’s record for time served as Taoiseach, he now seems to want to eclipse Costello’s penchant from making major constitutional announcements outside the country.

Costello announced his intention for Ireland to abandon the External Relations Act (and effectively quit the British Commonwealth and declare itself Republic) during a visit to Canada in 1948, while Kenny announces in Philadelphia that he intends to hold a referendum to give the Irish diaspora votes in future Irish presidential elections – but only in elections after the next one.

There are many legends about Costello’s Ottawa announcement, including one version that claims he made it when was “tired and emotional” and another that asserts he did it after being offended by the placing of a replica of the Roaring Meg canon used in the Siege of Derry in front of him on the dining table at a formal dinner at the Governor General’s residence. But they are only legends.

Moves to repeal to External Relations Act, which gave the British Crown limited recognition around foreign relations, i.e. Irish diplomats were formally accredited by the King, were already afoot before Costello even came to office. In late 1947 Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government started preparing a repeal bill, but work on this was halted by the February 1948 election.

At least Costello was able to announce something which he could immediately legislate for and see carried into action within a reasonable space of time. Within eight months Ireland was out of the Commonwealth), in Enda’s case he has just announced plans which may not come to fruition for another 8 years (never mind 8 months) – and only then if they are passed in a Referendum, which is no absolute certainty.

We must wait a few weeks more to see the detail of the Governments proposals on extending voting rights in Presidential Elections from 2025 onwards to Irish citizens living outside of the Republic. From what the Minister of State for the Diaspora said on Radio this morning it appears that the Government intends to publish a range of options rather than a specific plan, which suggests that this whole adventure may not even be as planned and prepared as Costello’s 1948 one.

According to Minister of State McHugh there are an estimated 1.8 million citizens outside the State and a potential electorate of 1.87 million in Northern Ireland. To put this in context the total electorate eligible to vote at the October 2011 Presidential Election was just 3.2 million (On the day just 1.8m (56%) of them chose to vote).

While it is likely, if not certain, that Enda Kenny will neither be Taoiseach nor leader of Fine Gael by the time the referendum comes around, his shadow will hang over this and let’s not forget that Enda has had a penchant for starting referendums that he cannot win.

Will this be another one? I personally hope not, but I must admit that I am far from thrilled or enthused by what I have heard from the Taoiseach and his Ministers over the past few hours. Surely such a major constitutional change should be accompanied by detailed research and argument, not followed along by broad range of options for consideration to be published a month or so later.

While I can see some merit in Leo Varadkar’s description of the proposal allowing for the transformation of the Presidency into one for the whole Irish nation, highlighting the fact that Ireland has become a global nation via its diaspora, won’t we also be effectively limiting the Presidency to just a symbolic, ceremonial role? Though they are not often exercised, the Irish President does have important constitutional functions, are we perhaps diluting those for what it effectively just a gesture?

I also worry about how the referendum campaign make shape up. As we have seen in past campaigns, indeed as Leo Varadkar has observed: referendums are “by and large” never what they are supposed to be about and they can often turn into a votes on “extraneous issues… or decisions being made by the Government, such as cutbacks.”

The government’s proposed referendum, if not managed and led effectively, could perversely be turned into a reverse border poll – with the focus falling not on the wider diaspora or on the positives of giving Irish citizens in the North a formal recognition in our political process – but on worse aspect of the North and the prospect of allowing a load of hard-line DUP voters (and others) have any kind of say in the South.

Public attitudes to the North down here as not always as positive and welcoming as we would have ourselves believe. A recent poll for RTE by Dr Kevin Cunningham’s Ireland Thinks found a very mixed appetite for a United Ireland among voters in the Republic, particularly when it comes to the costs of re-unification. It roughly found that that voters in the Republic split three ways with one third being in favour, one third against and one third undecided.

That said, Brexit has pushed Irish re-unification way up the political agenda for all parties North or South: not as an absolute inevitability, but as an increasingly likely consequence of the economic consequences of Brexit.

Re-unification needs to be seriously considered now, not as some rhetorical wrap the green flag around me slogan, but as a real and viable political option. This is something that needs to be thought through seriously, which is why Micheál Martin’s announcement today that Fianna Fáil will soon publish its 12-point plan to prepare the way for unification of the island is so welcome.

We need to start talking and preparing for unification by strengthening the economic, political and educational links between the Republic and Northern Ireland. While these could help re-unification, even if that were not to come about, they would still be mutually beneficial.

Hopefully Fianna Fáil’s proposals, due in the coming months, will help provide a sound and considered backdrop for the debate on giving votes for citizens North of the border.

For the record, when it comes to votes for Irish citizens outside the jurisdiction my own preference would be to look to Leinster House rather than Áras an Uachtaráin and follow the French model by having a constituency in parliament (either in the Dáil or Seanad) voted for exclusively by Irish citizens living outside the Republic, in fact I would suggest two such constituencies: one for Irish citizens living in the North and one for Irish Citizens living elsewhere.

As it stands today, while I am inclined to vote what Enda Kenny announced in Philadelphia, I am not so enthused as to go out campaigning for it – on that score, I remain to be convinced. Over to you Leo or Simon.

IMG_7982

Debating this column on RTÉ’s Late Debate – video clip below

ENDS

 

 

Some understanding, but no grá for the GRA #Gardastrike.

12 Oct

This is my Broadsheet article from Monday, October 3rd. 

gardai-in-uniform-1878112If the Luas and Dublin Bus pay disputes are anything to go by then the choreography of future pay rows, particularly public sector ones, is likely to run as follows:

Step 1. Both sides negotiate for months without success.
Step 2. Employees go on a limited strike, inconveniencing the public
Step 3. The strike action continues for 3 – 4 weeks while both sides posture on TV and radio news shows
Step 4. Both sides then ‘suddenly’ return, without preconditions, to the negotiating table
Step 5. Employers find extra cash for pay increases they previously said was not there

Would it not be better for everyone, most particularly the public who these public services are meant to… well… serve…, if the unions and management could just skip steps 2 and 3 and jump straight to step 4?

Or, could it be that steps 2 & 3 are an essential part of the process and are needed to bring everyone to their senses or, at least, to a better frame of mind?

Has our industrial relations process developed (or, should I say ‘descended’?) to a point where, on one side, the workers need a couple of days on the picket line to let off steam and, on the other side, management need to suffer a few days of lost business, in order to create a more conducive negotiating atmosphere?

If this is the case, and it increasingly appears that it is, then we will have a bit of a winter of discontent ahead as other public sector groups get themselves geared up to dust off the picket signs and placards.

The situation is not helped by the news that the body established by the last FG/Lab government to oversee industrial relations mediation and the improvement of workplace relations and hailed at the time – by both Fine Gael and Labour Ministers – as marking a new era for employment rights and industrial relations: The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) is just not working.

According to a recent survey conducted for the Employment Law Association of Ireland, half of the legal and industrial relations practitioners surveyed are dissatisfied with the new Workplace Relations Commission and think that the new WRC system is even worse than the much-criticised version it replaced only one year ago.

The survey’s key findings here and the Irish Examiner op-ed by the association’s chair, Colleen Cleary, both make for grim reading, though the association does identify the main problems and helpfully proposes a series of changes and reforms to make the new system work efficiently and effectively.

One group who will not likely benefit from these changes, if they are made, is An Garda Síochána as they fall outside the State’s normal industrial relations processes – and understandably so.

I fully subscribe to the principle that the Gardaí and the Army should not have a right to strike, given the significance of their roles and their importance to our safety and security.

However, if we are to ask them to surrender a very important and powerful industrial relations tool, we must also ensure that this does not weaken their ability to negotiate fair rates of pay and good working conditions.

I think the GRA are fundamentally wrong to threaten industrial action, not to mention their being possibly in breach of both the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 2007, but their deep frustration and absolute exasperation is understandable.

As Gardaí see it, the State is telling them to follow a set of rules which it refuses to honour itself. In the view of the GRA the State has not lived up to its commitments in the Haddington Road agreement as the review of Garda pay levels and industrial relations promised under that deal was never completed.

The GRA now find themselves in a negotiating no-man’s land with the Department for Public Expenditure now having responsibility for addressing many of their grievances, but the conciliation and arbitration system devised to deal with such issues is based on the Department of Justice, a department which gone without a permanent Secretary General for two years.

Added to this are disputes and commotions which have seen a Justice Minister, a Departmental Secretary General and a Garda Commissioner resign, retire or relocate and a series of statements from senior Garda officers which suggest that all is well and everything and everyone inside the force is hunky-dory.

Is it any wonder their morale is low? And all that is before you even get to the subject of pay rates.

Kind words and high praise from Ministers and Deputies during Leaders Questions and Dáil debates is no substitute for good pay. A starting pay of €23,750 is not generous. Yes, there is range of allowances (over 50 as far as I know) and, according to one calculation, a new Garda can probably expect to get allowances for unsocial hours etc. equal to about 25% of their salary – but that is still a low basic rate of pay.

By announcing four days of industrial action in November, the GRA has put itself on a hook which the Minister and the government must assist the GRA to prize itself off. Mainly because we cannot have a situation where Garda go on strike, but also because this Minister has played some role, via inertia and listlessness, in creating the conditions that allowed it to happen.

Why the Good Friday Agreement is a good metaphor for @FiannaFailparty

26 Apr
Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis this weekend

Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis this weekend

My column on this weekend’s Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis from today’s Herald

If you are planning to head to Ballsbridge for a quiet pint or a cup of coffee this Friday or Saturday – think again. From about 5pm this Friday until well past mid-night on Saturday the area around the RDS will be saturated with about five thousand exuberant and excitable Fianna Fáil-ers gathered for the party’s Árd Fheis – including yours truly.

If you decide to follow the Árd Fheis proceedings online or on air you can expect to hear the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), whose fifteenth anniversary passed two weeks ago with little acknowledgement from the Government, mentioned several times.

Many in Fianna Fáil fear that its greatest recent political achievement is being slowly air brushed out of official history.

The impression is being given that the GFA was merely the logical and inevitable consequence of the 1985 Anglo Irish Agreement, about which we have heard a lot following the deaths of both Garret Fitzgerald and Margaret Thatcher.

As one of many people who spent countless hours travelling up and down to Belfast on pre M1 roads that stopped for lollipop ladies in Balbriggan and Julianstown, I can assure you there was nothing inevitable about it.

But the Good Friday Agreement is also something of a metaphor for Fianna Fáil itself.

We now see that that getting agreement was the easier piece of work when compared with the effort and energy required to get it implemented and working – well, almost working.

The same is true of Fianna Fáil. The work required to get the party to this point has been huge, but it as nothing to the work ahead.

While last year’s Árd Fheis focused mainly on important internal reforms, such as One Member One Vote, the truly difficult work starts now.

This Árd Fheis is more about facing outwards and talking to an electorate who now shows signs of being ready to listen to what the party has to say. But the party’s improving opinion poll figures should not delude pundits, or even party members, to thinking its resurgence is assured.

To be brutally frank, what has Fianna Fail said or done in recent months to justify such increases? While it has produced some very fine policy proposals such as the Family Home Bill and Regulation of Debt Management Advisors Bill, they hardly account for bounce.

Nor does the performance of the party’s spokespeople.

Without doubt the party has scored significant hits on the government in recent months, particularly via its Health Spokesman Billy Kelliher, its Finance Spokesman Michael McGrath and its Justice Spokesman Niall Collins and, of course, the party leader Michéal Martin, but it is finding it difficult to mark all bases with such few Oireachtas personnel.

While he has several new people inside the Oireachtas who he can use effectively: such as Senators Averil Power and Marc McSharry, perhaps the leader also needs to look outside the ranks of the parliamentary party for other new faces and voices to put on Radio and TV in senior roles – Dublin Bay South’s Cllr Jim O’Callaghan for instance.

The hard truth is that the increases are as much down to Fine Gael and Labour’s travails as they are to any softening of attitude to Fianna Fáil. Besides, as the poll analysts would tell you, it is dangerous to read too much into opinion polls where over 30% of the respondents are answering: don’t know.

This is not to underestimate the size of what the party has achieved. At this time last year it was a tough job convincing others that while the party may be down, it was not finished. The big achievement has not been the increases in the polls, but rather the halt in the party’s decline.

At last year’s Árd Fheis the party helped reverse that decline by re-introducing itself to its own members, this weekend it starts the even great task of re-introducing itself to its former supporters. Let’s hope it has more success in doing that than the GFA has had in getting its institutions working.

 

Our Constitution gives people the power, thankfully

29 Dec

Today, December 29th 2012, marks the 75th anniversary of the Irish Constitution, Búnreacht na hÉireann coming into effect. This is my Evening Herald column on it continuing importance and relevance to Irish life.

eamon de valera

Dev – Architect of our Constitution

On this day seventy five years ago the Irish Constitution came into operation. As we have seen in recent and current controversies, almost four decades on, the Constitution is still central to much of our political debate.

Within the past year we have seen it successfully amend it three times: Judges Pay, Fiscal Compact and Children’s Rights. But, we have also seen the public resoundingly reject the governments request that they amend it on the issue of  Oireachtas enquiries.

It is not the first time the public has done this. Not only did they defeat the Nice I and Lisbon I votes, as early as 1959 they rejected the then attempt to change the voting system. Indeed in 1968 the voters rejected the next two amendments put to them, both related to elections.

It was not until the 1972 vote on joining the then EEC that the people passed the first amendment to the Constitution. (Technically this is the Third Amendment as the first two were made in 1939 and 1941 without referendums as part of transitional arrangements.)

Over the past 75 years the public have approved some twenty five changes to the Constitution. While some were technical in nature, others – such as the five votes relating to abortion – were highly controversial and emotionally charged.

What this shows is that the Constitution makes the people sovereign. They alone decide what changes may be made to the fundamental law of the land.

This important aspect of De Valera’s 1937 Constitution has been much praised over the years. While it is easy to look at the language and some of the secondary provisions as being a product of their time and maybe a little outdated now, most legal experts view the principles set out in the Constitution of 1937 as being ahead of their time.

Five of the fifty articles are devoted to Fundamental Rights. Decades before international instruments, such as the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed fundamental rights and fair procedures, the Irish Constitution had done so.

Indeed, while the Constitution does not declare Ireland as militarily neutral, it does contain in Article 29.2 a commitment to “the pacific settlement of international disputes” and the adherence to International law. This is just something else that marks the document out as being ahead of its time.

But while it may have been well ahead of its time 75 years ago, it is still so?

I would argue that, essentially, it is. The fundamental principles it espouses are just that – fundamental. The commitment to democracy, rule of law, fair procedures etc do not change with the seasons of the prevailing political fashion.

But it is also a living document, particularly in the provisions relating to how government and the judiciary should work. Back in 1937 it seemed natural that only those over 21 should be entitled to vote, by 1972 that was changed to 18 by a margin of over 5 to 1 of those voting.

Events of recent years have thrown up some more significant issues. Are our governmental structures sufficiently responsive – or even fit for purpose – in the context of the IMF/EU bailout and an evolving European Union/Eurozone? Is the 1930’s post independence concept of property ownership appropriate in 21st century Ireland?

But where is reform on these issues being discussed? Not at the Government’s Constitutional Convention, it seems. Its initial priorities, as set out by the Government, are to discuss the President’s term of office and the voting age. This is the equivalent of setting up a dance committee after the Titanic has hit the ice. The one substantive constitutional issue on which the government, particularly the Taoiseach, is committed is abolition of the Seanad.

Just when we require more meaningful scrutiny of government policy, it proposes less and sells it under the guise of “reform”. Fortunately, it is the people who will be sovereign on this.

ENDS

Why lobbysits are so vital for all communities

29 Jun

My Evening Herald column from last Saturday (23rd June 2012)

Lobby of The Willard Hotel in DC
Pic courtesy of biberfan on flickr

I have an aversion to the term: lobbyist. I resisted its use in describe myself when I worked with a range of national representative groups and I can’t recall ever using it to describe those whom I dealt with while I was a ministerial adviser.

The term “lobbyist” seems to have a pejorative tone to it. Lobbying is viewed with suspicion. Understandable enough after the Tribunal horror stories of men in well cut suits loitering outside Council chambers offering “incentives” to errant Councillors.

The reality is that lobbying is a practice as old as government itself. The origins of the term are often erroneously attributed to the post Civil War US President, Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant was fond of retiring to the bar of the old Willard Hotel across from the White House. News of his habit soon spread and he increasingly found himself besieged by promoters of this or that project as he passed through the lobby of the Hotel.

The term, in fact, well predates Grant and the Willard Hotel and most probably goes back to 17th century England and refers to the lobbies where constituents and petitioners could meet Members of Parliament.

Yet somehow the image of rail tycoons and land speculators in the lobby of the Willard smoking big cigars while stuffing cash into the pockets of pliable politicians seems to have stuck

This is a great pity as lobbying is an entirely legitimate and democratic activity. It is even protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution which speaks of the right “…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Substitute the words “advocacy” or “campaigning” for “lobbying” and you get a better sense of what it should be about: making the best case you can to the powers that be.

When it descends to kick backs and payola it is no longer lobbying, it is just corruption, plain and simple.

Yet this is the image that still persists: guys in the lobby of the Willard improperly influencing politicians, and their more modern day equivalents.

But it is a false image. Lobbyists today come in all shapes, sizes and types.

People can be advocates on their own behalf, or they can seek the services of others with experience and skills in presenting a case on behalf of others.

They can be from schools, universities, communities, companies, trade associations, trade unions, churches, charities, environmental groups or senior citizens groups

Not all lobbyists are paid. In my experience (from both sides of the divide) most are not. During my time in government I recall getting more calls and emails from volunteer lobbyists than paid ones.

Lobbying is not simply about getting access to a TD, Senator Councillor or Official. These meetings are just the final small step in a much more complex process.

Lobbying is about preparation. It is about research. It is about assembling the facts and honestly analyzing the implications of what you propose. It is a process – and one more about research, education and communication than it is just about persuasion.

I know, from being on the other side, that a dedicated individual pleading a case that they know and understand deeply can be infinity more persuasive than the most costly lawyer or public affairs consultant.

This was the case with those who campaigned for formal recognition of the bravery of those who fought at Jadotville in the Congo in 1961. Not only were they tireless and passionate, they had done their research. No one knew or understood the complexities of this tragic situation better than they. When presented, their case was undeniable.

Far from having something to fear from lobbying such as this, democracy needs it. Just as lobbyists and public affairs people will benefit from a transparent and fair system of regulation.

As Justice Brandeis observed, almost a century ago. “sunlight is the best of disinfectants”.

ENDS

Labour could be casualty in Treaty Yes vote

24 May

My Evening Herald column from today’s (Thurs May 24th) edition:

voting

Many different reasons to vote yes or no

With less than a week to go the referendum campaign seems more and more to be about less and less.

On the face of it, if you believe the posters, the choice is to Vote Yes to achieve stability or to Vote No to end austerity.

But do any of us really believe these claims? Regrettably, like previous EU referendums the debate has been conducted at the extremes, not the centre. It was the case in the Nice and Lisbon referendums, remember those “€1.84 Minimum Wage after Lisbon” posters?

Mercifully, we have been spared the malign input of Cóir and Youth Defence this time. The are no loss, especially as most of them wouldn’t know a treaty from a tea-bag (to rob a line I recently overheard)

But this absence of any significant ultra right involvement on the no side does highlight a curious undercurrent to the campaign, one, which I suspect, may be a factor in how some people decide how to vote next week.

While the slogans maybe about the EU and the Euro the referendum has morphed into a proxy battle on the future of left / right politics in Ireland.

From the start the battle front was drawn up along left versus right lines.

On the Yes side you had the right and centre right parties: FG, FF and Lab (more about them later), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more established/mainstream trade unions.

On the No side you had the socialist and hard left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgin’s Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.

While the entrance of The Declan Ganley somewhat clouded the the Left/Right delineation, it hasn’t ruptured it.

The sight of him sharing No platforms with irredentist left firebrands is a joy to behold, especially when you consider that they agree on virtually nothing, including Europe. Most on the hard left are euro-sceptic while The Ganley is avowedly Euro-federalist.

While passing the Fiscal Treaty will herald no major day to day changes – mainly because it just restates the centre/centre right economic orthodoxy in place since 2008 – it will cement it into domestic law for the foreseeable future.

It is this that the left fears and opposes most.

Passing the Treaty would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum a few points to the right. It won’t be a seismic or noticeable shift, but it torpedoes the Left’s ambitions of shifting it the other way.

It doesn’t vanquish them, nor does it make them to tone the rhetoric down. If anything, it will do the opposite, but in their hearts they will know that their ambition to shift Ireland economically to the left has been reversed.

This explains why the campaign from Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett and Sinn Féin has been so fierce. But not as fierce as when its over and they start to target each other.

I am not predicting that their poll rating drops are set to drop. They won’t. They will probably rise as voters use them to express their disapproval of government parties going pack on pre election pledges.

But the Irish electorate is sophisticated. It is overwhelmingly aspirational. This applies across all social classes and communities. They want their kids to do better than they did. That decides voting intentions more than anything.

In the meantime Sinn Féin will continue to do well at Labour’s expense, after all Gerry and Mary Lou are saying now what Éamon and Joan were saying two years ago.

It is Labour who will be the biggest casualty. Polls showing 40% of Labour supporters voting No could have longer term ramifications for the leadership. But whatever they may be, they can be so where near as damaging as Gilmore’s infamous “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” slogan.

It may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.

Cowen Talks Ireland Up Seeking Inward Investment

4 Apr

The speech at Washington DC’s Georgetown University by former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, has attracted some comment since it was reported last week in the Financial Times and Irish Times. Much of that comment has focussed upon just about everything about from its contents. It is a well drafted and cogently argued analysis of the crisis that befell both Ireland and the EU and well worth reading in full: Speech By Fmr Taoiseach B Cowen – 21.03.12

Given the venue and context it is evident that this was meant as a low key, considered and informed contribution and not as a political foray. While I think it will, in time, be seen as an important analysis of the situtaion from 2007/08 onwards. I also think it is important to note how the former taoiseach took the opportunity present to talk Ireland up and to touts for business and investment for Ireland. This is particularly evident in the final paragraphs of the speech:

“I believe Ireland is one of the best locations in the world to establish and to grow a business. This is not just rhetoric but is reflected in the rapid on-going overseas investment which is occurring in Ireland. Ireland is not just open for business but as, I believe, any independent assessmentwould indicate it is among the best places in Europe to start and grow an international business. This will ultimately pay off for our citizens. Indeed all of the fundamental strengths which prior to the crisis meant that Ireland had one of the highest growth rates of GNP per capita among advanced countries for a very long period are still in place and in many respects our advantages have improved in terms of increased cost competitiveness.”

 

 

The Party May be Down, But it is Certainly Not Finished

3 Mar

Fianna Fáil

My take on Fianna Fáil’s 73ú Ard Fheis which is taking place in the RDS this weekend (March 2 & 3). This piece was written for the Evening Herald of March 3rd

———————————-

For as long as I can recall Fianna Fáil Árd Fheiseana were the party conferences where the emphasis was more on the “partying” than the “conferencing”.

They were great social and political occasions where activists from all strands of society, right across the country, gathered to celebrate their membership of the party.

There they rallied; networked; socialised and renewed friendships with colleagues from other constituencies.

To be brutally honest, for many – myself included – the formal debates and motions were incidental to the core objective: discussing politics with old friends and hearing the leader’s speech.

While tonight’s address, the first by Michael Martin as leader, will remain the highpoint of this weekend’s Árd Fheis, it will come at the end of two days of serious and intense debate about the party’s future.

The issue before the Árd Fheis is that stark: the very survival of what was once the greatest modern political movement in Western Europe.

Over these two days – yesterday and today – at the RDS, members are deciding a slate of major reforms on how the party is organised and run.

Key to these is the move away from the representative/delegate model for candidate selection in favour of the One Member One Vote system (OMOV). In other words; to allow every active member in every cumann to have an equal say in selecting candidates and officers.

It is resonant of the crucial debate the British Labour Party had at their 1993 Conference. That was the year they ended the Trade Union block vote and adopted OMOV.

It was not an easy battle for them. The move to reform and modernise had been delayed for almost 14 years as they tore themselves apart with internal wrangling and infighting.

The result was three stunning defeats and three terms of powerless opposition.

Only by reforming their internal structures and systems did Labour allow itself to reconnect with its membership and, more importantly, with the people. After 14 years of irrelevance “New” Labour began to get in touch with the cares and concerns of the British people and respond effectively to them.

That is what Michael Martin hopes to achieve with this Árd Fheis. While the events of the past few days may have moved the focus slightly away from that goal, he was determined to shift it back as soon as the members start to gather in the RDS last night.

And a fair few of them gathered; with over 4000 members registered to attend by the middle of the week.

It is an indication of how serious the party’s grassroot members are about renewing their party. The number of people running for positions is another. Contest for the 20 nationally elected places on the Fianna Fáil Árd Comhairle has never been keener, with many bright, young first time candidates.

The same applies to several of the other senior positions, though the contest for the positions of Party Vice President was made marginally less intense with the withdrawals of two former party big hitters: Mary Hanafin and Éamon Ó Cuiv.

The weekend’s debates are not confined to organisational matters. The Clár contains some motions which, if passed, would herald interesting shifts in policy, including ones on gay marriage, gay adoption ending the regime of TDs’ and Senators expenses’ and reducing the voting age to 16.

There is also a slew of the more traditional Árd Fheis motions, including some Dublin centred resolutions calling for the reinstatement of the Ballymun Regeneration, Grangegorman DIT Campus and Metro North projects.

So, a great deal of serious work will be done by those gathering in Ballsbridge, but be certain too that there some socialising and banter as the faithful show that while they may be down, the party is by no means finished.

Derek Mooney was a Ministerial Adviser 2004 – 2010 and a Public Affairs Consultant and Speechwriter since the 90s

FF’s Sean Fleming quickly adds up the damage

6 Dec

My review of Minister Brendan Howlin’s day 1 budget speech. http://www.herald.ie/news/ffs-fleming-quickly-adds-up-the-damage-2954736.html

This is the first budget since Ruairi Quinn’s 1996 one where Fianna Fail have been in the position of having to respond as an opposition.

Only a handful of the remaining Fianna Fail TDs have any experience of replying to a budget statement on the hoof, like this.

Back then they had both the numbers in the chamber and in their research office to be able to respond robustly. Back then, they were also not hampered by seeng their economic strategy being implemented by the government.

In these circumstances, the party’s spokesperson, Sean Fleming, did reasonably well. His accountancy background enabled him to focus in on some of the finer and more damaging points that appeared in the tables, but somehow managed not to make it into the Minister’s script.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald gave one of her best Dail performances to date. Whereas Fleming stuck with the detail, she concentrated on the politics, excoriating and needling Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers for reneging on their election promises.

Over recent years we have been moving from the traditional westminster model of budgets where the finance minister goes into a self imposed silence or purdah in advance of the statement, to a european one where large elements emerge into the public arena in advance.

While recent budgets have seen their share of advance kite flying, this one brought the craft to new and dizzying heights. 

It is all about the management of expectations. It’s an old trick. Get your people spinning that medical cards might be hit, and then hope the public will break out the champagne, or possibly the Babycham given our straightened times, when they are not.
So the theory goes. In this case the audience was not so much the people at home, but the massed ranks of backbench government TDs who would like to be two term Deputies not one termers.
This may account for the very muted applause after Minister Howlin resumed his seat. Though this may just as much been due to how inappropriate and ill judged the loud cheers and fulsome applause the Fianna Fail deputies gave to their recent budgets seems now.

Gallagher has no one to blame but himself

28 Oct

Aras an UachtáranBelow is my critique of the Sean Gallagher’s unsuccessful campaign for the Áras. This appears in today’s EVENING HERALD (Friday Oct 28th) though my column is not online there, just yet.  

Already they are calling it the Gallagher moment. What they mean is that instant on the Frontline debate when the momentum that had driven Gallagher’s campaign for the previous ten days evaporated under Sinn Féin fire.

The reality may be a little less dramatic. While Sean Gallagher’s campaign did come to a halt on Frontline, it took the next 48 hours for it to go into a full nose dive.

On the face of it the McGuinness assault was intended as a signal to Sinn Féin voters not to transfer to Gallagher. The polls were showing Sean with a convincing lead over Higgins in the region of 10%, but still needed McGuinness transfers to see him over the line.

The Shinner’s strategists were determined that they would not be the ones to give Sean the keys to the Áras and by extension hand a vicarious victory to Fianna Fáil, even by proxy.

Their intent was clear, make it as difficult as possible for Gallagher in the final days. It was why they stored up the the story for a few days. Conversely that is what made the situation even more damaging for Gallagher. He clearly knew the story was out there, although in different guises and varying versions, but when confronted with it he seemed dazed and confused.

The real damage came the following day when Gallagher still seemed unable to deal with the allegation. His campaign produced a punchy and clear press release, but the candidate seemed either unable or unwilling to deliver it.

Perhaps his problem was that after months of uttering bland and cosy messages about positivity and unity (not to mention entrepreneurship) he just could not find the steel in his soul needed to take on his challengers and tell them to go take a running jump at themselves.

Yes, Sinn Féin and McGuinness were changing their story. Events that were claimed to have happened after the dinner were now being said to have happened before it. Their story was all over the place. But it appeared that Gallagher’s was too, if you were just to go by what he himself said in the interviews he did on Pat Kenny and the Six One news.

So what if he had been involved in a fund raising dinner back in 2008. The event was not a clandestine one. The donations were declared. The money was going for legitimate political expenditure. He had been the campaign manager for a successful Dáil candidate in 2007. He had a onus to help defray the costs and expenses of that election. I was in a similar position elsewhere. There were bills to be paid, so money needed to be raised by volunteers and others. No banks were robbed, no one got shot.

So confused and oblique were his replies that the problem festered and grew all day Tuesday and Wednesday. Many including myself thought the damage might be limited to his capacity to attract transfers. It now looks like it went far wider than deeper, possibly due to it all been linked to question marks over his company accounts and large fees taken by himself.

The two weeks of labelling him a Fianna Fáiler did not, as evidenced in successive polls, do him any damage. The flaws and errors in his own handling of a relatively minor crisis did. The Presidency is about judgement, his was called seriously into question.

In the case of Gay Mitchell the judgement that must be called into question is that of the senior party figures who allowed him to go forward as a candidate. Gay is and remains a deeply committed public representative and Fine Gaeler, yet it has looked for the past month that the party on the ground had abandoned him. His campaign was unfocussed and patchy from the start, not helped by whispers that he was not really Enda’s first choice as a candidate. Well, if he wasn’t then why run him? Is Enda the leader or not?

Gay can take some comfort that his own poor showing was reflected in the Dublin West by-election where the party’s candidate also faired badly. The question how is how do we reconcile opinion polls that consistently show Fine Gael in the mid 30s with these results?

There will be some pretty interesting analysis to be done when the smoke and dust settles after this weekend,.