This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on October 14th in the aftermath of the Johnson/Varadkar meeting at the Wirral to discuss Brexit. The two men were said to have spoken in private for 90 minutes without officials or advisers present. Did those talks focus on the specific details of the Irish border arrangements or were they more political?
Visitors to the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) presidential library in Austin, Texas get to have their photos taken against a life size photo of the 6’ 4” LBJ leaning over them, appearing – figuratively – to bend them to his will. It is called “The Johnson Treatment”.
The original photo featured LBJ’s soon to be US Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas. It is just one of many photos of LBJ applying the eponymous “treatment”, once described by the pre-eminent Washington political columnist, Mary McGrory, as “an incredible, potent mixture of persuasion, badgering, flattery, threats, reminders of past favours and future advantages.”
This column appeared on Broadsheet.ie on September 24th and looks at the current government’s ongoing issues with grasping the critical importance of data and data privacy to our continuing economic growth and development. While the governments response to the Data Protection Commissioner’s findings that it broke its own laws in expanding the scope of Personal Service Cards shows a cavalier attitude to data protection, the total inadequacy of the states response to real cyber-security threats is frightening. The State must immediately given the Defence Forces a lead role in building cyber security capacity and give it the resources right now, including the ability to recruit and train the next generation of cyber security experts.
Twenty years ago (last Sunday) the first ever episode of The West Wing premiered on US TV.
Though anyone who has ever served in government can confirm that The Thick of It or Yes, Minister are more realistic portrayals of life along the corridors of power, The West Wing still represents the ideal, the way we would like to think it is.
This is due, in part, to the excellent characterisations, but it is mainly down to the quality of writing. The dialogue not only fizzed, it was informed by actual policy debates.
There were prescient. Much of it is still cogent despite all that has happened in the intervening two decades.
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.
This article appeared first on Broadsheet.ie on July 9th 2019. It again looks at the problems faced, caused and posed by the hapless Junior Minister for Defence
A few weeks back I discovered online that one of my favourite London pubs, the Coach and Horses on Greek Street in Soho is about to change hands. The pub is both iconic and historic – and not just because I’ve been swigging pints there on visits to London since the early 1980s.
It has been the watering hole of Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Louis MacNeice, Graham Greene and countless other journos, actors, artists and Bohemian hangers-on. The pub is just across the street from the offices of the British satirical magazine, Private Eye, and has hosted many of the Eye’s infamous off-the-record lunches in an upstairs private dining room.
The design and layout of the main bar was immortalised as the set for the play based loosely on the life of one of its most infamous denizens, the notoriously unsober Spectator and Sporting Life humourist, diarist and columnist, Jeffrey Bernard.
I have written several times about the developing crisis in Irish Defence policy-making and the impact this is having on morale and retention in the Irish Defence Forces. In this Broadsheet post from June 11th, 2019, I suggest how swapping ministers of state might help in the short-term to start the process of addressing this crisis.
It takes a rare political talent to make the Irish defence brief controversial, yet the hapless Paul Kehoe appears to have somehow managed it.
Stories of declining morale, chronic low pay, skills shortages and personnel retention problems fill the airwaves, and still the crisis worsens. Defence force strength which should today stand at 9,500 has been hovering perilously below 8,500 for months.
The 9,500 figure is itself misleading. The 2000 Defence White Paper set the number at 10,500. The reduction in 2009 to 9,500 was only intended as a temporary measure, yet it has entered the political psyche as some fixed upper limit.
While very little of the blame for these crises attach personally to Kehoe, realpolitik dictates that the time has come for him to move on. Kehoe must go.
This is my Broadsheet.ie analysis of the 2019 Local Election results (this first appeared on May 28th). Here I set out why the results brought bad news for the leaders of both Sinn Féin and Fine Gael.
It is almost exactly two years since Leo Varadkar was selected as Fine Gael leader. On June 2nd, 2017 after a two-week contest involving FG members and councillors, but primarily TDs and Senators, Varadkar was declared the winner. He beat Simon Coveney with 60% in a weighted ballot in which TDs and Senators had 65% of the total vote, the membership had 25% and councillors had 10%.
While Coveney won the popular vote among the membership He secured 35 per cent in the membership ballot, Varadkar got the backing of 51 of the 73 members of the parliamentary party.
Six months later, in January 2018, Mary Lou MacDonald was announced to absolutely no one’s surprise as the sole candidate to succeed Gerry Adams. Adams had announced that he would step down after four decades as Sinn Féin leader at a special Árd Fheis the following month.
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?).
“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.
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.