‘Fine Gael has had its national conference since the last Ipsos/MRBI poll and that gave them the opportunity to road-test some of their key lines for the next election.’ Above: the Fine Gael national conference earlier this year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

‘Fianna Fáil seems stuck where it was at the 2011 election at about 17 per cent’

‘Niall O’Dowd’s reminder and characterisation of Adams’s centrality to the peace process certainly served the interests of Sinn Féin, especially in the week that’s in it. There was no mention from the podiums in New York, or it seems the following day in Washington, of Adams’s recent troubles arising from how his party and the IRA responded to reports of child abuse.’ O’Dowd made his comments at the  Irish America Hall of Fame in New York, on Monday, at which former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke. Photograph:  EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT

Noel Whelan: Sinn Féin is forced to practise grown-up politics where tough decisions must be made scarce resources

‘Having carefully framed their terms of reference, the inquiry’s chairman Ciarán Lynch TD and his colleagues have settled down in their first module to a careful consideration of the context in which the banking and fiscal crisis arose.’  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Prof David Farrell set out criteria for assessing whether a parliamentary democracy is or can be effective

Simon Harris told the Fine Gael national conference: “We’ve fixed the Irish car, we’ve taken it out of the ditch, we’ve put it on the road, Now we’re ready for the next part of the journey. The last thing we can afford is to give the car back to the people who crashed it.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Fine Gael strategy is to warn of instability and step up attacks on Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin

‘Anyone listening to some of the media coverage and political rhetoric in the last week would be forgiven for thinking that the courts have been imprisoning people for protesting against water charges and water metering. This is simply not the case.’ Above, protesters march from Central Bank, Dublin, to Mountjoy Prison on February 21st,  over the imprisonment of  water charges demonstrators. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

‘When suggestions first arose that some water protesters were intimidating water-meter installers it was dismissed as establishmen(...)

‘The media coverage surrounding Pat Carey arose because he had expressed reservations about Fianna Fáil’s state of readiness for the forthcoming marriage equality campaign. By going public with his own story he has made a significant and timely intervention into that national debate.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

We need more passionate contributions, like those of Pat Carey and Seán Fleming

‘Incumbent centre-right governments across Europe know that facilitating a positive outcome for the new Greek government will not assist their own prospects of re-election.’ Above, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel welcomes Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ahead of a meeting in Brussels on February 12th. Photograph: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

‘The response of EU governments to new Greek government has as much to do with politics as economics’

One of the changes most often sought by those campaigning for political reform is for all future ceann comhairles to be elected by a secret ballot of TDs.  Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

This Government should change Dáil rules as part of political reform plan

‘These protests directed at the President also show a complete lack of understanding of the powers and function of his office. The only role which the President has in considering legislation is to assess, with the advice of the Council of State if he wishes, whether the Bill is constitutional.’ Photograph:  Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

‘Play ball, rather than the man’ rule would be a good starting point for greater civility

‘The Irish have come a long way in a short time in our attitude towards homosexuality. The scale of this shift in attitude was reflected in the warmth of the response to Varadkar’s interview.’ Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

‘People ask whether Varadkar will lead Fine Gael and I offer the view that he probably will’

In the 2011 Dáil election 328 candidates qualified for reimbursement of election expenses, including the 166 TDs elected. Photograph: Alan Betson

Political scientists estimate sitting TDs and Senators enjoyed significant electoral advantage even before State funding

‘In their ruling they effectively described the decision to keep the woman alive for the previous two weeks as “a futile exercise which commenced only because of fears held by treating medical specialists of potential legal consequences.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘All the medical evidence available to the High Court at its special hearing on Christmas Eve could or should have been available (...)

‘At or near the top of government there have been some dramatic changes in personnel. We have a different Tánaiste   and a different leader of the Labour Party from this time last year.’    Above, Joan Burton. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

‘We may look back at 2014 as the year when, after initial tensions, Ireland shifted gently from civil war politics to a more typic(...)

‘The Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll  suggests that the momentum is with the Yes side, this 80 per cent compares to 76 per cent Yes in polls by the same agency last October and 64 per cent Yes in polls by this agency in 2012. If proponents of this constitutional change want to win, however, they should ignore this and all previous polls on the issue.’ Photograph: Getty Images

‘Most of those who will vote will only engage at or near the end of the campaign’

‘Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael also know, however, that their vote could shrink below a point where even together they couldn’t form a government. Any doubt Fine Gael may have had about that will have been displaced by yesterday’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll.’

Irish Times poll confirms Fine Gael’s best chance of staying in government after the next election is with Fianna Fáil

Fiona O’Malley with party president Michael McDowell, Bobby Molloy, PD leader Mary Harney and former leader Des O’Malley blow out the candles on the cake to mark the party’s 20 years in political life at their party HQ  in Dublin. Photograph: David Sleator

‘It would take a lot of political charisma and an impressive set of policies, not to mention lots of funding’

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly at Government Buildings Dublin, earlier this week. Photograph:  Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Opinion: ‘Even if Alan Kelly’s package does defuse the controversy about water it will not and cannot assuage the wider mood of a(...)

Brian Farrell chairing the 1982 televised debate on RTÉ between the then taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald (right) and the opposition leader Charles Haughey. Photograph: Paddy Whelan / THE IRISH TIMES

Opinion: ‘He had a deep sense of the democratic authority held by the people and assumed the role of being their voice in studio’ (...)

“It is interesting that the Fine Gael backbencher Eoghan Murphy (above) in his article on political reform here on Wednesday included an express call for the disbandment of the EMC and suggested its operation might be unconstitutional. He has a point.” Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Opinion: ‘The EMC has enhanced the role of unelected officials and advisers at the expense of those elected to govern’

‘The fact that the Government no longer has a majority in the Seanad raises the possibility that Senator Feargal Quinn’s legislation will get some traction.’ Photograph: Alan Betson, Irish Times

Opinion: Senator Feargal Quinn aims to reverse Irish Water’s new power

‘Fergus O’Dowd  said Irish Water would establish “local contact points”, would make an annual report to the Oireachtas . . . He has been demoted and has recently emerged as one of Irish Water’s most trenchant critics.’  Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Opinion: Deputies warned Government of ‘deeply flawed’ water Bill

‘Micheál Martin  (above) would be gone as leader if there were any obvious successor who could guarantee improving fortunes. There is no such person in the current parliamentary party.’  Photograph; Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Opinion: ‘In the newly arrived era of recovery politics Fianna Fáil is finding it difficult to decide which way to turn’

 ‘Ireland managed to exit the Troika bailout relatively early because government fiscal policy was operating to a strict four-year economic plan. Now 10 months later the Government is about to launch its first post bailout budget without any detailed overall economic road map.’ Above, Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform with Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance at the announcement of the bailout exit. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Opinion: ‘The Government is about to launch its first post bailout budget without any detailed overall economic road map’

‘Enda Kenny’s newly apologetic stance is convoluted. He sounds like a penitent rattling off the “Bless me father for I have sinned . . .” mantra but then refusing to say what sins he seeks absolution for while simultaneously blaming some lads he was with for leading him astray.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Opinion: Taoiseach’s avoidance of media debate on McNulty affair is part of a pattern

‘On his own motion or having being persuaded by some apparatchik, Enda Kenny ignored the all-female shortlist and instead decided to bestow the Seanad seat on John McNulty.’

Opinion: ‘This walks, talks and looks like a stroke. It was stroke. Fine Gael should have the decency to stop digging’

 North’s First Minister Peter Robinson insists Stormont institutions are not fit for purpose.   Photograph:  Arthur Allison.

O’Loan warns of peace processes unravelling

‘We can expect more public clashes between Leo Varadkar (aove) and the Taoiseach and indeed between Varadkar and other Cabinet colleagues in the weeks and months ahead as tensions rumble about his straight-talking, they would say self-serving, style.’ Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Opinion: Is it any wonder Leo Varadkar spoke out on health spending and the budget?

“It’s showtime,” were PJ Mara’s opening words at the launch of the 2002 general election campaign. It was a signature moment in an era of boom-time auction politics.  Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Opinion: Ministers’ signals of tax cuts have fuelled voter expectations

Demonstrators at a pro choice protest in Dublin earlier this month.  Photograph: Aidan Crawley

‘The ground has shifted in the last 12 years but not in the direction the pro-life side would like or to the extent the pro-choice(...)

‘To borrow a phrase popular in the Reynolds camp at the time, when Dick Spring wasn’t himself taking offence he had Fergus Finlay to take offence on his behalf.’   Photograph: Paul Goulding

Opinion: Former taoiseach not alone in collapsing coalition relationship

‘Enda Kenny should be able to defuse this controversy by giving full and frank answers to parliamentary and media questions. Until and unless he can do so, the Callinan controversy will continue to be a political time bomb under the Taoiseach’s credibility.’ Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Opinion: If Shatter’s proceedings come to trial they could prove the most politically dramatic court hearings since 1970

 Leo Varadkar:  refreshing directness. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Apart from frankness, Varadkar has other assets. He is young, competent and telegenic

Opinion: Seeds may have been sown for a breakdown in relationship with TDs

Labour leader Joan Burton, with her deputy, the new Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly: tackling the housing issue is a pressing political imperative. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Opinion: Unemployment and the lack of affordable accommodation are fuelling political instability

‘Attention is focused on the fortunes of James Reilly with a general consensus emerging that he will cease to be Minister for Health next week. Reilly is an issue politician and health, in particular universal health insurance, is his issue.’ Above, Reilly  at the launch of the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance earlier this year. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Opinion: Giving the European Commissionership to Hogan in line with expectations gives Kenny more space to rebrand his Government(...)

‘Brian Crowley MEP always resented efforts by Mount Street apparatchiks and senior party figures to manage the vote between candidates in the European elections.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Opinion: Fianna Fáil MEP is most successful Irish election candidate ever

‘On the week in which Jeremy Paxman retires from his role presenting the BBC flagship Newsnight programme it is worth reflecting on whether that aggressive style of political interviewing actually serves the viewer and the process of democratic debate.’  Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA

Opinion: Conflict makes for more dramatic television than the calm exchange of ideas

‘The first election of the recession was the 2009 local elections in which Sinn Féin got almost exactly the same vote as it got in 2004 and Mary Lou McDonald lost her European Parliament seat.’ Above, McDonald canvassing for the 2009 elections with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Opinion: Party did not get immediate electoral bounce out of the economic downturn

‘In the next few months Enda Kenny has to develop a new relationship with a new Labour leadership and seek to calm Labour nerves.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons / The Irish Times

Opinion: Kenny’s Coalition management skills now look ropey

Opinion: Many of the Independent councillors were endorsed by their local Independent TD

‘SIPO used the occasion to draw attention again to the limited nature of the information which the parties are required to provide.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Opinion: Sipo renewed its call for legislative change to require parties to publish full accounts

‘The centrepiece of this week’s  political confetti was a media event hosted by Brendan Howlin on Tuesday to itemise initiatives which will benefit from the Stimulus Package.’  Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Opinion: Trumpeting future spending is seen as the best defence against mood of anger

‘The Secretary General of the Department of Justice was asked by the Taoiseach, rather than the Minister for Justice, to visit the Garda Commissioner who then resigned the following morning.’ Above,   Alan Shatter  with Commissioner Martin Callinan during Templemore Garda College  50th anniversary celebrations earlier this year. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Opinion: As a minister, he squandered political capital on needless spats

‘One thing that is already clear is that the Mary Lou momentum has already been stalled. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Opinion: Sinn Féin has deployed a very astute candidate strategy for the European election

 ‘The scenes at the ASTI conference were pure TV news gold. They generated the type of lively footage that pushes any item up the running order.’ Photograph:   Patrick Browne

Opinion: Teaching is the real loser in conference spat between Minister and teachers

‘Public skirmishes between the government partners over water charges needs to be seen through a slightly broader lens than just focusing on what happened before and after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.’ Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Opinion: Labour talks up divisions while Fine Gael plays them down

‘The strategies suggested by Averil Power and her task force failed to work, it was because they were not even tried.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Opinion: Power’s article amounted to a scathing rebuke of her own party

‘Was it pure coincidence that this political difficulty for the Taoiseach Enda Kenny was solved on the Tuesday morning by the commissioner’s resignation?’. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Opinion: A lost opportunity for Oireachtas justice committee

‘It is  disturbing the contents of correspondence of such importance from the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan (above) was not brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice, until after he returned from Mexico.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Opinion: Are department and the Cabinet support systems able to deal with a crisis?

 ‘The party is spending much of its effort and money on the push for Mary Fitzpatrick (above with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin)  to win a seat in Dublin.’

Opinion: Ardfheis aims to maximise campaign exposure

Opinion: Ministers and opposition read prepared scripts and rarely engage

Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, speaks to media outside 10 Downing Street after talks with former British prime minister Gordon Brown in London in  2009. Photograph: Reuters

Opinion: IRA claims it was fighting a war but only wants the crimes of the other side to be pursued

Opinion: Range of services provided by local offices has grown exponentially

GSOC commissioner Simon O’Brien photographed arriving for the Public Service Oversight Committee meeting at the Oireachtas in Leinster House in February. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Opinion: We should have been told about all of this months ago

The Bills proposed by Katherine Zappone, among others, have been vetted for constitutional compliance. Photograph: Alan Betson

Opinion: The Constitution is clear that the Dáil will remain the dominant House

Brian Hayes: a Northsider who has carved out a constituency base on the Southside and whom party members will come out to work for. Photograph : Matt Kavanagh

Opinion: Name recognition or the lack of it could be a key factor in a tight contest

Marching for gay and lesbian rights in O’Connell Street back in 1984.

Opinion: Many liberals seem to be unwilling to let counter-arguments to their own get a hearing

John Tierney: forthcoming in the main as his interviewer established the main facts. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Opinion: Parliamentarians could learn from probing approach of RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke

Posters in Clonsilla, west Dublin, during the 2009 local election campaign. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Opinion: Independents also likely to do well in many constituencies

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Finland’s Jyrki Katainen at a  European People’s Party (EPP) meeting in Helsinki in 2011. Dublin is to host the EPP’s pre-election conference in March. Photograph: Reuters

Opinion: The political challenge for the Government will be to see that the slight increase in optimism is widely shared

Lucinda Creighton: frequently spoken of as a potential leader of Fine Gael. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Opinion: Kenny was right on the legislation but his decision to flex his muscles in the party was a strange one

Opinion: Taoiseach appears to be only going through the motions of listening

Albert Reynolds with Dick Spring: Reynolds’s achievements as taoiseach have not been sufficiently recognised.

Opinion: Downing Street Declaration built on the relationship of trust between the two government leaders

It is particularly important that our children absorb some of his message and the significance of his passing. Photograph: AP

Opinion: Far from venting a justified rage, he set an example of forgiveness for his nation and the world

Dr James Reilly: on the back foot after a disastrous outcome for his department in the budget. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Opinion: Timing of publication of HSE report on top-ups suggests attempt to deflect attention from further cuts

John Larkin: his comments recognise the realities of the Northern Ireland legal system. Photograph: PA

Opinion: There has been much talk about the need to deal with the past, but not much has been done

Brendan Howlin: Digging in would have taken from some of the positive things he is doing in the Bill. Photograph: Frank Miller

Opinion: Minister was right to respond to objections to proposed fees amendment

Martin McGuinness: claimed any deaths of civilians in IRA operations were due to “mistakes”. Photograph: PA

Opinion: A generation with no memory of the Troubles must be told what the IRA did

Enda Kenny: it could be unwise to make any ’mission accomplished’ statement. Photograph: PA

Opinion: Our economic sovereignty remains limited as a result of European changes

The Taoiseach on the phone at his party’s Ard Fheis. Photograph: Eric Luke

Opinion: Personal electronic devices are now central to politicians’ ability to be informed

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: “A man comfortable in his skin, deeply absorbed in the details of his brief and happy to be playing his part in the gradual improvement of his country’s fortunes.” Photograph: Eric Luke

The Minister for Finance’s post-budget address to the the Global Tax Policy Conference in Dublin was a tour de force

Emily O’Reilly: herself argued for a more meaningful involvement of the Oireachtas in the choice of her successor. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Opinion: A more assertive approach by TDs and Senators would benefit the political system

Eamon Gilmore: even a reshuffle of minister is unlikely to have much beneficial effect for Labour.

Opinion: It is an iron rule that the smaller party always loses out in a coalition

The departures area at Dublin Airport. Emigration is again having a dramatic economic and social impact. Photograph: Frank Miller

Opinion: those who go have no political influence but those who stay do

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore – “Government has timed a vote 10 days before Budget day,” a useful distraction .PHOTOGRAPH: ALAN BETSON / THE IRISH TIMES

Enda Kenny launched ‘personal initiative’, but now refuses to debate it

Richie Boucher: does not see the bank getting into repossession territory. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Opinion: Tackling the personal debt crisis must be a political priority

Enda Kenny will certainly lead his party into the next general election. Photograph: Alan Betson

Opinion: Results could also impact on the fortunes of some of the party leaders

Alex White’s concern about the gaps in the system is clearly genuine. Photograph: Alan Betson

Opinion: Minister’s ‘Sir Humphrey’ phrases will not suffice

There is a communal need to grieve on the death of a loved one that is not entirely fulfilled by the liturgy. Photograph: Alan Betson

Opinion: Bishop’s opposition may stem from desire to have monopoly in the utterance of wise words

Micheal Martin: has worked the organisation tirelessly, improved morale and encouraged the emergence of new faces.

Opinion: O’Rourke’s notion of a ‘grand coalition’ has little reality in short term

Professor Diarmuid Ferriter of  UCD: a timely critique of the power the Economic Management Council has accrued to itself

Ombudsman says executive is over-asserting itself at the expense of parliament

The Seanad has a month to annul the regulation. Photograph: Alan Betson

Senator seeking to recall house to discuss organ donation regime

Phil Hogan with the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. His letter showed all the signs of a careful drafting process. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Savita case meant thorny problem could no longer be left aside

 Dessie O’Malley was widely lauded for standing up to Charlie Haughey on a matter of principle. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

Those who choose to defy the Fine Gael whip may end up losing their livelihoods

 Peter Nyberg’s report was comprehensive, but his  terms of reference were too narrow and his findings too general. His inquiry was conducted in private and did not name names. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Government lost referendum vote through its arrogance during the campaign

John F Kennedy during his 1963 visit to Ireland. He spoke of us as a five-foot nation reaching above our height.

Country’s input into foreign affairs issues now channeled almost entirely through EU

Patrick Kennedy (left), son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and Patrick Grennan, fourth cousin of President John F Kennedy,his wife Siobhan and children Eanna and Donagh, at the Kennedy Homestead and Visitor Centre, Dunganstown, New Ross, Co Wexford. Photograph: Eric Luke

A collective effort inspired by JFK’s fourth cousin, Patrick Grennan, has ensured that a visitor centre will be opened at the old (...)

John F Kennedy poses with relatives   in Dunganstown, Co Wexford, on his visit to Ireland in 1963.

Grandson and other clan members to travel to Wexford to commemorate event

Agriculture minister Simon Coveney: initiated his Bill on animal welfare in the Seanad rather than the Dáil. Photograph: Getty

Change in Fine Gael policy came from Kenny’s need to refurbish image

Minister for Local Government Phil Hogan deserves credit for finally seeking to put in place a more rational relationship between the number of councillors in an area and the population there. Photograph: Eric Luke

Column: Apprehensions that small towns will lose out are understandable

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter at this week’s citizenship ceremony at the Convention Centre, Dublin. “Shatter was seen initially (and still sees himself) as an energetic and reforming Minister but his style and personality in office have depleted his political capital.” Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Column: The recoil from the Minister for Justice’s revelation was more severe than any impact on the Independent TD

The Seanad chamber. “The Government decision this week to allow the Seanad Reform Bill 2013 to pass to committee stage without a vote arose for reasons of realpolitik rather than from any commitment to reform.” Photograph: Alan Betson

Column: Once a political system becomes dysfunctional it is difficult to alter

The Dáil chamber. “Our parliament could do with an injection of vitality.” Photograph: Alan Betson

Column: It is not surprising that so many voices on both sides of the abortion debate have called for TDs and Senators to be giv(...)

Then taoiseach Bertie Ahern at a press conference in October 2001 to announce plans for the 2002 referendum on abortion. “In making the case for that referendum and for rowing back on the suicide ground Bertie Ahern and indeed Micheál Martin repeatedly cited the so-called ‘slippery slope’ argument that legislating for termination on grounds of suicide would, as Ahern put it, ‘commence an inevitable slide towards social abortion in Ireland’.” Photograph: Chris Bacon/PA

Column: If it opposes this legislation Fianna Fáil risks alienating the mainstream middle ground

Fianna Fáil’s capacity to recover will depend on its leader Micheál Martin’s success in tackling inherent organisational defects. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Column: Recent poll ratings bode well for Micheál Martin and his party

“Not putting the Seanad’s status to the Constitutional Convention undermines the Labour Party position.” Photograph: Frank Miller

There is no reason why judges should be the only ones consulted on the Upper House

“Same-sex statues” adorn the top of a wedding cake at a wedding specialists store in, Birmingham, England. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Opinion: Public support for change has happened faster than predicted

Nessa Childers with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore at the Ireland East count in Punchestown, Co Kildare, in June 2009.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Party establishment may be glad to see her go but timing of MEP’s decision adds impact

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