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The year of ‘new politics’, Ross in Transport, an election and the Donald

Inside Politics: Read our favourite pieces from the digest in 2016

Good morning, the digest this morning is a little different. We have asked each of the four contributors to choose their favourite piece from the digest in 2016. We also include some of the best tweets and some of the best reads from a very eventful year!

May - Pat Leahy on the Government’s first bruising encounter with “new politics” as it loses a Dáil vote for the first time:

O! What a beautiful morning!

A little less beautiful today if you are a member of the new Government, though.


There you are, settling in to your new office. Reading your briefing papers (Golly! We're going to need more money for the department in the budget!). Getting used to calling it "My Department". Getting used to being called "Minister" by your officials. Getting used to calling them "My Officials". Perusing the odd Mercedes catalogue (too Bertie; an Audi will do). Anyway, you get the picture. Congenial.

But this morning there is a grey cloud dulling the sunshine in your soul. Last night, the Government suffered its first defeat on a vote. Losing votes is not a habit you want in Government. Lose a few important votes, or lose a lot of semi-important votes, and the Government loses the capacity the implement its will in anything. Then it is over.

Marie O’Halloran’s report on the Private Members’ debate and vote is here.

With delicious irony, the Private Members' motion on workers' rights was put down by the Labour Party, determined now to take every opportunity to demonstrate it is absolutely not in government anymore.

The Government could only muster 58 votes in favour of its own amendment to the Labour motion. That is the core strength of Fine Gael plus Independents, and it is a long way from the 79 that constitutes a bare Dail majority.

Fianna Fáil voted with Labour against the Government as did Sinn Féin, the Green Party, a number of Independents and the AAA-PBP. As Cormac McQuinn reported in the Indo, Labour is saying this is the first time a government has been defeated on a vote like this since a similar defeat for Charles Haughey's 1987-89 minority government caused him to go to the country.

Well, that is not going to happen on this occasion.

As an expression of the minority Government’s numerical weakness, it was pretty brutal. But let us get things in perspective. It was a motion, not a Bill. The Government has already had to retreat on a Fianna Fáil Private Members’ Bill on mortgage arrears, knowing it would lose.

Losing on Private Members’ time might very well become the norm for the Coalition. The most important fact about the minority Government is just that: It is a minority.

But if the Government’s weakness in parliament extends into more weighty parts of the political and parliamentary agenda, then that will be a different matter.

The Government must seek cross-party support and work some old-time politics and cut deals to progress its agenda. It will not always be successful. But if it cannot get most of what it wants through parliament most of the time, then it is truly in office but not in power. And that will not last, no matter how congenial.

Reading Ross the riot act

November - Sarah Bardon doles out some tough medicine to Shane Ross:

Shane Ross has had a tough old weekend. He opened up Saturday's Irish Times to read the wrath of our esteemed political editor Stephen Collins.

Collins said he was the Achilles’ heel of the Government, who believed he was still a newspaper columnist.

Sunday's Business Post newspaper featured two similar columns from UTV Ireland's political editor Mary Regan and former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte.

It is every politician’s worst nightmare opening up a weekend newspaper to be read the riot act from political commentators and analysts.

It is a fate Ross himself has inflicted on hundreds of TDs, Ministers, board members, judges, semi-state chief executives and chairmen. Not many escaped the wrath of Ross in his years writing a Sunday Independent column.

Most of his criticism has been warranted, though some of it has been over the top and populist – which got me thinking about his transition to the role of Minister.

What would Shane Ross, the journalist and the Opposition TD, say about a Minister who rarely takes questions on his portfolio?

What would Shane Ross, the journalist and the Opposition TD, say about a Minister who appears on the national media every week criticising or at least poking his nose into another Minister’s portfolio?

What would Shane Ross, the journalist and the Opposition TD, say about a Minister who appears at a press conference and then restricts the questions?

What would Shane Ross, the journalist and the Opposition TD, say about a Minister who only published his plans six months in?

Would Shane Ross, the journalist and the Opposition TD, find his performance acceptable? Or would he dedicate his own Sunday column to castigate himself?

Ross has been a formidable columnist and politician for decades. However, he has been a reluctant Minister for Transport who has shown little interest in his portfolio.

He has focused his efforts on avoiding Cabinet collective responsibility and trying to win free votes from Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

His greatest battle has been one against the judiciary. It is a fight he has long sought and as a Cabinet member he is fully entitled to engage in such a dispute.

Ross’s passion would be commendable if he showed an ounce of enthusiasm for the battles occupying his own Department.

Ready, steady . . .

February - Fiach Kelly captures the excitement at the start of a general election:

When asked in recent weeks whether he was looking forward to the election campaign, one of Enda Kenny’s stock responses has been: “I’m f****ng dying for road”.

Well, road he shall have. On Kenny’s orders, the 2016 general election officially starts today. While the Taoiseach has yet to confirm it, polling day is widely expected to be Friday, February 26th.

Technically, the shortest campaign in the history of the State gets under way tomorrow. Realistically, it has been under way for quite some time.

Last night’s meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party saw Ministers and senior party figures outline elements of the manifesto.

Kenny himself has called the Fine Gael parliamentary party room a public forum and, as was the likely plan, what little details of the manifesto that had yet to be leaked have found their way into the newspapers, including our own lead.

Some TDs went into the final meeting expecting a blood-curdling, table-thumping battle cry from Kenny, but they were left disappointed. The Taoiseach told them “exciting times” are ahead and that it is important to, er, keep the recovery going.

The latest speculation is Kenny will drop the hammer on the 31st Dail quite early this morning, around 9.30am.

To those about to campaign: we salute you.

For those, like ourselves, who are relishing the great spectator sport of politics as we decide the course of our country for the next five years: Enjoy.

And then there was Trump.

November - Harry McGee on the Trumpster’s surprise victory:

We are going to build a wall around this digest. That's right, a wall. A great big wall. Nobody is as good as me at building walls, and I have many millions of followers between Facebook and Twitter by the way. It's great. We have won bigly on social media.

I know words, I have the best words. Nobody’s better with words than me. Believe me, nobody. There is no better words than Trump.

And so, yes, it is a Trump special today. Nobody else is allowed inside the walls. Trump-branded best reads. Trump-branded tweets.

There is usually an avalanche of stuff to read on the day after a US election, but this morning it is Himalayan. Trump's election has already sparked street protests in American cities (but not Waco, Texas, or Wichita in Kansas).

The reaction of his opponents has been that of those numbed with disbelief. It is like boxers who have been floored by a haymaker, staggering back unsteadily to their feet, putting the fists up as if ready to fight when you know their legs will buckle and give way any second.

Hillary supporters have been KO’d. It is the end

For the rest of us, it is like being part of the TV advert from some years back about a soft drink. We have been Tangoed by an orange person. What has it been like to have been metaphorically fondled by Donald? Well, not pleasant for most, seemingly.

There have been a number of predominant themes from the election. The first one has been about the angry, white, working-class men. The first thing to be said is that lots of well-off, white people in good jobs voted for Trump too.

They voted viscerally. Like the Brexiteeers, they hankered after an America that does not exist anymore, that was predominantly white, socially conservative and based on traditional industries.

The world has moved on. The rust belt cannot be buffed into gleaming chrome, just as the coal mines and ship-building cannot be returned to the north of England. The new Americans who have come from developing and poor countries cannot be deported en masse, irrespective of Trump's bombastic hyperbole.

Other big talking points: How the polls (and simplistic interpretation of them) got it so disastrously wrong again. How Trump’s campaign was the antithesis of everything that has come before. Trump did not have the money, his campaign was in disarray, his speeches were all over the place, he would not stay on message.

When we found out he likes going straight for women’s crotches, it was not the end of Donald.

In the last few days of the campaign, Trump’s team banned him from Twitter in case he said anything more egregious than he said in the past. It did not make any difference.

If he had tweeted that Hillary was a witch who would ditch Airforce One in favour of a broomstick, or that he prefers Vladimir Putin in the White House than Barack Obama, it is likely even more votes in the electoral college would have still come his way.

The big question now revolves around the nature and reach of the Trump presidency.

Just as Obama had to dilute all the messages of hope after 2008, I suspect Trump will quickly begin to dilute the outrage and the extreme stuff. He has made his reputation on the back of being a pragmatist, a self-promoter and a deal-maker.

However, it must be remembered the president-elect has zero experience as a lawmaker and will need to surround himself with people who know their way around the world of politics, policy and legislation.

His vice president, Mike Pence, is hardline, and a lot of the key people in his campaign team are ideologues. Many articles are predicting a fearful, extreme, isolationist and unstable presidency. It has been pointed out Trump is the first president to have been endorsed by the Klu Klux Klan.

Trump will try to make himself a new-millennium version of Ronald Reagan but will fail because he will not be able to win hearts and minds like Reagan did. Everything about him is unpredictable.

The bravest and most sensible reaction to his victory came from German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is a truly great political leader.

“German and America are connected by values of democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man, independent of origin, skin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political views,” she said.

"I offer the next president of the United States close co-operation on the basis of these values."

Tweets of the year

The shortest and most potent comment on Brexit.

The ghost of James Reilly still haunts Dublin North as this montage of Barry Ward pictures shows.

A teensy bit of needle between Dublin Fingal TD Louise O'Reilly of Sinn Fein and Fine Gael's Alan Farrell? O'Reilly was at a Dublin versus Laois game in Kilkenny and was obviously not impressed by the long traffic jams. Farrell retweets a tweeter who takes issue with O'Reilly's decision to call the local traffic cops in Kilkenny.

Leo prepares for the upcoming general election… in April!

My favourite tweet of the year was this tweet responding to Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill wishing hurler Patrick Bonner Maher well as he went on overseas duty with the Defence Forces.

(Some of) the best reads of the year

The Washington Post's excellent (and amazingly quick) long inside story on how Trump won the election.

We could have picked a score of Miriam Lord pieces. We particularly liked this on Boxer Moran's maiden speech

Stephen Collins recently stepped down as political editor after a decade at the helm. His political column on Saturdays was unmissable - this is a good example from the time of the formation of the Government.

Mick Clifford won journalist of the year for his piece, such as this balanced article that rowed against a particular consensus.

A wonderful insight into what makes Donald Trump tick from The New York Times.