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Welcome to the Era of The Donald

Inside Politics: Sinn Féin moves from generation war to generation politics

Perhaps you may not like your job very much. Maybe your boss is not a nice person. The hours could be long, the work is hard, the pay is peanuts. But it could be worse: you could be Donald Trump’s press secretary.

Sean Spicer, newly appointed as the White House's spokesman and wrangler-in-chief with the media, may have the worst job in politics, anywhere. Period. He is tasked with briefing the White House correspondents daily on The Donald's many thoughts and feats and ensuring that the administration "get its message across", as they say. That, one fears, may be something that it is impossible to achieve to the satisfaction of his boss.

On Saturday, this unfortunate Spicer - presumably operating on the Great Man’s instructions - summoned the press to the briefing room for their first meeting and delivered an angry rant about their coverage of the inauguration.

Yesterday, in his first official briefing to the correspondents, he was forced to admit that some of his facts were, uh, less than factual. Or at least, they were alternatively factual. That is to say, not factual at all in the generally accepted sense of the word. Welcome to the Era of The Donald, folks.


American politics has long been an obsession with the small number of people - politicians, advisers, journalists - who make up the political class here. But interest in the Trump administration goes well beyond those narrow confines. Everybody seems to be watching it.

Perhaps that is just for the soap opera elements of it. But I suspect it is also because people understand that what is happening in Washington will have a direct effect on their own lives. So far, four days into his presidency, Donald Trump is doing what he said he would do. He is pursuing an aggressive protectionist agenda on trade. That can only be bad for Ireland, one of the world's most globalised countries, home to dozens of big US companies, and exposed to US economic currents more than any other EU country.

On Friday, the British prime minister Theresa May visits President Trump, the first foreign leader to be invited to Washington by the new administration. So do the twin spectres threatening Ireland’s economic prosperity come together? Trump and Brexit, Brexit and Trump. As Lenin once said, you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

From generation war to generation politics

But while events in Washington command our goggle-eyed attention, the business of politics and government continue here.

Yesterday, Sinn Féin nominated Michelle O'Neill, the Minister for Health in the North's outgoing administration, to succeed Martin McGuinness, an important moment in the transition from generation war to generation politics in Sinn Féin. (Notice how prominent Mary Lou McDonald was in the proceedings, too. Perhaps her day is coming) Our Northern editor Gerry Moriarty's report and analysis, in which he reflects on the woes of the DUP, while Sinn Féin have their tails well and truly up, is here.

Should the DUP suffer at the elections in the way that the early days of campaigning suggest they could, there is a chance - albeit a slim one, but a chance nonetheless - that Sinn Féin could be the largest party in Stormont. Now that would truly be an earthquake.

Fine Gael leadership

Questions of leadership are never all that far away for Fine Gael either, if the truth be told. And yet if anyone is to challenge Enda Kenny, they will first have to make the case that this is in the national interest, not just the party's interests. Kenny was high-fiving and arm-punching in Longford yesterday as he launched the Government's strategy for the renewal of rural Ireland (analysis here), while today he will be back at Government Buildings for Cabinet at 10.15 am.

Our off-lead on the front page reveals that the Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is bringing proposals on redefining sexual consent, while it seems that another Commission of Inquiry (how many inquiries is that now?) into the gardaí may also be on the way, this time into allegations that garda whistleblowers were systematically targeted by a campaign intended to discredit them .

The Garda Commissioner Noirín O'Sullivan denied any knowledge or involvement yesterday, but this one has the feel of a ticking time bomb. Under whom it explodes, of course, remains to be seen. Coincidentally, the Policing Authority launched a new code of ethics yesterday. Our headline writers, perhaps somewhat optimistically, say that the "Garda code will ensure the 'highest standards'". Perhaps, perhaps.

The Taoiseach will pitch for business at the European Financial Forum, where he will tell an audience of bankers and masters of the universe that Ireland is open for their post-Brexit business. Forgive me if the prospect of the influx of hundreds or thousands of well-paid bankers from London doesn’t fill me with anticipation.

Or maybe this could be part of the rural regeneration strategy? They could go to Longford. Perhaps the people of Longford could let us know their thoughts.