Former HSE chief executive Tony O’Brien gave some insight into the failings of the health system. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Former HSE chief gave his views on so much more than Simon Harris’s competence

DUP MP Sammy Wilson. His exchanges exposed the chasm between the DUP view of Brexit and that of most other politicians and commentators. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Sammy Wilson’s Westminster performance underlines how the party is now isolated

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and British prime minister Theresa May during a bilateral meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Taoiseach Government/PA Wire

Brexit threatens North’s peace with potential for Border to become a targeted zone

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: in 2016, he and his party membership settled for confidence and supply out of genuine national motives. Photograph: North West Newspix

Confidence and supply deal works and, apart from dramatics, neither party wants election

Brexit is a challenge to test any charismatic, brilliant leader. May is neither

President Michael D Higgins at the official launch of his re-election campaign. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

No-frills launch reflects advantages the incumbent enjoys in presidential election race

The National Ploughing Championships in Screggan, Tullamore, Co Offaly. Photograph: Tom Honan

The show is now a compulsory pilgrimage for all office-holders and political wannabes

US president Donald Trump: We can now avoid the need for the Irish president to receive him. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Circumnavigation of tricky issues no longer necessary as US president’s trip called off

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Economic and social background is not a useful guide to ministerial ability

 Minister for Communications Denis Naughten:  under pressure on two  fronts over the lack of rural broadband and the closure of post offices. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Issues such as lack of broadband and post office closures will shape next government

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has approached the issue of a merger with the SDLP with his trademark caution. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Mooted FF-SDLP merger among potential changes for parties as tectonic plates shift

Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hold their press conference on the street after the British failed to provide a room following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London last month. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Recent meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference shows up divisions

President Michael D Higgins with two former presidents, Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, at Áras an Uachtaráin in 2013. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The presidency is a critical role that balances soft power and expert political knowledge

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Photograph: Kim Haughton/EPA

Silly season and hypersensitivity turn offhand comments into front-page news

File image of  President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin. File photograph:

Micheál Martin’s support for Michael D Higgins achieves several objectives

Seán Lemass and the president Eamon de Valera in 1969. When he became taoiseach, Lemass immediately hit the ground running having the effect, as de Valera’s described it, of sending “a breath of fresh air throughout the country” Photograph: Paddy Whelan/The Irish Times

Fine Gael reportly considering co-opting 1965 slogan ‘Let Lemass Lead On’

A successful Border poll in Northern Ireland would be only the beginning of a process of constitutional reframing which could take five or 10 years. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Some think Irish unity is as simple as winning referendum in Northern Ireland

Child benefit is arguably one of most socially regressive payments made out of public funds. Photograph: iStock

Regina Doherty should have stuck to her guns on potential cut for higher earners

Yes campaigners  at Dublin Castle  on May 26th. Turnout from younger voters, especially among  females, was best measured by a political Richter scale. Photograph: Getty Images

This referendum campaign will have a profound influence on public affairs

UK minister for immigration Caroline Nokes:  demonstrated a complete lack of basic understanding about  issues relating to the Border and immigration issues on the island of Ireland.

Caroline Nokes’s car-crash Belfast Agreement answers expose Brexit ill-preparedness

My Yes view is also shaped by the reality that the Eighth Amendment has not prevented Irish abortions – it has merely exported them to Britain. Photograph: Getty Images

I have found reassurances about my decision to support repeal over recent weeks

Given the contorted state of British cabinet politics and the delusions which persist among many British commentators and voters about Brexit, a collapse in talks now rather than in October would be the lesser of two evils. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Derailment may provoke change in UK politics needed to bring realism to talks

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan (right) with Senator Catherine Noone, handing out Vote Yes leaflets to commuters outside Pearse Street Station in Dublin. Photograph: Laura Paterson/PA Wire

Eighth Amendment has forced isolation and travel on thousands of pregnant Irish women

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has clearly decided he wants to be remembered for doing part of the Minister for Justice’s job, rather than doing anything substantial in his own department.  Photograph: Alan Betson

The underlying realities reiterated in last week’s ‘Irish Times’ poll militate against a general election

The HMT Empire Windrush brought migrants from the Caribbean to Britain in what became a wave of postwar immigration from commonwealth countries. Photograph: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images

New laws require immigrants to produce documentation to establish their status

Good Friday agreement: ill health has deprived us of the eloquence of John Hume (centre) in recent years, but the importance of his advocacy endures. Photograph: Alan Betson

Good Friday 1998 was a day when politics achieved what was presumed impossible

“The fact that the Constitution gives the first decision on whether a referendum will be held to our TDs and Senators is just another way in which ours is a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy.” File photograph: Alan Betson/Irish Times

Noel Whelan: Oireachtas has constitutional duty to decide on referendums for citizens

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Noel Whelan: The party needs to hurry up and take its seats in Westminster

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  after the launch of Project Ireland 2040. He  has realised belatedly  the SCU  controversy threatens not only to sap much political energy but to slowly erode his reputation for authenticity

A strategic State approach to communications cannot be seen to benefit any political party

John Major. As British prime minister he put in the hours for peace in Northern Ireland. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

Former prime minister was the last senior Conservative politician to truly care about the island

Fianna Fáil strategists express confidence that they will be able to restrain the Varadkar impact when an election actually comes. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Noel Whelan: Polls point to need for continuing confidence and supply arrangements

Parliament buildings in Belfast.  Photograph: Reuters

Party leadership only cares about language as a means to score a political win in North

The joint report which marked the end of the first phase of Brexit negotiations committed Britain and the EU 27 to ensure Irish citizens in Northern Ireland would “continue to enjoy rights as EU citizens, including where they reside in Northern Ireland”.

Position of Irish citizens in North raises legal, diplomatic and political issues

‘Abortion and rape are part of the real-life context in which the current debate about repeal of the Eighth Amendment takes place.’ File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Politicians who oppose the 12 weeks proposal must outline a realistic alternative

Leo Varadkar: whatever about his views on abortion, it seems the Taoiseach  has changed his views on the merits of allowing free votes

Noel Whelan: TDs and Senators will have to stand by their decisions in abortion debate

Graffiti artist Maser’s Repeal the Eighth: will we need to insert text giving the Oireachtas the power to legislate for abortion provision? Photograph: Enda O’Dowd

Provision for Oireachtas to make laws about abortion could curb possible challenges

‘Those killed in the Troubles were not Catholic or Protestant victims – they were human lives destroyed.’ Photograph: Getty Images

Sinn Féin MP’s gaffe underlines the need to do more to help the victims of the Troubles

Mary Lou McDonald:  Everyone knows the leadership handover to her is a foregone conclusion. Photograph: Getty Images

Adams has been the unopposed candidate for the Sinn Féin leadership for 34 years

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (c) and Tánaiste Simon Coveney with Helen McEntee during a Brexit press conference at Government Buildings earlier this month. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fine Gael has been buoyed by the generational change in its leadership

Nine million people in Britain are always or often lonely. One in 10 older people often go a month without seeing family, friends or neighbours. Image: iStock

Ireland should set up a cross-party Oireachtas-led commission on loneliness

Members of the Pro-Life Campaign during a silent gathering outside Leinster House where the Oireachtas committee on abortion was sitting. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Media has important role to play in providing access to evidence in abortion debate

Simon Coveney: his  remarks were clearly framed within the context of the Good Friday Agreement

The Government has a constitutional prerogative to support Irish unity

Government has gambled a lot on EU solidarity and UK concessions over next seven days

The rural post office is  a one-stop shop for confidential guidance about public services, postal needs or help with various financial transactions. Photograph:  Getty Images

Postmasters have shown an unrivalled capacity to adapt and compete

Lisa Chambers’ statement implied that our national capacity to address such threats was somehow undermined by the Taoiseach tweeting a picture in which the membership of Committee F was identifiable. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Suggesting Committee F picture is security breach is ludicrous – you can easily Google it

John Halligan:   rural colleagues are rightly furious at how he has managed to leave the Independent Alliance open to even more ridicule. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fantasies about North Korea reveal dangerous self-delusion

The Irish Government will insist on a say in how Westminster governs Northern Ireland if no Executive is re-established at Stormont. The Belfast Agreement entitles it to such a say. Photograph: Getty Images

We are about to see first public divergence by governments on North since Belfast Agreement

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and RTÉ broadcaster David McCullagh at the National Library for the launch of ‘De Valera: Volume I: Rise (1882–1932)’. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Taoiseach notes thin line between politicians’ great strengths and biggest weaknesses

The ineffectual politicians in ‘The Thick of It’ look almost competent compared with Theresa May. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The mantra ‘There will be no hard Border’ is not enough to magic the prospect away

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: “He is neither an ideologue nor a risk-taker. He is unapologetically moderate and incremental.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Moderation and incremental approach to budget balanced with political generosity.

‘International pay-TV companies  have made massive monies on the back of free Irish-made content.’  File photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Irish channels have every right to charge international cable firms for retransmission

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin. Mr Varadkar has announced plans for seven referendums. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

The plans are nothing but a weak Government trying to prove it has vision and durability

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar faced questions for an hour when the Dáil returned this week from its lengthy recess. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Government’s claim to be able to legislate will stand or fall on progress of alcohol Bill

Hillary Clinton has revealed she considered  including a universal basic income as a central policy plank in her 2016 election campaign. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s revelation that she considered such a proposal shows its potency

Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald at Sinn Féin’s annual ‘think-in’ this week. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Micheál Martin’s ruling out of a government with the party is due to political necessity

‘Silly-season syndrome is the only thing which could explain how, after 2.8m people have already taken up the public service card, it has suddenly become a supposedly massive political issue.’

Data-protection watchdog should know better than to fan the flames of the controversy

President Michael D Higgins. His election to a second term or replacement by a rival will exert influence on when the next general election will be held. Photograph: Leonardo Munoz/EPA

Eighth Amendment vote and presidential election will both influence timing of the poll

One of the British government’s Brexit position papers  published in London this week. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland now only a bystander in crucial discussions about future of the country

John McNamee, dressed as a customs officer, joined other members of Border Communities Against Brexit in setting up a mock customs post near Newry in April. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

DUP claims about frictionless post-Brexit Border have been exposed as fantasy

Former British prime minister David Cameron during the Brexit referendum campaign. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/AFP/Getty Images

Brexit books and a documentary on Macron may provide sustenance in the off-season

‘In Leo Varadkar’s first month, Fianna Fáil has for understandable political reasons sought to hobble the new Taoiseach.’ File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Taoiseach is open and decisive, but has not yet proved he is a leader of substance

'Vincent Browne on TV3 showed a genuine commitment to diversity.’ Photograph: Brian McEvoy

The journalist leaves a trail of memorable moments as he prepares to sign off for good

Solidarity/People Before Profit  TDs Mick Barry, Bríd Smith, Paul Murphy and Gino Kenny.

Factionalism has long relegated fractious hard left to margins of Irish politics

Shane Ross: at the Minister’s insistence, the Dáil spent hours debating the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill this week. Photograph: Alan Betson

Passage of important legislation has had to play second fiddle to Shane Ross’s pet project

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. The battle between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has been recast by the change in leadership in the former. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

New dynamic emerges between parties but not over Whelan appointment

New Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has reshuffled his Cabinet.

Contrary to media commentary, the Taoiseach may have overdone it in terms of changes

Leo Varadkar reached the highest political office in our system just 10 years after he first entered parliament. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/EPA

New Fine Gael leader’s quietness makes his meteoric ascent all the more remarkable

The Conservatives have depicted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as odd and dysfunctional. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Labour Party manifesto was more centrist, more costed and more popular

The documents published by Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney contain much that is vague and aspirational. However, they are worthy of close scrutiny for hints of where either man would take us as taoiseach. Photograph: Barbara Lindberg.

Noel Whelan: Coveney and Varadkar promises ring hollow against Dáil logjam

In October 2013,  when the results of the Seanad abolition referendum was announced, Kenny promised  he would reform the Upper House. He didn’t mean it, and  did everything possible to avoid doing so

Former FG leader on several occasions showed a determination to stay in power

Fine Gael’s Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar: party leadership contests are personality contests rather than competitions about policy. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Party campaigns are personality contests rather than competitions about policy

‘There are 12 weeks of Dáil sittings between now and the summer. These will be dominated by the Fine Gael leadership contest and a Cabinet reshuffle. We can expect even less focus on law-making this term.’

It was said the ‘new politics’ needs ‘bedding down’, but our politicians are almost asleep

“My cautious assessment is that there is a strong majority now for abortion in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality or where the pregnancy is as a result of rape or incest.” File photograph: iStockPhoto

No reason why vote could not be held in late February or early March next year

British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers his first general election campaign speech in London on April 20th. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Theresa May undermines British democracy by announcing a vote with no real choice

A Sinn Féin leadership change to Mary Lou McDonald is likely to significantly improve the party’s  position. Photograph: Alan Betson

Noel Whelan: new leaders of FG or SF only things likely to shake up Dáil make-up

The fact  the British government and various EU institutions have acknowledged their responsibility to protect the Belfast Agreement in the Brexit talks is welcome, but it is now time to focus on how that can best be done

We should insist on bilateral talks on Brexit’s implications for the agreement

A protester in London holds an effigy of Britain’s prime minister Theresa May during an anti-Brexit demonstration in London, England. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Irish frustration must be channelled towards getting the best outcome in EU negotiations

DUP leader Arlene Foster signs a book of condolence for her late former colleague Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Wednesday. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Noel Whelan: Definitive view of the IRA leader turned politician still to be formed

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks at a St Patrick’s Day breakfast at the Naval Observatory  in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2017.  Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Little substance to announcement 1,265 days after convention’s recommendation

In recent times, mainstream southern politics dared not to speak of Irish unity for fear that to do so would unsettle unionism at delicate moments in the peace process. Illustration: Getty

Frank debate about unity should be pursued without fear of spooking unionists

Fine Gael argues that in order to comply with European law, and avoid  fines, we must at a minimum provide for a charge on the excessive use of water. Photograph: iStock

The Dáil is not free to do as it chooses on water – it has to comply with European law

‘Enda Kenny will be clinging to office for another eight or 10 weeks but will have no power.’ Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

Fine Gael Ministers will be absorbed by the leadership race and not focused on their jobs

 “It is difficult to see how whoever succeeds Enda Kenny could do a worse job of it than he did this week.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Enda Kenny’s rickety relationships all took a hit over his handling of the McCabe scandal

Former Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.

DUP leader’s Irish language comments exposed the arrogance alleged by Sinn Féin

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with British prime minister Theresa May in Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

British prime minister’s talk of a ‘frictionless’ Border has already been exposed as a fantasy

Not a single Bill initiated by the Opposition has come close to being enacted by the current Dáil and Seanad

Arguably the only substantial piece of new legislation passed by the Dáil was the Act to tackle the housing and homelessness crisi(...)

EU chief Brexit negotiator  Michel Barnier: It is significant  that there is no express provision in article 50 allowing for  countries actually bordering an  exiting member state to be directly involved in the negotiations. Photograph:  François Lenoir/Reuters/File

Direct input from Dublin is essential as article 50 framework has deep flaws

Theresa May: So far the British prime minister has been unable to decide or communicate what kind of post-Brexit relationship Britain should have with the EU. Photograph: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

It is foolish to wait and see what the UK will do before deciding what is best for Ireland

Nigel Farage: just because the idea that Ireland could leave the European Union came out of his mouth doesn’t mean it is necessarily wrong. Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters

Brexit means our main trading partners, the UK and US, will be outside the EU

‘The Dáil parties and Independent groupings, having lined up in Government and Opposition, are frozen in position for fear that any sudden movement may cause the whole thing to come to an end.’

Politicians and officials speak of unease pending Brexit and the Trump presidency

Claire Foy playing Queen Elizabeth and Matt Smith as Prince Philip in The Crown

The books, movies, podcasts and programmes to get you through the downtime

‘Gerry Adams got himself into his current political difficulty because he was engaged in political handling.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Adams got caught out while trying to manage the fallout of Austin Stack’s fight for answers

Austin Stack (left) and Oliver Stack, sons of prison officer Brian Stack, in Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The precedents that illustrate the Sinn Féin leader’s loose relationship with the truth are stacked high and can only damage his c(...)

A Right2Water  demonstration in Dublin. Unfounded concerns about privatisation “contributed to the creation of a climate of uncertainty and mistrust”, concludes an expert group. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Experts were given impossible, highly politicised task, making for timid report

Minister for Transport Shane Ross: struggling under the intense scrutiny and weighty responsibility that go with Cabinet membership. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Minister’s animated spat contrasts with low-energy departmental performance

Donald Trump and  sons Eric  and  Donald Jr attend a “Celebrity Apprentice All Stars” press conference in 2012. The property mogul became a reality TV megastar in 2004 as the ringmaster of “The Apprentice”. Photograph:  Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Above all else, Donald Trump’s shock victory comes down to his massive celebrity

US president-elect Donald Trump – “vulgar, abusive, anti-immigrant, misogynistic and narcissistic, and he has been elected despite this”. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

We can deal with incoming US president without abandoning our self-respect

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the All-Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke

Not clear how ‘all-island forum’ without unionist involvement is supposed to help calm impact of Brexit

Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly: her outburst in the Dáil   “undermines the separation between politics and the judiciary”. Photograph: Fergal Phillips

TDs such as Daly and Paul Murphy have same access to redress as all other citizens

Watching the Donald Trump campaign disintegrate is both compelling and disturbing. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Even if defeated, the candidate has ability to damage the US political system even further

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