Fine Gael – Fianna Fáil coalition

10 Feb 16

Des O’Malley’s volte face for Charles Haughey in 1989 shows that an FG-FF deal is possible
Published in the Sunday Business Post, 7 February 2016

The opinion polls suggest that Ireland is on course for a hung Dáil. The current political landscape does not present the same obvious coalition choices as before.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath first recognised this last August, when he said his party should not rule out entering government as a junior coalition partner. Dermot Ahern’s intervention last week was more explicit. The former justice minister suggested that Fianna Fáil could have no option but to support Fine Gael in government after the election.

The leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have categorically and unequivocally ruled out any such coalition. That said, anything can happen in the time between an election and the formation of a government. Pragmatism almost always wins over principles when power is at stake.

Lesson one: “It always seems impossible until it is done.” – Nelson Mandela.

May 14, 1989, National Stadium, Dublin. Des O’Malley makes his presidential speech at the Progressive Democrats ard fheis. “The shyest of them all, of course, is Mr Haughey. His serious interview outings are as rare as President Reagan’s used to be. The PJ voce of that redoubtable duce sees to that.” You really need to see the RTÉ video clip to fully appreciate how much O’Malley enjoyed sniping at his nemesis. That pause for effect and his rhyming emphasis on voce with duce, that only O’Malley could deliver in that droll tone.

His speech is dripping with vitriolic references to Haughey: arrogant, domineering, callous, obsessed with power, an orgy of drunken promises, an addiction to the photocall.

Haughey dissolves the Dáil 11 days later.

The PDs campaign on why the “malignant force” of Haughey is “unfit for office”.Alan Dukes and O’Malley announce a general election pact between Fine Gael and the PDs in a joint press conference on June 9, 1989. O’Malley makes an “unequivocal commitment to the electorate” not to vote for Haughey as Taoiseach. Fianna Fáil campaigns on its core principle of single-party government as a prerequisite for “stability”.

A deadlocked Dáil meets on June 29. For the first time in the history of the state, none of the candidates nominated for Taoiseach secures a majority. Fianna Fáil is short of six votes to form a government. The PDs win six seats in the election. O’Malley takes the opportunity to “unambiguously restate our position by stating that we would be voting against Deputy Haughey”.

Haughey describes the situation as “unprecedented” and, despite his constitutional requirement to resign as Taoiseach, refuses to do so. He goes on RTÉ’s This Week radio programme two days later, to decisively rule out Fianna Fáil abandoning its single-party government stance.

Lesson two: “The first reality of leadership is to accept reality.” – John Bruton.

Unknown to O’Malley, the 36-year-old Mary Harney decides to fly a kite on RTÉ radio about the feasibility of a coalition arrangement between the PDs and Fianna Fáil.

O’Malley will later write in his autobiography that Harney “saw reality earlier than most of us, and in fairness, I must say she articulated the unthinkable before anybody else”.

A deadlocked Dáil meets for a second time on July 3. “The record shows that coalition governments have not the same capacity to be effective and decisive as one party governments have,” Haughey tells the Dáil. O’Malley does an 180-degree turn and urges Fianna Fáil to “look at their claim to be the ‘party of reality’ . . . and to join in giving this country a Government based on partnership”.

Three days later, O’Malley and Haughey are singing from the same hymn sheet of national interest and stability when the Dáil meets yet again but fails to nominate a Taoiseach. O’Malley speaks of a new political era, a new approach. For his part, Haughey grudgingly acknowledges that Fianna Fáil may have to enter “into some form of political alliance”. He refuses to use the word coalition.

“Politics is not an academic profession, but rather one in which decisions have to be made that involve compromise and adaption to change and changing circumstances,” O’Malley later writes in Conduct Unbecoming. The title of his memoir is a reference to the incident that Haughey had used to expel him from Fianna Fáil.

Lesson three: “Dáil arithmetic is more powerful than bitter, personal animosities.” – Brendan O’Brien, Today Tonight, RTÉ.

The impossible happens on July 12, 1989. O’Malley announces to the Dáil that he is “pleased and proud” to propose Haughey as Taoiseach. It only takes 27 days for Fianna Fáil to renounce its 63-year principle of single-party government and for the PDs to coalesce with their sworn adversaries.

Haughey still studiously avoids the word “coalition”. The “only possible alliance”, a “new government”, and “new administration” get him over his linguistic principles. Albert Reynolds will later famously describe the Fianna Fáil-PD government as a “temporary little arrangement”.

Haughey marks the historic occasion with a quote from an 18th-century Joseph Addison play about the tyranny of Julius Caesar. “Tis not in mortals to command success; but we’ll do more, Sempronius, we’ll deserve it,” he says.

The impossible happens because political pragmatism demands it.

Lesson four: “The national interest requires a stable coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.” – Enda Kenny or Micheál Martin, March 2016.

Public Sector Standards Bill submission

23 Dec 15

Public Sector Standards Bill can be accessed here

Presentation and debate on the Bill at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform can be accessed here


Submission to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform on the Public Sector Standards Bill by Dr. Elaine Byrne, governance consultant to the European Commission.

November 2015

1. Register of Liabilities
2. Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner – Canada
3. Three additional reforms
• Independent Commission on political funding
• Financial compensation for whistleblowers
• A review of Ireland’s oversight agencies.

1. Register of Liabilities

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Con Lucey letter to Eddie Downey on remuneration

23 Nov 15

Mr Eddie Downey, President IFA 18/8/2014

Dear Eddie,
Further to my letter to you on 11 August and our subsequent discussion on the phone on 13 August, I have decided to stick to my decision to resign as chairman of the IFA Audit Committee. I acknowledge the views expressed by you, and also by the General Secretary, Pat Smith, that my concerns would be addressed and that I should reconsider my decision. However, I think it is preferable to appoint someone with qualifications and experience in Accountancy / Auditing. All that study, qualifications and work experience of people in that profession must account for something! Such a person also has the advantage of being independent from IFA and its personnel, both voluntary and staff.
However, as we discussed, I am happy to pass on my thoughts on some issues which we were starting to examine in the AC, and which the new committee may wish to put on their agenda. I hasten to add that we were not at a stage to make recommendations on these issues, and it would be wrong to conclude that we had identified any problems. This is no more than a work agenda, but may be helpful to a new chairman coming from outside IFA.
First, I wish to comment on two general issues.
I think the operation of the AC to-date should be looked on as a learning experience. I feel that all parties now agree that the AC should have a sufficient degree of operational independence. Thus the clause in the current Terms of Reference regarding the attendance by the General Secretary and Financial Controller should be changed so that their attendance is only by invitation from the AC.
I also wish to state that my decision to resign was not based on any findings by the AC regarding any financial irregularity in IFA. There were no such findings.
My overriding recommendation is that the Audit Committee should continue, with the two changes already referred to, a qualified and independent chairman, and adequate operational independence. I believe the other members should continue to be the Treasurer and immediate past Treasurer. I had not discussed with my two colleagues, Jer and JJ, how decisions would be reached in the AC in the event of disagreement. Based on some experience I have on the Employment Appeals Tribunal which consists of three-person panels, my suggestion is that decisions should be on the basis or either consensus, or majority of any two members. The AC’s recommendations should go to the Executive Board. It should be remembered that they are only recommendations.
The following are the main issues we intended to have a look at in the AC during the remainder of 2014:
• Review the level, timing and method of financial reporting in IFA, taking account in particular of the primacy of the Executive Council.
• Review internal financial controls to ensure that all expenditure is authorised and that the method of authorisation is robust.
• Review IFA’s code of practice and training programmes for Committee Chairmen and Staff in order to minimise the risk of litigation by Regulators and Commercial firms.
• Review the maximum time limits for payment of expenses to ensure that claims can be verified (currently €1.2m of estimated expenses by Committee and County Chairman are unclaimed).
• Examine the issues that may arise from changes to accountancy standards which are to apply from January 2015.
I wish to expand on the final point on the list; these views are my own as the item has not been discussed by the AC, other than a short discussion at a meeting with Deloitte in May. The new accountancy standard (FRS 102) is to apply from 1/1/2015. One significant change is that transactions between IFA and related parties will have to be recorded in the accounts. One such related party is “key management”.
In giving some consideration to the implementation of this change, it is apparent to me that there is a lack of accountability in the setting of levels of financial remuneration for the two most senior office-holders, i.e. the honorarium to the President and the pay and benefits of the General Secretary. I have already mentioned this issue to you informally, as an issue that needs to be addressed by IFA.
I know we both agree that IFA (like Caesar’s wife in the popular quotation) must be above suspicion, because of the responsibilities it bears. It is obvious that the Association needs to maintain the confidence of the very large membership base, and needs to ensure that the Association’s work is not eroded by negative publicity. To maintain confidence, there should be clear accountability for all major decisions in relation to the governance of the Association. Whereas the rules in relation to elections and policy formulation are clear and transparent, the same is not the case in relation to top-level remuneration.
I believe that there is a compelling case for the establishment of a Remuneration Committee in IFA which would have responsibility for setting the levels of financial reward for the top two office-holders at least. The membership should most likely be drawn from senior elected officers, with the possibility of an external expert as well. It should not include the President and General Secretary for obvious reasons.
While the external auditor, Deloitte, can be expected to provide advice on the implementation by IFA of the accountancy rules changes, I believe that this does not remove the need for a Remuneration Committee.
Finally, I overlooked in my earlier letter to acknowledge the cooperation and support for the AC provided by Ken Heade, and I wish to do so now.
I hope this letter is of benefit to you and the Association.
Yours sincerely,

Con Lucey.

Pat Smith, General Secretary
Tim O’Leary, Deputy President
Jer Bergin, Honorary Treasurer and member of the AC
JJ Kavanagh, member of the AC.
Ken Heade, Financial Controller.

Con Lucey letter of resignation to Eddie Downey

23 Nov 15

Mr Eddie Downey
President IFA


Dear Eddie,
I wish to inform you that I am resigning forthwith as Chairman of the IFA Audit Committee.
The immediate reason for this decision is what I consider as unacceptable interference by the General Secretary, Pat Smith, in the work of the Committee. The first significant working meeting of the Audit Committee (AC) was fixed for the 22nd July to deal with three items. On 18th July I received a phone call from IFA at the direction of Pat Smith requiring that the meeting be deferred until he had the opportunity to review the material prepared by the Financial Controller for the meeting. The relevant item was to “check that all expenditure is authorised and the method of authorisation is robust”. The normal checking procedure involves reviewing transactions over a randomly chosen recent period. In my view, it would be a waste of the AC’s time and a charade if documentation were first to be sanitized before being considered by the AC.
There are also some general reasons for my decision, based on my experience during the short life of the AC to-date.
First, the condition that the General Secretary attends the meetings of the AC, while not a member, is an anomaly. It is apparent that his presence is intended to influence the meetings; if the purpose is solely to provide information then it should be by invitation of the Committee. This condition is undesirable, as it is likely to stifle open discussion at the Committee. It is unnecessary, as recommendations from the AC go to the Executive Board, and there is adequate scope at that point for the General Secretary to influence the outcome. And it is in conflict with the very purpose of the Audit Committee.
Second, it is now clear to me that I should not have accepted the position of Chairman of the AC. The Chairman should have qualifications and experience in Accountancy / Auditing (which I have not), and should be “emotionally detached” from IFA (which also I am not). My parting advice is that the AC should be continued and that an appropriate person should be found for the Chair.
I hope that you find these comments of assistance and, as I already indicated, I see a valuable role for the Audit Committee in the more demanding times we now live in. Also, I hope that Jer Bergin and JJ Kavanagh will continue to participate in the AC.
For my part, I have no wish to conclude my relationship with yourself or IFA on a discordant note. However, in the circumstances which I have outlined here, I now see that continuing as Chairman of the AC would not be the best outcome for either IFA or myself.
I wish you and the Association well.
Yours sincerely,

Con Lucey.

Pat Smith, General Secretary
Tim O’Leary, Deputy President
Jer Bergin, Honorary Treasurer and member of AC
JJ Kavanagh, member of AC
Ken Heade, Financial Controller.

The Golden Law

19 Oct 15

First published in the Sunday Business Post 18 October 2015

A friend once told me a story. The man next door used to beat his wife, usually in the early hours of Saturday morning.

He heard everything. His deliberate footsteps as he walked toward her and those ugly pitched pleading cries in anticipation of what was to come. Him dragging her across the wooden floor by her hair. The blows. The begging. The things he said to her. The screams reduced to muffled cries as she desperately tried to appease him.

When he called the Guards it made things worse.They would come and knock on his door, enter the house, check on her and try talk to him. She never made a complaint. The Guards would park outside the house for a while and every now and again drive slowly by.

He would hit her harder when the Guards were gone. He knew who had called them and he let him know by shouting through the walls in between his kicks and punches. My friend could tell the difference by the sound of the impact. He was a vicious bastard who relished in the idea that he had an audience.

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Government must not block access to justice

29 Sep 15

First published in the Sunday Business Post 20 September 2015

Why is the government once again attempting to deny Irish citizens access to justice?

A government source confirmed to Pat Leahy in last week’s Sunday Business Post that it would introduce legislation to copperfasten Ireland’s ban on third party litigation funding.

This obscure doctrine of champerty was introduced in Ireland during centuries ago under the Maintenance and Embracery Act 1634. The support of someone else’s legal claim in exchange for a share of the potential damages is a criminal offence in Ireland. Champerty was abolished in England and Wales in 1967. Third party litigation funding is standard practice in Australia and the US.

Ireland is an outlier within common law jurisdictions. Why does the government want to buck this international trend of making the justice system accessible to all, regardless of access to financial resources? For now it is not said. But it would essentially undermine one high profile case that is imminent.

The Persona/Sigma consortium was a runner-up in the 1996 competition for the mobile phone licence, which was awarded to Esat Digifone. In a long running High Court case, Persona/Sigma is challenging the decision, arguing it should have been the winner.

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Rent controls will make things worse

23 Sep 15

First published in the Sunday Business Post 23 August 2015

Peter McVerry is wrong. Rent controls are not the answer to Ireland’s homelessness crisis.

McVerry called for new legislation to freeze rents on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland last Wednesday. The situation was “beyond crisis” he said, noting that the number of families in emergency accommodation had risen from 410 in January to 659 in July. Threshold, Focus Ireland and Simon Community have also made the clarion call for rent caps.

You’d have to be a hard bastard not to empathise with mothers staying up all night keeping watch over her children as they slept under a tree in the Phoenix Park. But tragic stories allow emotional rhetoric to cloud rational policy making. So why is McVerry wrong?

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Fennelly and Irish governance

22 Sep 15

First published by the Sunday Business Post 6 September 2015

The interim report of the Fennelly Commission is a contemporaneous account of how Irish political power really works.

This is the first time in the history of the state that official sanction has been given to reveal the internal apparatus of the state when the administration under investigation is still in government. The Taoiseach’s decision to give the Garda Commissioner no other option but to retire happened just eighteen months ago.

In the normal course of events, the Irish public is only granted this insight every Christmas when National Archives release Departmental and Cabinet files after the statutory thirty year period. The Mahon and Moriarty Tribunals reported decades after matters under investigation had happened.

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My first Ironman

15 Sep 15

Published in the Sunday Business Post 13 September 2015

Ironman 70.3 Dublin  1.9k swim : 90k cycle : 21k run

“The zip is from the top down.” Ok, yeah, no problem. He was the third guy to get me to lock him into his wetsuit.

I was smearing myself in Vaseline to prevent my wetsuit chaffing at the neck. Triathlons have that tendency for the intimate. The gear changes in the open mean inevitable nakedness. You get over that pretty quickly. The real intimacy is exposing the fight against yourself in public. Admitting to strangers your personal struggles.



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Why can’t Renua and the Social Democrats make the breakthrough?

14 Sep 15

Published in the Sunday Business Post 13 September 2015

Why can’t the new political parties make the breakthrough?

What do we want? A new political party! When do we want it? Now! So went the refrain in Irish public life since the troika took control of Irish decision making in 2010. It was assumed that the answer to the failure of establishment politics was the establishment of new political parties.

Political polls have consistently shown that almost a third of the electorate are prepared to vote for Independents or Others. Yet, the formation of Renua and the Social Democrats has failed to make any indelible impact. Both parties will justifiably argue it is still early days and that they are on a steep organisational curve without the same access to state funding as Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail or Labour. Nonetheless, Renua and the Social Democrats have only managed to capture less than five per cent of a vote which is actively seeking an alternative. Why?

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