John Dolan: Disruptor Boris v Disruptor Mary Lou... something tells me Brexit is going to get very interesting again

Many here will relish Mary Lou trading verbal blows with Boris Johnson and the Brexiting Brits. Others, especially those with memories of the recent conflicts between the two on this island, will recoil at the prospect, so says John Dolan.
John Dolan: Disruptor Boris v Disruptor Mary Lou... something tells me Brexit is going to get very interesting again
Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers his Unleashing Britain's Potential speech in the Painted Hall, Old Royal Naval College Greenwich, London, following the UK's exit from the European Union. Picture: Frank Augstein/PA Wire

IN politics and business — just like in life — people can be classified into three broad personality types: Doers, Dreamers and Disruptors.

An ideal government, or company, needs to have a good mix of all of them at the top, or it may be doomed to fail.

Too many Doers, who roll their sleeves up and get on with it, and you may take your eye off future trends and issues. Too many Dreamers and too little may actually get done today. Too many Disruptors and... kaboom! Things could get explosive!

Disruptors, certainly in business and politics, can get a bad press. They are restless, unpredictable, never happy with the status quo, throwing spanners in the works and spokes in the wheels.

But there’s good in them too. They can be brilliant innovators and inventors, providing solutions before the Doers and Dreamers knew the problem even existed.

In recent times, politics and businesses in the West have been run by Doers and Dreamers. But the past few years have seen the dawn of a new age of Disruption.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)
Tesla CEO Elon Musk. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

Businesspeople like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos led the way, disrupting and in some cases rupturing old industries in their pursuit of global business domination, riding the wave of new technologies.

Then the Disruptors began to break out into politics...

In the U.S., President Donald Trump has been labelled “the disruptor in chief”. It’s not intended as a compliment. He is widely unpredictable, hires and fires with gay abandon, and moves restlessly from topic to topic, devoting his all to it for a brief period, then dropping it like a stone.

Dominic Cummings, political strategist and special adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali
Dominic Cummings, political strategist and special adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

Then, in the UK, along came Boris Johnson. His advisor, Dominic Cummings, has also attracted the monicker of “the disruptor in chief”, but the Prime Minister himself is worthy of the label. One minute he’s going to build a bridge between Scotland and the North, the next he’s firing his Chancellor.

So far, so disruptive, for folks living in the U.S and UK, and those within its orbit, like Ireland and the EU, where Doers and Dreamers continue to wield power.

But what have we here...?

An Irish election takes place, and the people — just like the voters in the U.S and UK — are restless for change and turn to another Disruptor keen to lead us through an uncertain world. Step forward, Mary Lou McDonald.

Many would say she is a Doer and a Dreamer. But is she capable of being a Disruptor too?

Every year, the global media company Politico releases a list of 28 people who are shaping, shaking and stirring Europe, and, in their list for 2019 appeared our very own Mary Lou — allocated a place among nine EU Disruptors.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald with Sinn Fein TDs during the 1st meeting of the 33rd dail at Leinster House on Kildare Street,Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald with Sinn Fein TDs during the 1st meeting of the 33rd dail at Leinster House on Kildare Street,Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Now, just a few weeks into 2020, the Sinn Féin leader is on the cusp of power. If she doesn’t attain a prominent role in a coalition government and another election is called, she may well end up the sole Taoiseach of all she surveys.

In that scenario, Mary Lou and her party will need to be Doers — they have a lengthy check-list of tasks and promises to carry out, headed by housing and health — while their Dreamers, of course, will be hoping for a poll on a united Ireland.

But it is the shifting political landscape in the year ahead that fascinates me, and this is where Mary Lou’s calling as a Disruptor may come into play.

Because, to borrow a famous remark by Gerry Adams in an entirely different context, Brexit really hasn’t gone away, you know. Indeed, over the course of 2020 it will start to dominate the political agenda all over again as trade talks intensify.

In the UK, emboldened by his general election victory and by the UK finally leaving the EU, Boris Johnson is starting to cross swords with the EU with greater and more damaging frequency than ever before as he seeks a good deal when the UK formally leaves on (he hopes) December 31.

The EU, in turn, have been happy to return fire with fire, and insist Boris’s hope of a good trade deal for the UK while failing to sign up to various EU protocols is unworkable and pie in the sky.

Leo Varadkar at Phibblestown Community Centre in Dublin during the recent election. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Leo Varadkar at Phibblestown Community Centre in Dublin during the recent election. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Just a few months after his deal with Leo Varadkar, Boris is playing the Disruptor again, and all bets are off as to his next move.

Most crucially of all, for us, will he renege on the deal he struck avoiding a land border on the island of Ireland, and effectively creating one in the Irish Sea?

Clearly, a potentially powderkeg situation is already looming on the Brexit talks.

Now, pitch into this already unsettling quagmire Mary Lou McDonald as our new Taoiseach: a woman dedicated to a united Ireland, and who would not just take on the challenge of facing down Britain and the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (to give its full name), but would relish every minute of it.

Oh dear. Can you see where this is going? There may be trouble ahead...

It was one thing for Leo the Lion to roar at Britain, but imagine the optics of Mary Lou doing so...

Mary Lou, the fiery nationalist whose great-uncle was executed by Free State forces in the Civil War, and who once said, in a 2013 TV documentary: “I completely understood, and understand, why people volunteered for the IRA.”

And Boris, the womanising Eton and Oxford-educated Tory toff.

Two Disruptors with the economic futures of their countries in their hands...

What could possibly go wrong?

On election day a fortnight ago, just 1% of those asked in the RTÉ exit poll said Brexit was an issue in the voting booths. I wonder what the percentage will be come September. Or December.

Many here will relish Mary Lou trading verbal blows with Boris Johnson and the Brexiting Brits. Others, especially those with memories of the recent conflicts between the two on this island, will recoil at the prospect.

In December, Politico released its latest list of 28 people who will be shaping, shaking and stirring Europe in 2020. Clearly unaware of the imminent rise of Sinn Féin, they left Mary Lou out. I’d bet a shiny penny she will be in the 2021 list — but will she appear among the Doers and Dreamers, or will she appear, once again, as a Disruptor?

Mary Lou has insisted that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit and the hardening of the border in Ireland, Sinn Féin would demand a snap border poll.

“If the British system thinks that they’re going to inflict that level of jeopardy, damage, hardship and peril on our island and walk away, and expect all of us just to take it on the chin, I’m afraid they’re deeply misguided,” she said. “The British government is on notice.”

The type of undiplomatic, Disruptor fighting talk that will send a shiver of excitement — or a chill — down the spine of folk everywhere on this island, and beyond.

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