Party advisers steering the government negotiations

Behind every good political leader stands a formidable adviser, ready to steer a party through the darkest days and to guide its members to victory during the good ones.

Party advisers steering the government negotiations

Behind every good political leader stands a formidable adviser, ready to steer a party through the darkest days and to guide its members to victory during the good ones.

Overseeing election campaigns, Dáil strategies, and policy triumphs there is a party chief of staff toiling away, overseeing every political battle.

With government formation talks at a stalemate, those chefs de cabinet are now engaged in a complex political game of chess, trying to outdo each other, anticipating their rivals’ next steps.

Few members of the public can name the chief strategists who oversee parties.

They are unelected but make sure others get elected.

That’s key to their job: The ability to stay in the shadows and command from on high as the political spats play out on the airwaves, in newspaper columns, and in parliamentary setpieces.

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin have discerning chiefs of staff who have already had four years’ practice at trying to outdo each other under the confidence-and-supply deal between the parties.

Brian Murphy and Deirdre Gillane understand the political jousting that goes on in Leinster House.

The two play senior hurling, as politicians like to say, from dawn until dusk, and are loyal to their leaders to the end.

Coming onto the pitch for the government talks, Sinn Féin should not be taken for granted either.

Chief strategist Dawn Doyle has been active for almost 30 years and, as well as overseeing the party’s recent leadership change, the Wexford native has overseen tough elections and political standoffs in the North.

The Greens’ political manager, Anna Conlon, helped leader Eamon Ryan rebuild the party from zero to 12 Dáil seats.

She is driven, qualified, young, and creative, and seen as an integral force in the party’s post-election negotiations.

Anna Conlon, Green Party political manager

Having taken on the role of political manager 15 months ago, Conlon is chief among leader Eamon Ryan’s trusted advisers and is overseeing the current government negotiations.

She was the party’s director of elections in the recent general election.

A former assistant to Ryan when he took back his seat in 2016, she was one of only two party staff during that year’s election, managing a team of volunteers who helped return the party to national politics.

Conlon is a qualified earth and ocean scientist with other qualifications in management and while a native of Dublin, she was also a former intercounty ladies Gaelic footballer for Leitrim.

At 32, she is also a talented harp player, a dancer, and described as driven but low key by colleagues.

Conlon first got involved with the party during the climate gathering events in 2013.

Brian Murphy, taoiseach’s chief of staff

Chief among the wide circle advising the taoiseach, Murphy has been a loyal lieutenant, a crucial policy strategist, and, in a way, the brains behind Leo Varadkar’s steady rise through Fine Gael in recent years.

Murphy is respected across departments while keeping a low profile.

Originally from Ovens in Cork, he grew up in north Dublin.

A political giant, he was a former chair of the Fine Gael national executive and was signed up as an adviser to Varadkar when he was appointed transport minister in 2011.

Murphy is sometimes best recognised as the man who asked the question, on RTÉ’s Questions and Answers, that triggered the downfall of Brian Lenihan Sr, during his presidential run three decades ago.

One staff member said: “Everything goes through Brian. He is the first and last point of call.”

Dawn Doyle, general secretary of Sinn Féin

Born in Wexford and a die-hard GAA Slaneysider, Doyle moved up the ranks over two and a half decades to the top of Sinn Féin where she now oversees operations, including the current government formation talks.

A party activist since the 1980s, she became general secretary in 2009 and has held the role since, despite a challenge for the post from TD Eoin Ó Broin.

Hard-working, efficient, pleasant, and amiable are some of the descriptions of Doyle, who is close to leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Prior to general secretary, Doyle was in the party’s press office, then was a director of publicity from 1998 to 2008, including during the Good Friday Agreement talks, and then a 26 county director of political operations.

She is one of the most senior operators in Sinn Féin.

Deirdre Gillane, Fianna Fáil chef de cabinet

A straight-talking and formidable negotiator, Gillane has been by leader Micheál Martin’s side since she was drafted in as an adviser in 2001 when he was minister for health.

Pulling no punches, the strategist from Cork is a political streetfighter and has steered the party through its worst years, especially during confidence and supply with Fine Gael.

A former union official with the Irish Nurses Organisation, having also worked as a nurse for seven years at Cork University Hospital, Gillane also knows about frontline experience.

It is no coincidence Martin went after the outgoing government coalition on its record on health.

A keen Munster fan, Gillane also hails from a staunch GAA family and grew up in Glasheen.

In political circles, she probably is one of the most powerful women in Ireland at present, potentially guiding Fianna Fáil back into power.

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Let Me Tell You

Let Me Tell You is a new bespoke podcast series from 

Logo IE

Hosts Daniel McConnell and Paul Hosford take a look back at some of the most dramatic moments in recent Irish political history from the unique perspective of one of the key players involved.

Bespoke political podcast series from

Logo IE