Tuesday 23 January 2018

Backroom advisers can't avoid political limelight

Sam Smyth

IT'S the backroom advisers who dig out the parties' frontline negotiators when they get bogged down in pie charts and statistics in the Sycamore Room in Government Buildings.

They took up their places alongside the three politicians with each team on opposite side of the famous wooden table yesterday -- and they expect to be there until Saturday.

And when a deal is clinched and their political masters take the credit, Dr Colm O'Reardon and Andrew McDowell will go home and prepare for government.

The price the faceless advisers will pay for a week doing business in Government Buildings is sacrificing their anonymity.

Like virginity, anonymity can only be lost once and they will have no choice but join the tiny but elite group of celebrity economists whose name are recognised by the public.

Both Mr McDowell and Dr O'Reardon never saw minor fame as a substitute for writing a great policy document and winning the acclaim of their economist peers.

But as directors of policy for Fine Gael and the Labour Party they will also have a major role when their political bosses unite in coalition.

Fine Gael's Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter sat down yesterday to talk turkey with Brendan Howlin, Joan Burton and Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party.

Each party team leader had a long list of issues prioritised from easily negotiable to doable to potential deal-breaker -- and it was drawn up with their policy advisers.

As the negotiations dragged on, the economists sitting alongside them might have noticed the yew inlays in the famous sycamore table as the shuffled through their files.


They will have prepared memos on each potential sticking point, with figures supporting their arguments and precedents of how similar difficulties were tackled in other countries.

Both Dr O'Reardon and Mr McDowell were seen commuting between their offices and the talks yesterday, talking intently into mobiles and laden down with documents.

They are remarkably similar in achievement and ambition and in their own way they reflect many of the values of the parties they serve.

Colm O'Reardon, is a thirtysomething father of two daughters living near Skerries in north County Dublin. His wife Nuala has her own successful career in the Central Bank.

His brother Aodhan (he says it rhymes with crayon) O Riordain was elected as a TD for the Labour Party in Dublin North Central last Saturday.

Both Colm and Aodhan are regular spectators at Croke Park as devoted followers of the Dublin football team -- whose recent success was mirrored at the polls for the Labour Party last weekend.

A former Rhodes scholar at Oxford like Bill Clinton, Dr O'Reardon worked at the ESRI before joining the Labour Party's backroom team before the election in 2002.

Colleagues said yesterday that Dr O'Reardon mined the raw data for finance spokesperson Joan Burton over recent years.

And as director of policy, he was directly responsible to, and worked closely with, leader Eamon Gilmore long before the election campaign began.

Andrew McDowell, a descendant of Eoin MacNeill, the Minister for Finance in the first Dail, grew up in a staunch Fine Gael family in Donnybrook.

He has two children, a girl and a boy, and his wife Catriona is a highly regarded graphic designer who works from home. He joined Fine Gael in 2006 after working as an economist for Forfas.

After graduating from UCD, he went on to research economics at the renowned John Hopkins University in Baltimore and then at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London.

Irish Independent

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