Tuesday 27 September 2016

Fionnan Sheahan on FG's disastrous strategy: Coveney, Varadkar and Fitzgerald emerge with little credit

Party's south Dublin-centric strategy worked in south Dublin... just nowhere else

Published 27/02/2016 | 19:02

Leo Varadkar with inset, Ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Simon Coveney
Leo Varadkar with inset, Ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Simon Coveney

IN THE postmortem on its disastrous general election campaign, the euphemistic 'strategy' will doubtless be discussed by Fine Gael.

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The party has spent the last four weeks stumbling from one controversy to another, then taking an overly long amount time to release itself from the contentious issue.

The list includes ruling out Michael Lowry, explaining the fiscal space, ruling out Fianna Fáil, 'whingers' and, ultimately, its slogan: 'Keep the recovery going'.

The various affairs went down like a lead balloon in the campaign.

The party decided to focus on the economy and providing stability.

Read more: Micheál Martin: 'Micheál Martin has always put the country first and FF will back me for Taoiseach'

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

The voters has firmly told Taoiseach Enda Kenny to go stick his message.

The only bright spot on the Fine Gael map is the southside of Dublin.

In the constituencies of Dublin Bay South, Dublin Rathdown, Dun Laoghaire and Dublin South West, the party is set to take two seats in each, off the back of a strong middle class vote. And in these case, Labour is being cleaned out, so the benefit of any coalition support is going Fine Gael's way.

Therein lies the problem: the economic stability strategy was too south Dublin-centric and wasn't in tune with the mood in the rest of Dublin or the rest of the country. The party's focus groups were finding Sinn Féin presence was a particular concern in southside Dublin.

Where was the strategy for everywhere else?

The recovery isn't being felt in a lot of places.

The liberal agenda hasn't been adopted in more conservative areas.

Fine Gael TDs around the country now find themselves in head-to-head battles with Fianna Fáil and are losing.

In other cases, they will be reliant on Labour transfers to get across the line.

The blame game has already started within the party.

Mr Kenny is rightly in the firing line. But so too his advisers who devised the strategy and then refused to deviate.

The Fine Gael leader's position is undoubtedly in question, but there's not exactly a solid contender to replace him.

Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald emerge from this campaign will little enough credit.

Mr Kenny gave each of them defined roles in the party's campaign, so they too will have to share the blame.

Moreover, when the party needed a senior figure to step up to the plate to rescue the flagging campaign, there was no rider on a white horse.

Michael Noonan did his bit five years ago. But this was an opportunity for a young pretender to step up.

It didn't happen.

Read more: Kathleen Lynch, Mick Wallace, James Reilly, among those in early difficulty

Fine Gael yet again have a leadership problem.

And the solution is not very obvious.

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