Trail of PR disasters knocks FG right back to 2002
FINE Gael finished the local elections just one point ahead of the meltdown figure in 2002 as Taoiseach Enda Kenny suffered the first electoral reverse of his leadership.
Mr Kenny's own brother, Henry Kenny, struggled to win a seat in his hometown of Castlebar, Co Mayo, as the party was on track to lose almost 100 seats. After building up over the past two elections to become the biggest party in local government, Fine Gael has lost that title to Fianna Fail.
Fine Gael was set to get less than 24pc of the votes, lagging behind Fianna Fail's 25pc.
The party's overall result was masked by it being set to achieve its target of four European Parliament seats and winning the Longford-Westmeath by-election. But Mr Kenny's long-time colleague Jim Higgins was also poised to lose his seat.
The party, predictably, did extremely badly in working-class areas, but lost seats right across the country in both urban and rural areas.
"It's a disaster across the country, with a lot of hard-working councillors losing out," a minister said.
Fine Gael will now face threats from the return of strong Fianna Fail candidates in a number of constituencies, the emergence of Sinn Fein in every part of the country and the rise of Independents.
A Fine Gael backbencher admitted that Labour's collapse was overshadowing a poor day for the senior Government party.
"We've had a very bad day, worse than many of us expected," the source said.
"The coterie around Enda Kenny – in particular Shatter and Reilly – have let him down and have cost us votes.
"Take Shatter – his decision to hold off on announcing whether he was taking the severance payment until 2pm on the day before the election was farcical and cost us votes – make no mistake.
"It was worse for us than Reilly's bungling in the health service or even Hogan's water charges."
Fine Gael backbenchers also wanted changes made to the party's approach.
The source added: "We need a whole new direction – it's not about leadership though.
"We should be better at getting good news stories out there, like Richard Bruton and the likes of Varadkar and Coveney.
"Announcing water charges before the election was just plain daft.
"We are being hamstrung by poorly handled public relations disasters that could easily be avoided and which have cost us big time.
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Irish Independent Supplement