Friday 28 October 2016

Fine Gael on course for majority - Flannery

The party's former strategy guru believes Kenny will step aside in third year if he is returned in the General Election, writes Philip Ryan

Published 27/12/2015 | 02:30

Frank Flannery pictured for Sunday Independent. Photo: Gerry Monney
Frank Flannery pictured for Sunday Independent. Photo: Gerry Monney

Not so long ago, Frank Flannery was Fine Gael's chief strategy guru and a close confidant of Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Some within the party even consider him the architect of Fine Gael's current political success.

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But then he was forced to quit the party he loved after payments he received from the Rehab charity caused political problems for Kenny.

Nowadays, he describes himself as a "kind of wise observer" and insists he no longer has any influence within Fine Gael, although he does keep in regular contact with a lot of his old pals in the party.

Over a glass of wine in the Merrion Hotel's Cellar Bar - where he famously held talks with Kenny about re-joining Fine Gael - Flannery is confident about his old party's chances ahead of the General Election.

"This election will give a comfortable majority for the Government. I not only think it, I know it," he says without hesitation when asked about the outcome of the next year's vote.

But is there a possibility of Fine Gael swanning home with an overall majority?

"Oh there is of course for Fine Gael. There has to be," Flannery says.

He insists his view is not born of party affiliation but rather from his belief that there's no alternative.

"If you want a stable Government and you are say middle of the road, middle class professional type person, whether you like them or not the only party you can vote for is Fine Gael. Just for this one time, it might never happen again," he says.

And why is that?

"Because Fianna Fail has ruled themselves out of the equation very strangely. I do not understand it but they have," he says referring to Micheal Martin's promise not to do business with either Fine Gael or Sinn Fein after the votes have counted.

However, Flannery thinks it is more likely the Coalition will be returned with a strong majority - Fine Gael on around 66 seats and Labour with between 12 and 15.

They might sign up a few like-minded Independents to be sure.

Unlike some of his Fine Gael colleagues, he is quick to praise Labour for the "bloody good job" the party has done in Government and believes they have an unfair share of the public flak.

But he concedes Labour's problem is that the party tends to "over promise" ahead of election and it comes back to bite them when they end up in Government.

"The Labour voter looks to Labour to actually do what they say whereas the Fianna Fail voter and Fine Gael voter give more flexibility," he says.

Flannery believes if Labour is to return it needs to hammer home the message that "Government is better with Labour" as the current options available to voters are "Fine Gael on its own or Fine Gael and Labour".

He also believes if the Coalition is to return to office it has to develop a more cohesive policy platform and avoid spending the campaign at each other's throats

He doesn't buy the argument that Fine Gael is seeking to become a catch-all party to lure working class voters away from Labour.

In fact, he insists Fine Gael's history is steeped in social democracy

He points to the party's revolutionary 'Just Society' policy paper of the 60s, which he says was a reaction to the "Lemassian recovery," and the "mohair suited young, new capitalist classes".

On social policy, he thinks there has never been a more radical Taoiseach than Kenny, especially his stance on the church and sex abuse.

"They way he called a spade a spade and he stated the true conception of a secular republic against a religious power and no Irish leader ever did that," he says.

Despite insisting Sinn Fein will destroy the recovery "in a minute" if allowed into power, he admits Fine Gael considered forming a Coalition with Gerry Adams's party after the 2007 election. The last time he spoke about this Kenny demoted him.

"There was enough done to indicate whether or not there would be an available alternative and bear in mind an alternative would have involved everybody except Fianna Fail," he says.

He says Kenny wasn't "keen" on the idea and it became "purely theoretical" once the Progressive Democrats got into bed with Fianna Fail.

He warns that Sinn Fein is different now - more clued in with good, young candidates. However, he still thinks they are overstated in the polls and will be lucky to secure more than 15pc of the vote.

Flannery believes Kenny will step aside as leader in the third year of the next Government, should he be re-elected, and allow for an "orderly transition", but he will be under no pressure to step aside.

He says the election will be held on Thursday, February 25 after the Taoiseach dissolves the Dail not long after he returns in January.

Finally, he questions the logic of dragging activists to Dublin for a party conference in the weeks before the vote.

"If I was a candidate, none of mine would be there," he concludes.

Sunday Independent

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