Sunday 24 September 2017

Opinion: Some in Fine Gael would warmly welcome an election - they just want all the humiliation to end

Enda Kenny (centre) with Richard Bruton, Simon Harris, Paschal Donohoe, Leo Varadkar, Frances Fitzgerald and Michael Noonan at an election news conference Photo: Tom Burke
Enda Kenny (centre) with Richard Bruton, Simon Harris, Paschal Donohoe, Leo Varadkar, Frances Fitzgerald and Michael Noonan at an election news conference Photo: Tom Burke

Johnny Fallon

It is not the best of times for the grassroot Fine Gael members. In their own minds they have had to put up with an awful lot lately. The heady days of 2011, when the party was swept to power and broke the Fianna Fáil stranglehold on politics, are now a distant memory.

Many are wondering what happened. The economy is no longer in meltdown, there were no catastrophes and yet the party finds itself languishing in the polls.

You have to really get into the mindset in order to understand it. Fine Gael expected things to be very different after 2011. Instead, it finds itself at a poll rating not far above what Fianna Fáil achieved at the lowest point in its history.

The dream of replacing Fianna Fáil as the dominant party is now consigned to history. Worse still, Fianna Fáil is regaining its position and going up in the polls.

The 2016 election was a sobering experience. Many in Fine Gael expected a late rush to the party. They expected people to 'come around'. It just didn't happen.

They then found themselves outmanoeuvred in the formation of a government. Rather than taking a lead, they got sidetracked by talk of 'grand coalitions'. Fianna Fáil used them and then forced them into a point where Fine Gael had to form a government. A government that their heart was never in.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Housing Minister Simon Coveney pictured earlier this month. ‘Some see Mr Coveney as a potential future Fine Gael leader, but he has shown no real ruthless streak so far.’ Photo: Damien Eagers
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Housing Minister Simon Coveney pictured earlier this month. ‘Some see Mr Coveney as a potential future Fine Gael leader, but he has shown no real ruthless streak so far.’ Photo: Damien Eagers

Since then, they have continued to watch their party struggle in the polls as Fianna Fáil recovers lost ground. In the view of Fine Gael members, they face a weekly battle to do the right thing and hold the line. But they are forced to give in to Independents, they are forced to give in to Fianna Fáil and while these groups get the kudos, Fine Gael is left looking like the miserly, miserable old patriarch that everyone wants gone. This is humiliating for your average Fine Gael member.

The Garda controversy has not helped. Yet again, they know that other parties are doing the running and making demands while they appear to be stuck holding the unpopular line. They also know that if there is to be a resignation, it will be a Fine Gael one. That if it is demanded then the price will be a Fine Gael head and Taoiseach Enda Kenny will pay it. Right now, Fine Gael appears to have all the negative parts of power without any of the usual benefits. Everything the party says or does is second guessed. The only reason this continues is that everyone says an election makes no sense. The result would not be totally different, so there is no point. However, there is a more bullish element within Fine Gael. An element that it should not be the only party concerned about this. There are more than a few in Leinster House who believe the only Fine Gaeler the current arrangement benefits is Mr Kenny.

Not every Fine Gael TD fears an election. There were a few who would have happily gone for a second one a year ago just to make a point. There are some who believe that it is even necessary in order to get a grip on things. The minority Government cannot work like this as far as they are concerned

Someone needs to show Fianna Fáil and others that Fine Gael is not afraid, that it will not just blindly hold the line, it too can walk away.

These TDs believe that if Fine Gael changed leader, this talk of Fianna Fáil pulling the plug would turn out to be mere bluff, as Fianna Fáil doesn't want to ruin its own arrangement. They also believe that if it did cause an election, it would be no harm. Either someone else would have to govern or else Fine Gael would be back with a minority government, but at least one where people know not to push Fine Gael too hard.

This group now has made its mind up. The problem for it is Enda Kenny. He is blamed for the election result. He is blamed for a dismal government negotiation and he is blamed for clinging to power rather than showing some pride in the Fine Gael jersey.

For this group, the humiliation has gone on long enough. It is waiting for a leader. The problem is that Simon Coveney has shown no real ruthless streak. Leo Varadkar has talked a good game but every time he is expected to lead, he backs down. The group is increasingly frustrated. It will not wait forever.

Irish Independent

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