Wednesday 26 October 2016

Time to reassure voters the economic story has a happy ending

Published 10/09/2015 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

It is far from an ideal start to any new political season, much less the final one before a general election.

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The summer has been dominated with negative news from the political albatross that is Irish Water. The failure to pass the EU's "market test," allowing it to borrow off the national books, was followed by the revelations that non-payers can still claim the €100 grant.

And then the Fennelly Commission report into the abrupt departure of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan from his job in March 2014 dropped.

The findings, though not a popular theme, were far from helpful, creating an impression of a government not in control of justice and policing.

That in turn feeds into a fear - in rural Ireland especially - that break-ins and theft are all too common an occurrence. Fine Gael TDs and senators are under pressure from their local communities to see an increased garda presence in rural areas.

So, it is against this background that the parliamentary party gather in Adare today for a brainstorming session aimed at getting Fine Gael to re-group and re-energise itself ahead of the forthcoming election.

If the election were to be held right now and poll showings were borne out they would lose a hatful of seats, down from their stellar haul of 76 TDs and 36pc of the vote in February 2011.

A slew of opinion polls suggest losses of more than 20 seats as the party is stuck in the mid-20s percentage-wise. Everybody inside Fine Gael knows something must be done - and quickly.

They also feel that the answers are simple to identify, though possibly harder to act upon.

"It is all about getting the national political discussion back to the economy," said one senior party figure.

"From there we can begin to ask the voters: who do you trust - the ones in Fianna Fáil who blew the boom or the ones in Sinn Féin, Independents or other groups which do not live in the real economic world?"

It reflects what Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was saying earlier this week.

"This Government has been through a very difficult period in Irish history. We've made some mistakes but I think the big decisions have been the right decisions," he said.

It is a feeling that Fine Gael in government have a good story to tell - and they just need to tell it with more assertion and confidence.

It is hard to argue with the figures on the economy on growth and jobs.

The real twin enemies are an assumption that these things happened almost automatically based on international trends, notably good news from USA, Britain and Germany, and a lingering view that economic recovery has not been felt in more remote parts of the country.

It is interesting to note that the party is not following the recent practice of bringing in outside speakers offering motivational talks on leadership or communications.

They will be relying on their own election strategy team, including ministers, Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald, to talk them on the specific tools they may use to pursue their aims.

The view is they just need to keep their nerve, and up their communication game.

Irish Independent

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