Tuesday 27 September 2016

Fine Gael can't give FF chance to pull plug on Government before it has a new leader in place

The Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meets in Newbridge, Co Kildare, today and tomorrow for its annual think-in. For the first time in over 20 years, former TD and Parliamentary Party chairman Tom Hayes will not be there. Here he gives his views on the Fine Gael party today and offers some advice to his former colleagues

Tom Hayes

Published 12/09/2016 | 02:30

Tom Hayes was a TD for South Tipperary from July 2001 to February 2016. Photo: Tom Burke
Tom Hayes was a TD for South Tipperary from July 2001 to February 2016. Photo: Tom Burke

Next week for the first time in many years I will not be attending the annual think-in of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party in Newbridge. Having served as both a senator and TD for more than 20 years, I was one of those unlucky enough to lose my seat in the February General Election. I will be the first to admit, my defeat came as a major blow to me and it has taken some time to sink in.

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But the past six months has also given me an opportunity to reflect on the Fine Gael party and where it is headed in the months and years ahead. Having led the country out of the deepest recession in recent years, Fine Gael and its leader Enda Kenny can be proud of an immense achievement that will forever be recorded in history.

The Taoiseach reacted to the February election result by offering a full partnership government to Fianna Fáil.

Regretfully, Fianna Fáil declined this unique offer, which might have transformed the face of Irish politics forever.

As a result of all these developments, the Fine Gael party is now again at a crossroads as to its future direction.

The country has changed hugely over the past five years since the party came into power.

In order to continue, the party must also adapt and change with it, if it is to have a future and continue to play a part in shaping our future.

In politics, as in other walks of life, it is very often the case that while everybody favours change in principal, few are prepared to change themselves and even fewer to lead that change, due to fear of losing popularity.

Read more: Fine Gael's pork-barrel deal with the Independents should be published

This week's meeting of the parliamentary party is a particularly opportune time for reflection on the future and to hear the contribution from the many new TDs and senators who will be attending their first think-in.

The position of the leadership of the party will no doubt be up for discussion. Mr Kenny has already signalled that he will not lead the party into the next general election.

It is my firm view that Fine Gael must now take steps to ensure that it does not allow Fianna Fáil the opportunity to pull the plug on the Government with an imminent general election with no new Fine Gael leader in place.

It is glaringly clear to me and to most observers that this Government does not have a very secure future and its lifetime will be of relatively limited duration. The best time for the party to elect a new leader is during a Dáil recess. Ideally, Mr Kenny should be allowed to pick a time of his choosing to hand over the leadership, but that may not be possible due to the current Government make-up.

Accordingly, it is my personal view that the party should now proceed and elect a leader designate who will be ready to step into his shoes, the moment he steps down, or a general election is called, whichever comes first.

Not to have such a leader in place would, in my view, be foolhardy and not in the party's best interests. Indeed, the Tipperary hurlers, who had such a splendid win last weekend, had set an example by having a manager in place long before his predecessor departed. There should be time for all sectors of the party to have their say and to question the contenders.

And it's not just the leadership that should be reviewed at this week's meeting. The very nature of political parties means that the party officers and personnel must constantly reflect the new ideas to match the ever-changing Irish society in which we live.

This week's meeting should consider the whole, broad structure of the party and set in place the basis for a new strategy which will plot its course towards 2020 and beyond. Failure to do so would be to do a disservice to the party.

Tom Hayes was a TD for South Tipperary from July 2001 to February 2016. He was Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine from June 2013 to February 2016

Irish Independent

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