Friday 21 October 2016

Fine Gael TDs told party is now ready for the General Election

Published 11/09/2015 | 00:00

Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, leads his fellow TDs and senators at the Fine Gael Think-In at the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Co Limerick
Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, leads his fellow TDs and senators at the Fine Gael Think-In at the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Co Limerick

As Sherlock Holmes famously said, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. They keep denying it, but mounting evidence suggests Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Government could very well call a General Election in November.

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Party posters are printed, selection conventions are all but done, and even tenders to print ballot papers have been issued.

Following disappointing opinion polls during the summer, Fine Gael TDs and senators gathered in Adare yesterday for their first parliamentary think-in of the new Dáil term.

These get-togethers have been far more sedate affairs.

The shadow of the infamous 2010 Fianna Fáil 'Gargle-gate' think-in continues to loom large.

Surrounded by some of the party's heavy-hitting advisers - PR guru Mark Mortell; Economics chief Andrew McDowell; and Kenny's Chief of Staff Mark Kenneally; the TDs and Senators came to work.

Plenty of tea and scones were on hand yesterday evening, whereas before the pints would have flowed.

There is an election looming and people are keenly concerned about keeping their seats.

Some TDs like Eoghan Murphy have admitted they are preparing for a November election just in case and yesterday, Murphy's caution appears to be increasingly well-founded.

But behind closed doors, TDs, Senators and MEPs were told definitively that Fine Gael was ready to contest an election.

Some of the party's leading figures, who have been charged with leading the election fight, gave their report to party members.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who is in charge of the party's policy message for the election, told the meeting that the party's manifesto is good to go.

"Our manifesto can be ready in a few days, Taoiseach," Mr Coveney told his Taoiseach in front of the room. And although the Taoiseach did say that it is his desire to run the full term, mounting evidence of the party being ready to go has raised doubt.

Coveney's admission that the manifesto is good to go immediately caused people to sit up - and several party figures have now said chances of an early election are 50:50.

To be fair, plenty of others maintained that no election will happen this side of February 1.

Several ministers noted last night they that were being heavily canvassed by eager TDs to ensure projects in their constituencies are finished before polling day.

The stakes are high for Fine Gael and the party is somewhat perplexed as to why its poll ratings are suffering at a time of strong economic growth.

Speaking earlier in the day, Leo Varadkar said the party must ensure that the fruits of that economic growth are enjoyed by all, saying the party has a job to do to regain that lost support.

There was also much talk of coalition options, with Coveney firmly playing down the chances of a partnership with Fianna Fáil.

Mr Varadkar too sounded a similar tune.

He talked up the merits of a deal with Labour, saying this Government has been very successful.

In Dublin, Finance Minister Michael Noonan insisted there would be no daft spending come Budget day, but we all know he and Brendan Howlin have an extra €1.5bn to play with.

We also know they will use a major capital spending plan to spread the goodies out even more later this month.

Apart from election jitters, the mood among the 'Blueshirts' was high - and certainly the party is in a happier place than this time 12 months ago.

So the Taoiseach continues to claim there is no election until 2016, but he is at least clearly giving himself all the chances he would need to go early.

Watch this space . . .

Irish Independent

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