Thursday 22 February 2018

A political earthquake as Kenny and Burton face axe as leaders

Martin leads FF election rebirth
Independents and Left parties rise

THE VOTES Are IN: Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin celebrates at the general election 2016 count at the City Hall in Cork. Photo: Chris Radburn
THE VOTES Are IN: Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin celebrates at the general election 2016 count at the City Hall in Cork. Photo: Chris Radburn
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton. Photo: Tom Burke

Philip Ryan and Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will come under intense pressure to resign as leader of Fine Gael after voters rejected returning his Coalition government to power.

Mr Kenny's disastrous election campaign has all but destroyed his ambition to be the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to serve two successive terms.

Last night, asked about his leadership of Fine Gael, Mr Kenny said his "duty and responsibility as head of Government" was to see what "necessary action" should be taken to provide the country with a stable Government.

"That is my primary responsibility and I will consider that very carefully indeed over the next 36-48 hours," he added.

The outcome of a seismic election is expected to also see almost a third of Mr Kenny's TDs lose their seats.

The political career of Tanaiste Joan Burton was also on a knife-edge last night even after she retained her seat. She is now likely to step down as Labour Party leader after her party was all but wiped out.

The election will go down as a defining moment in the political history of the country.

The Coalition's huge losses came as voters turned to a broad spectrum of Independent and smaller party candidates.

But the Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was the big winner yesterday with his party on course to double its representation in the Dail.

For Fianna Fail, the election marks a milestone in a remarkable resurgence, particularly throughout rural Ireland, but also in urban areas, including in Dublin where the party had no seats entering the election.

Earlier this morning, with all 40 constituencies returning a first count, there was just over 1pc separating Fine Gael and Fianna Fail - with 25.52pc and 24.35pc of first preferences respectively.

Sinn Fein also made gains but it did not live up to its expectations, despite a huge spend. The party had been expected to make bigger gains and now thoughts will immediately turn to the future of Gerry Adams, whose leadership may have cost Sinn Fein further seats.

Fine Gael strategists were last night continuing to insist the party will be the largest block in the next Dail.

However, they conceded that Mr Kenny is unlikely to be the leader of the next government.

It is unclear which party or parties Fine Gael will seek to form a government with in the coming days, but Fianna Fail is expected to adopt a wait-and-see policy.

Yesterday Mr Martin said there was a "responsibility" on all newly-elected TDs to "do the best by the country".

"We're committed to doing our best by the country and make sure that the country gets a good government. It's going to take time. It has to be very much focused on the issues and the policies, not just on numbers," he said.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who is tipped to succeed Ms Burton as Labour leader, effectively ruled out entering a new coalition after the election wipeout.

"We'll have to see what shape the Labour Parliamentary Party is in - but it seems clear to me that having put the country ahead over the past five years, we now have to rebuild our party," he said.

Within Fine Gael, it is expected Mr Kenny will pay the ultimate price for the election failure and he is now likely to fall on his sword before any coalition talks begin.

Outgoing Fine Gael TDs are incensed with the party's election strategy and are blaming Mr Kenny, his close team of strategists, and senior Cabinet ministers responsible for the election management.

One senior party figure said the election campaign and message "utterly failed" and insisted Mr Kenny should take full responsibility for the election bloodbath.

Another Kenny loyalist said it was likely the Taoiseach would step aside to be replaced by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who will then handle coalition negotiations with Fianna Fail.

However, other FG figures suggested Ms Fitzgerald also has questions to answer over her role as chair of the party's election strategy committee.

A senior party source said: "Enda will see this himself. He's a decent person, so people will be reluctant to push him - but Enda will feel duty bound to play his part in keeping the recovery going and that means allowing a new government to be formed."

Another Fine Gael TD said: "It has been a challenging election. Enda Kenny will have to take his share of responsibility for that. It's hard to see how he can continue."

Frances Fitzgerald, who retained her seat in Dublin Mid-West, said it was a "very difficult day", but she refused to be drawn on Mr Kenny's future.

"I think he's done an amazing job and I expect that when we come back, the big job is to form a stable Government. You and the country needs that. I expect that's what the Taoiseach will be trying to do on the return on the 10th of March," she said

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Sunday Independent that Mr Kenny "made one hell of a mistake not going in November".

"The call of delaying the election was crazy," he said.

The ex-Fianna Fail leader said the onus was now on Mr Martin to meet all the political blocks in the new Dail in order to try form a government.

"It's too early to talk about a 'Grand Coalition'," Mr Ahern said last night.

Sunday Independent

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