Friday 20 September 2019

Enda Kenny in crisis: Key advisor admits Fine Gael 'reaping whirlwind' of error-ridden campaign

Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Geraldine Gittens, Caroline Crawford and Ralph Riegel

ONE of Enda Kenny’s key advisors has said Fine Gael is now “reaping the whirlwind” of mistakes made in its general election campaign.

Mark Mortell said Enda Kenny and his party are feeling “deep disappointment”, based on the results which two exit polls are predicting, and early tallies which show plenty of sitting FG TDs in trouble.

“The only word I can use right now is deep disappointment,” he told Newstalk’s Breakfast this morning.

He said another general election is a “risk” in Ireland, with the country on the brink of political instability.

Read more: Election 2016 LIVE: Fine Gael and Labour in poll meltdown as Irish political system rocked

“[Enda Kenny] fought an extraordinarily hard campaign, having had five very hard years as Taoiseach in the toughest of times. This is obviously really, really disappointing but you’ve got to take what the people say and live with the consequences."

Fianna Fail Director of Elections Billy Kelleher TD Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin TD
Fianna Fail Director of Elections Billy Kelleher TD Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin TD

In a gaffe-prone campaign, Mr Kenny described his county’s residents as "All-Ireland whingers" after some questioned Fine Gael’s assessment that the country was on the road to recovery. The party's campaign motto of 'Keeping the Recovery Going' also failed spectacularly  to resonate with voters, while the Taoiseach's role in state-board appointments was also a sticking point.

Speaking to Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio 1 he accepted the possibility that Fianna Fail could be the largest party in terms of seats but said we would have to wait and see, citing Fine Gael's stronger exit poll showing in terms of transfers and emphasising that the true picture could take days to unfold.

"We could be less than 50 seats by the end of the day." Mortell said, stating that Fine Gael would be well shy of the their 30% target based on exit polls.

When asked about the stability of a possible government, based on the current tallies, Mr Mortell said the prospect of another election soon was very high.

Simon Coveney Photo: Arthur Carron Photography
Simon Coveney Photo: Arthur Carron Photography

“We’re going to see an awful lot of colleagues who didn’t get seats today and that’s going to be another set of issues that we face throughout the day,” Mr Mortell said.

“What you’ve got here is an extraordinary situation. It is a massive fracturing of the political system.”

“It creates immediately a huge amount of volatility and if you look just across into Europe, and what’s happened in Spain and Portugal this does mean we’re going to have a very, very interesting couple of weeks ahead of us and very, very demanding ones,” he earlier told presenters Chris Donoghue and Ivan Yates.

Mr Mortell worked closely with Mr Kenny on media and communications strategy in the run up to the election, and he has been described by Fine Gael sources as "Enda's closest adviser".

The party's core support has been dramatically reduced as voters flocked to Fianna Fáil and the independents.

Read more: Kevin Doyle: The people have spoken - and they want Enda and Joan out

That was the finding of the second exit poll of General Election 2016 released this morning, and the early tallies are along similar

The Labour Party has suffered an annihilation and could lose up to 30 seats, according to the Behavioural and Attitudes poll carried out for RTÉ.

The poll findings, detailed on ‘Morning Ireland’, are as follows:

Fine Gael: 24.8 per cent; Fianna Fáil: 21.1pc, Sinn Féin: 16pc and Labour: 7.1pc.

The findings show that it will be impossible for the FG/Labour coalition to be returned. It also shows that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin will have more combined support than the coalition partners.

The findings also show significant support for smaller parties and independents.

They are as follows:

Anti-Austerity Alliance/ People Before Profit (AAA/PBP) 4.7pc, Green Party 3.6pc, Social Democrats 3.7pc, Independent Alliance 3pc, Independents 11pc, Renua 2.4pc, others 2.6pc.

Ballot boxes opened at 9am and the counting began.

The news isn't much better for the Taoiseach in Mayo, where he will of course retain his seat but his popularity seems to have dwindled.

With 10pc of boxes open, the tallies put Enda Kenny at 30pc, Fianna Fáil 's Dara Calleary on 18pc and Fine Gael's Michelle Mulherin on 15pc.

Micheal Ring may still top the poll while Sinn Fein's Rose Conway Walsh is struggling.

This first preference indication for the Taoiseach would also be considered disappointing by his party.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney admitted there will be "no hiding" for from the fact it will prove hugely disappointing for the Government parties.

Mr Coveney acknowledged that "a lot of very good Fine Gael and Labour TDs now face losing their Dail seats".

In Mr Coveney's own Cork South Central constituency, one of the key marginals in Ireland, Fine Gael face a grim battle to defend the seat held by high-profile backbench TD Jerry Buttimer.

"Of course it is hugely disappointing - there is no getting away from that," he said.

Mr Coveney's own seat is not under threat and he will be comfortably re-elected.

"This is certainly not where we wanted to be," Mr Coveney said.

"But the people have spoken and everyone has to accept that."

"It is a very difficult day for the party because you are talking about a lot of good people, many of them are good friends, facing losing their Dail seats."

"We will have to sit down and carefully considered what has happened."

Mr Mortell admitted this morning that the talk of figures on the fiscal space “bored the election rigid - it got so much attention in the first part of the campaign”.

But he explained: “What was very clear to us as we were putting the campaign and strategy together is that the most important thing in people’s lives was the economy… I still think that was the right thing to do.”

“It is impossible to spend five years in government, particularly the kind of government that had to operate in Ireland for the last five years, without getting some things wrong.”

“Are those things going to be thrown in your face at the end of a campaign, of course they are.”

This morning, Mr Kenny’s local count centre at the TF Royal in Castlebar had a muted atmosphere as the main parties continue to reel from the exit polls.

As talk turns to the possibility of another election in the offing, the rumour doing the rounds is that some schools in Achill were told to hold onto the ballot boxes.

“What’s going to be really important is that the Taoiseach and the party look at the fallout from this election, the message that the electorate has said," Mr Mortell said.

“The political landscape in Ireland is changing… we’re now shifting into a much more Continental model of politics if what’s being said this time round is what people really mean.”

He added: “Running a campaign from Opposition is quite a different thing from running a campaign from Government. Running a campaign from a Government that was roundly disliked because of the medicine that had to be given out to people makes for a very different feel to a campaign in the first place.”

“I hope to God for the sake of the country that something sensitive can be put together. Otherwise we’re back into a General Election very soon.”

“The biggest imponderable here is where are all those votes that have now gone into independents and smaller parties in terms of the exit polls, where are they going to fall out?”

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fail director of elections, Billy Kelleher, maintained their General Election 2016 campaign had gone better than they had dreamed possible.

Mr Kelleher, speaking at Cork City Hall as the counting of ballots in his Cork North Central constituency began, refused to be drawn on Fianna Fail's likely seat total, warning that between six and eight seats could ultimately be decided by small margins nationally.

"But this Government clearly will not renew its mandate from the Irish people," he said.

"Fianna Fail have done exceptionally well in this election. Our vote has increased substantially and I think it is a case of waiting and seeing whether that increased vote translates into a major increase in seats across the country."

The party are poised to make major gains in Cork - and are likely to exceed the 35 seat total that Mr Kelleher had months ago said would represent a major success for the party.

The party appear set to win back seats they lost in two crucial Cork constituencies.

But Mr Kelleher refused to be drawn on what stance Fianna Fail will take on the formation of a new Government in the 32nd Dail.

"We have to wait for all the counts to come in," he said.

"We need to know where the various parties stand. Clearly, our role as an Opposition party was to contest every constituency and try to replace this Government."

"The first thing is that we have to wait for the numbers (of seats) to come in."

"The Dail will reconvene on March 10 and, if there is nothing conclusive on that day, there will have to be a period of reflection."

"After that, the (FF) parliamentary party will sit down and try and negotiate with like-minded individuals from other parties to try and form a Government."

"That will be our first role."

"Our preference has always been to get this Government from office and our preference stands still at this time."

"Our aim is to replace this Government and we believe we have done that."

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