Monday 18 February 2019

Rise of Independents will leave Kenny fighting for seat

Enda Kenny's seat could potentially be under threat in the next election
Enda Kenny's seat could potentially be under threat in the next election

John Drennan

Concern is growing within Fine Gael that the rise of a Michael Fitzmaurice-led "agrarian party" may place the Taoiseach Enda Kenny's seat in jeopardy.

The recent surge in Independent support means such a party could target a dozen seats across the Western seaboard including the electoral cockpit of the Taoiseach's Mayo base.

Mr Kenny has, over the last year, increased his personal presence in the home constituency, though to little effect.

His higher profile at home did not save Fine Gael in the recent local elections. Support for the party slipped sharply in the council elections.

And in an indication of the declining status of Mr Kenny in his own political backyard, his brother Henry barely scraped home on the last count in Castlebar.

Fine Gael won four of the five seats in Mayo in 2011 and the Taoiseach comfortably topped the poll with more than 17,000 votes.

However, the reduction of the constituency to four seats means that, at best, Fine Gael can expect to win just two of those seats and even that will require shrewd vote management based on current opinion poll standings

Mr Kenny's domestic support has slipped so badly that Fine Gael strategists fear that for the party to win two seats Mr Kenny may have to stand aside.

One source noted: ''Enda is spooked; the mood of the people at home is very sour. This has a real sense of the 'rod licence' fury about it when Enda himself nearly lost his seat during that bitter controversy. This stuff runs deep.''

An experienced Fine Gael party worker in the west warned: ''All the indications say there is real trouble ahead for Enda here. The rise of the Independents and Sinn Fein means Fine Gael are only sure of one seat here in Mayo.''

The source added: ''If he is not very careful Enda could end up fighting with Michelle Mulherin, an anti-EirGrid Independent and Sinn Fein for the last seat. Does he want that embarrassment?''

The Taoiseach will be particularly concerned about the stated intent of the Moy Valley Alliance of local anti-EirGrid groups to run a candidate in Mayo.

The pylons issue has galvanised anti-Government sentiment with many of those opposed to the Grid West project accusing the Taoiseach of betraying the people of Mayo.

An initial meeting between the Moy alliance with the then newly elected Michael Fitzmaurice to discuss how such a campaign might be successful was a key catalyst in the subsequent declaration of Mr Fitzmaurice that he intended to set up a party of his own.

The objectives of the Moy group are to: ''rid the county and the country of an incompetent and corrupt Government and to get better representation in the Dail for the West.''

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Fitzmaurice confirmed he will continue to work on the formation of a new political party or alliance once he has completed a policy document designed to improve training and apprenticeships to be presented to Government in February.

"Once I get that done I'll work on the rest, I'm only one man but it's like this, if there is responsibility being placed on your shoulders you better be able to carry the weight,"he said.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath has expressed an interest in joining a new party headed by the Roscommon/South Leitrim deputy. The two men have already held initial talks about the possibility of a new grouping.

"We have discussed it. There's a dire need, a yearning for a new party or group or whatever because Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the others have failed," Mr McGrath said.

Sunday Independent

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