Monday 22 January 2018

There is little direction in a Fine Gael party that no longer knows what it stands for

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Housing Minister Simon Coveney pictured earlier this month Photo: Damien Eagers
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Housing Minister Simon Coveney pictured earlier this month Photo: Damien Eagers
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

For the Fine Gael class of 2016, the events of recent days have proven to be somewhat overwhelming.

Morale within the party was at a low ebb, even before Taoiseach Enda Kenny was handed his notice on Wednesday night.

There is little direction within Fine Gael right now. The sense of camaraderie that once existed has disappeared.

Similar to the UK Labour Party, Fine Gael no longer appears to know what it stands for.

Or if it does, the party can't seem to be able to articulate it to the public.

And so - with the anniversary of the general election now just days away - the country's leading party appears rudderless.

That's not an acceptable state of affairs from the public's perspective.

This is a public that has watched on with a degree of disbelief at the manner in which it has been served.

It has seen little progress made in health, and a homelessness crisis that is getting worse; self-employed people still crippled by tax and bills; rural communities still suffering from the scars of the recession; a justice system that is not fit for purpose; a police force that lacks the confidence of the public.

And yet, the party that promised us all so much is now preoccupied with the leadership issue.

But its TDs so far haven't been able to pluck up the courage to act when the captain of the team no longer retains the respect of his players.

And that is the main reason why, putting all the Garda controversies aside, Enda Kenny should step aside within a short number of weeks. By doing so, his legacy will remain very much intact.But if tries to dig his heels in any more, he will eventually be dragged out of the party kicking and screaming, potentially plunging Fine Gael into a civil war.

Within the parliamentary party, the views are mixed.

Therein lies the problem.

One-third of members want to see Simon Coveney become the next leader.

A larger number - but only just - is in the Leo Varadkar camp.

And the final third is undecided. Many members of this cohort don't want to see Mr Kenny being forced to leave before he is ready.

For one TD - a member of the class of 2016 - the events this week proved a little too much.

Read More: Fine Gael 'needs to get its house in order' - opposition TD, as Coveney expresses confidence in Kenny's judgement

An Enda Kenny supporter, this deputy found herself overcome with emotion as she tried to digest the fact her party is more split than it has been since the infamous heave of 2010.

But unifying the party is one thing, convincing the public that Fine Gael is still fit to govern is an entirely different story. The early narrative of this leadership is one that probably sums up why Fine Gael is polar opposite to Fianna Fáil when it comes to the mechanics of internal party politics.

If Micheál Martin was facing accusations of misleading the nation in relation to the Tusla scandal, he would have been removed within days.

Fianna Fáil wouldn't have allowed a scenario to unfold whereby public confidence in the party continued to leach away with every passing hour.

A number of potential successors - not just two - would have shown the courage to approach their party leader and tell him that it was time to go.

It would have been clinical - the only way to act when removing a party leader.

Fine Gael needs to take a leaf out of its rival's scrapbook. Otherwise, the party will sleepwalk itself into an election defeat.

Irish Independent

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