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FG candidates battle for political lives as party braces for voter backlash

Philip Ryan


 

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Under pressure: Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty faces a tough battle for her Dáil seat. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Under pressure: Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty faces a tough battle for her Dáil seat. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Under pressure: Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty faces a tough battle for her Dáil seat. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

The current state of Fine Gael constituency rivalries according to one well-placed party member is as follows: "It's essentially like putting two rats in a bag, tying the top of it and waiting to see which of them comes out alive."

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A grim but illustrative image of how Fine Gael election tickets were being viewed by party headquarters two days out from polling.

The Fine Gael optimists are predicting 40+ seats while the more realistic party members say anything around 35 would be a good day.

Candidates were still pounding the pavements last night in the hope that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had turned the tide with his performance on the RTÉ debate. They hope there is a silent Fine Gael out there. Voters who don't want to be seen to be backing Varadkar but are secretly happy with their lot under Fine Gael. Others are more pessimistic.

There is an increasing expectation that in most constituencies where there are two sitting TDs only one will return, ala the rat analogy. This will mean serving ministers are up for the chop.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty and European Affairs Minister of State Helen McEntee are scrapping it out for the last seat in Meath East. Defence Minister Paul Kehoe and Minister of State for Insurance Reform Michael D'Arcy are facing the same battle in Wexford. Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and high-profile Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell are fighting it out in Dublin Bay South.

Health Minister Simon Harris is up against two party rivals in Wicklow in Andrew Doyle and Billy Timmins, and who knows how that will play out. Harris has faced accusations of hiding during the campaign, as has Eoghan Murphy.

But they have been practically running the show compared to the involvement in the election of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Either fairly or not, Flanagan is shouldering a lot of the blame for Fine Gael's poor campaign due to his determination to hold a commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) days before the election was called.

Since then, he has been put in cold storage. Although he can supposedly be spotted in his native Laois.

As one Fine Gael source noted it was telling that Senator Neale Richmond was put out before Flanagan to address the Paul Quinn murder on behalf of the party.

Ironically, Flanagan probably has one of the safer Fine Gael seats despite being seen as responsible for kick-starting the party's troubles.

The fallout from the election is likely to be intense for Fine Gael. But yesterday most party members were not eager to see Varadkar turfed out just yet. Some said he was a natural opposition leader rather than a Taoiseach. Minds might change once the final ballots are counted in the coming days but for now he is being given the benefit of the doubt.

To make it worse, last night ministers were reminded they have a Cabinet meeting next Wednesday. Some were thinking they could be returning to Government Buildings without a mandate.

Irish Independent