Saturday 17 March 2018

FG suffers from its 12-year Enda itch

NUMBERS GAME: Helen McEntee, with FG candidates Alan Tobin and David Harford, right, in Navan yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke
NUMBERS GAME: Helen McEntee, with FG candidates Alan Tobin and David Harford, right, in Navan yesterday. Photo: Tom Burke

John Drennan Political Editor

IF some politicians are blessed by their enemies, Enda Kenny surely should be thankful for his Coalition partners.

As the vultures gathered around Eamon Gilmore last night, the fur and feathers swirling around his Labour Party have done a fine job in disguising the woeful nature of the Fine Gael performance.

With just 24pc of the popular vote – and up to 90 local seat losses from the high of 2004 – FG has performed as poorly as FF and Mr Cowen did in 2004.

And while the party may pull off a great Munster escape, it will represent a pyrrhic victory when set against the serial erosion of the bedrock councillors always provide.

When the travails of Brian Hayes in Dublin are added into the mix for the first time after years of electoral success, King Enda is facing real internal and external difficulties.

The electoral rout suffered by his increasingly estranged Labour partners will pose the Taoiseach with far greater difficulties within the Cabinet than the debilitating Shatter imbroglio, but, the Taoiseach, however, is facing far greater internal stresses within his own party.

Outside of the soap opera of the presidential election, the Taoiseach, helped by the strategic ingenuity of Frank Flannery, has been uniquely successful in growing the Fine Gael vote. So far Mr Kenny has increased this in the 2004 and 2009 council elections and in the 2007 and (spectacularly) the 2011 General Election.

Mr Kenny also won a record five MEP seats in the 2004 elections and though this was reduced to four in 2009 this was still a success.

Mr Kenny experienced his first major electoral setback yesterday and he will not be the only nervous soul because up to 25 of his TDs and ministers are facing the political axe in 2016.

Already the new intake of first time FG TDs – the Frapuccino Kids – are starting to get distinctly nervous because, like the young troops in 1914, they will the first ones to be mowed down.

However, should Fine Gael continue to languish in the doldrums of the mid-20 per cent mark the wounds may cut far deeper than the massacre of the 2011 innocents?

Those who on today's results will struggle to hold include a plethora of ministers like Phil Hogan, James Reilly, Ciaran Cannon, Pascal Donohoe, Paul Kehoe and John Perry.

More than the ancien regime is in trouble too for all of those bright newly minted entrants such as Simon Harris, Tom Barry, Alan Farrell, Paudie Coffey, Sean Conlan and our poor Frapuccino Kids such as Sean Kyne, Paul Connaughton and Tony Lawlor, would be in dire straits.

A further group of second- term TDs such as Kieran O'Donnell, in the wake of the Sinn Fein rise in Limerick City, John Paul Phelan, and Noel Coonan, face serious battles.

The already small ranks of FG women in the local and European elections are likely to be further thinned by the varying difficulties Regina Doherty, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Aine Collins, Heather Humphreys and Michelle Mulherin face.

For now Mr Kenny retains the support of his party but straws in the wind of dissent and unease are emerging.

The defeat of the 'leadership' candidate Paudie Coffey for the party chairmanship arrived at a time when future leadership contenders such as Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar have become far more open about their future ambitions.

Increasingly it is being noted of Enda that "12 years is an awful long time to lead a party, you do start to slip, the energy levels are not the same''.

The leadership will argue, fairly enough, that FG's successful result in 2009 meant the party was set up to fail.

But this will not prevent his restive back-benchers from noting that, having dined comprehensively on Labour, the electoral wolves are not just nipping at FG's flanks.

The voters instead have taken a large chomp out of those previously virgin territories.

Sunday Independent

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