Kenny ‘has just months’ to save Coalition

The Government has only months to save itself from going into "irreversible decline up to the election", former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery has warned.

He said Enda Kenny’s Government must stop acting like a “dictator” in how it runs the country and start listening to the people — or else Fine Gael could lose over half its Dáil seats in the next election.

Mr Flannery said the Government needs to stop telling people what to do and what’s good for them, and start a period of “honest policy” development.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, the former director of elections spoke candidly about Mr Kenny, the shaky political future for the Coalition, and its handling of Irish Water.

His frank appraisal of a party he served for more than 30 years come as Mr Kenny faces growing unease not only from the public over the water charges debacle but also from his own TDs. The party is still reeling after the penalty points and medical card controversies.

Mr Flannery said an early general election is “unlikely”, but added: “I’d say the Government now has three to five months to play itself back onto the pitch or else it goes into an irreversible decline up to the election. They’ve got to spend the next three to six months solving problems.

“History will tell you that, at a certain point, a government becomes unelectable.”

A “discursive debate” around the country is needed on the issue of water charges, asking people’s opinions on what it should cost and how it should be paid for, he suggested.

“Why must Government act as if it is a fucking dictator?” Mr Flannery asked. “We’re supposed to be a democracy but the last people asked how to do anything are the citizens.”

A “new type of politics” with more public commissions is needed, he added.

“The parties that win the next election are not going to just have to have an economic plan but a very progressive reform plan about better government in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Flannery quit Fine Gael earlier this year amid controversy over his role as a lobbyist for the disability charity Rehab, where he was a former chief executive.

He is credited with bringing Fine Gael back from the brink of extinction after its electoral meltdown in 2002, and was a key adviser to Mr Kenny until recently.

Fine Gael could lose over half its Dáil seats in the next election, he warned, and the party now needs to implement a “different style of leadership”.

“Spend a lot more time with people, a lot more time debating with them,” he said. “Stop telling people what they have to do and what’s good for them; start a period of honest policy development, taking full account of the psychology of Irish people now, where they’re at, and what their aspirations and expectations are.”

Mr Flannery said ministers and Mr Kenny needed to listen and discuss matters with the people.

“There’s a lot of the didactic about him [Mr Kenny], almost the school teacher about him,” he said. “He knows what’s good for the people and tells them what’s good for them.”

Mr Flannery and former RTÉ sports broadcaster Bill O’Herlihy are hosting a weekly political podcast, which will air for the first time tomorrow.

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