Just who or what was to blame for Fine Gael’s disastrous general election campaign will be the subject of a review to begin this week.
Fine Gael’s new chairman, Richard Bruton, will lead the postmortem into his party’s campaign in February, when they lost 15 seats.
Admitting his party’s structure has “disconnected” from its top tier from being in government, Mr Bruton says he wants to know “what went wrong”.
Mr Bruton said his primary purpose as chairman will be to look beyond the election review and grow the party. His report will be completed by the time the Dáil think-in occurs in September.
“Clearly the election wasn’t great by any means and we have to understand what went wrong and what has changed since then. We have already started to look at how we do our business in the future. We have Marion McCoy’s report from 2016 and much of it is still relevant,” he said.
Mr Bruton said that the experience of Covid-19 has shown some positives for the party, saying there is “a clear view we are both competent and sensitive.
I am keen to keep that connection with the people.
He said the parliamentary party, which has lost 41 seats since 2011 in the Dáil, needs to be more effective as the policy-making organ of the party.
He said his reviews will examine “whether there were gaps in policy, gaps in communications, or how we approached things.”
While many party members have criticised the party’s messaging for being too Brexit and too Dublin focused, others have pointed to the decision of Leo Varadkar to make Paschal Donohoe his director of elections.
“Why did he give his busiest minister, in charge of two departments and not known for being a bull-dog, the job of running the campaign. It was daft,” said one minister.
But Mr Bruton said his review will not be a personalised witch-hunt.
“I won’t be personalising things but looking at how the party can improve,” he said.
It is understood from sources that the main topics to be examined will include:
- Messaging and responsiveness to crises
- Candidate selection and managing internal constituency disputes
- Positioning of the party after nine years in office
This week, Mr Bruton, along with his new vice-chair Jennifer Carrol McNeill will commence with a plenary session with all Oireachtas members before breaking off into a series of workshops made up of members working in smaller groups.
Mr Burton did suggest that some of the reasons why the party did so poorly was that it failed to bridge that gap between it in government and the grassroots since the election in 2016, when it lost 26 seats.
“We didn’t in 2016 do enough to bridge the gap between party and government. Being in a coalition gives us a bit more space, Leo will have more time to do it.
A lot can be done,” he said.
While some senior party members have called for the party to move to the right and abandon the political centre-ground.
Mr Bruton does not agree and said the argument is not about narrowing but broadening the party’s appeal. “We lost our vote in significant areas and demographics including young voters and lower income families,” he said.