With the loss of several ministers; botched vote management in some constituencies; and its hopes of a smooth second term dashed, party figures are now conceding their election message of ‘keeping the recovery going’ was wrong and lacked compassion. It is only a matter of time before Enda Kenny’s leadership of the bruised party is challenged.
Two casualties for the party epitomise the frustration built up over Fine Gael’s five-year term: children’s minister James Reilly and former justice minister Alan Shatter were two who felt the backlash.
Mr Reilly, who polled half the quota and lost in Dublin Fingal, concedes his time in health “was not helpful”. His slashing of medical card entitlements was not forgotten.
Equally Shatter, who presided over garda cutbacks and scandals as justice minister, lost his Dublin Rathdown seat. FG’s losses were compounded last night with Diaspora Minister Jimmy Deenihan losing his seat in Kerry.
In several constituencies, incumbent Fine Gael TDs were kicked out and replaced by newer faces. These included Josepha Madigan trumping Alan Shatter in Dublin Rathdown; and Hildegarde Naughton beating TD John O’Mahony for a seat in Galway East.
Elsewhere in Waterford, rebel party TD John Deasy came in ahead of junior environment minister Paudie Coffey.
Alan Shatter thanks his family for their support. pic.twitter.com/Xpmd7WNygu— RTÉdublinRathdown (@RTEdubrathdown) February 27, 2016
Others to lose seats included junior agriculture minister Tom Hayes; banking inquiry member Kieran O’Donnell; and former Oireachtas health committee chairman Jerry Buttimer. Mr Buttimer, who lost out in Cork South Central, was candid about what had gone wrong.
“I suppose in hindsight we did lack that empathy and that compassion because what we were trying to do was make the lives of people better and perhaps the error of our ways was the way we told it to people.”
Indeed, party figures admit mistaken messages were sent out to voters.
Many accept the party’s election slogan of ‘keep the recovery going’ was out of touch with the reality. Returned Dublin Bay South TD Eoghan Murphy said Fine Gael’s ‘fiscal space’ message should have emphasised prudence above all else. Ultimately, the campaign failed to “ignite”, he said.
He and other young party members are leaning towards a minority government option for Fine Gael, which they say would also strengthen the importance of the Dáil. His opponent in the same constituency, Fianna Fáil’s newly elected Jim O’Callaghan, also suggests a minority government could be the best option.
But what will the party’s senior figures do? Fine Gael director of elections Brian Hayes played down any blame game and said there should be no “scapegoats”.
However, he and others think the formation of a government could be weeks away or longer. This would suggest a ‘bunker’ approach may be taken by Kenny and others, while backroom talks on all sides take place before and after the first Dáil sitting.
On the other hand, senior party figures are already putting it up to the opposition to offer an alternative government, said one coalition source last night.