On the morning of February 3, Taoiseach Enda Kenny charged into the Dáil chamber and announced his intention to call the General Election, writes Daniel McConnell
“To those members of the house who are not seeking re-election I wish every success and happiness in the future. I wish all other members well in their endeavours to return to the House,” he said.
Quoting a line in Irish from poet Antoine Ó Raifteiri, Mr Kenny said “Brigid’s day has passed. Now the coming of Spring, I must raise my sail.”
As quickly as he bounded in, he bounded out without allowing Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to respond, as would be the norm on such occasions.
Rather than looking decisive, it looked arrogant and cack-handed.
Later that day, at a chaotic press conference, Kenny put his foot in it, by suggesting the people don’t understand economic jargon.
“I’m not going to get into economic jargon here because the vast majority of people don’t understand,” the Taoiseach said when asked about Fine Gael’s spending plans.
It was an ignominious beginning to a campaign most Fine Gael TDs felt should have taken place the previous November, when the Taoiseach flew a kite that he would go early, only to be stymied by then Tánaiste Joan Burton.
The party’s main slogan — “keep the recovery going” — would on the surface seem inoffensive and anodyne but it quickly became toxic and by midway through the campaign it seemed that Kenny and his coterie of geniuses were conspiring to throw away their re-election.
When three Red C polls in less than 10 days confirmed a five-point slide for the party, the wheels seemed to be coming off the Fine Gael train and a resurgent Fianna Fáil merely rubbed salt into the wound.
Ultimately, between them Fine Gael and Labour would lose 56 seats, a turnaround equal to Fianna Fáil’s collapse in 2011.
Many good Fine Gael TDs lost their seats, but so too did a few bad ones and not all of those can be put down to the crisis at party level.
The party reached out to Marion Coy, formerly of GMIT, to conduct the review.
Well known to many in Fine Gael, she was an interesting choice given her own time as the head of GMIT was the source of some controversy.
The investigators hired by GMIT to probe a cheating incident at the college, and whether it was covered-up, were not happy with the level of co-operation of senior staff members, who were deemed key witnesses.
The investigators claimed that there wasn’t “full disclosure” of the incident to the GMIT Governing Body. The investigators also said emails of Ms Coy, who was GMIT president when the incident occurred and story broke, were deleted.
But aided by a team of six elected members of the party, Coy began her inquiries.
More than 400 people from across the country were interviewed but following tensions between Coy and the team, one report was to become two — her report and an internal report.
That internal report does not name anyone and does not vilify any individual.
However, it is understood Kenny’s poor media performances, his mis-timing in calling the election, Fine Gael’s ill-judged election message on the economy, and an over-reliance on spin are among the factors that contributed to the party “losing the General Election”, are among the main findings.
Within the party the majority of the blame has been directed at five key individuals — Enda Kenny, who made a series of gaffes during the campaign; general secretary Tom Curran over his handling of candidates; director of elections Brian Hayes over the stuttering campaign; and Mark Mortell and Andrew McDowell over the party’s economic message and slogan.
The internal report, carried out by five party TDs — Alan Farrell, Maria Bailey, Kate O’Connell, Peter Burke, Patrick O’Donovan — and Senator Maura Hopkins was produced and given to Mr Kenny in late July.
This report is said to reflect widespread criticism of the party’s election messaging and slogan of “keep the recovery going”.
Sources close to the process have said the internal report is “positive and constructive” and does not place the blame on any one individual.
Ms Coy’s report is said to be nearing completion and with the Dáil out of session, it is now thought the party will discuss the findings of the two reports at its think-in in Newbridge, Co Kildare on September 12 and 13.
Reading between the lines, the internal report may have been ordered to offset much of the harshest criticisms in the Coy document but given the scale of the loss in February and in the local elections in 2014, for those running the party, much has still to be learned.
In the frame: Inner team under fire
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