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Ivan Yates: The three errors which have cost Enda Kenny dearly for the Irish General Election

A former colleague of the Taoiseach, the ex-Minister for Agriculture digs into the consequences of the 'WhingeGate' for Fine Gael in Mayo and says don't look for a new leader before Easter...

by Ivan Yates | February 24, 2016

Fine Gael have made three errors in this campaign (aside from the biggest blunder of not going ahead with the November 30 election).

  • The first in the current campaign was the initial debate on ‘fiscal space’ as they were called out by Gerry Adams for creative accounting. It undermined Fine Gael’s economic competence.
  • Secondly, on their promise to abolish the Universal Social Charge (USC) – instead of being popular, this discredited their previous fiscal prudence. It was ‘Bertie economics’ at a cost of €4bn a year to phase out over five years.
  • Thirdly, came #WhingerGate. The minute I heard it I knew it was a complete disaster. You can brand your opponent whatever you like but you cannot call your own people ‘all-Ireland whingers’. Don’t decry Mayo’s disappointment over six decades at Croke Park by rubbing their noses in it, saying the only All-Ireland they can win is a ‘whinge fest’. It was a major error. Worse came within 24 hours with all the ‘Giggling Gerties’ in the party in the background thinking this was great stuff as Enda doubled-down on it in a chronic further error, by saying people wouldn’t recognise sunshine when they see it. The Taoiseach wasn’t long coming to his senses with the apology but it shows Enda is surrounded by acolytes who only tell him what he wants to hear, sycophantically.

Ivan Yates column on Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny could have cost Michelle Mulherin (1/6) her seat in Mayo and Fianna Fail’s Lisa Chambers (9/4) now has a great chance of the previously unthinkable prospect of taking a seat from Fine Gael in the four-seater.

Insiders know this kind of error is always a possibility with Enda, which is why he only participates in carefully choreographed debates. He has shied from any really combative, one-to-one interviews. I’d cut him a little slack on the grounds of fatigue. But if FG get 51 seats it’s on the lower side of what they would have fancied had they opted for a November election. The biggest gaffe of all was that ‘coming-to-Labour’ pressure and expecting that Government parties would surge with January pay packets. What was a winnable election for Fine Gael in the late autumn or early winter has turned to dust. Their target of 62 seats and ‘umpteen’ for Labour is a very remote prospect.

Micheal Martin

Second General Election

In terms of a second General Election, Micheal Martin (above) would have to get Fianna Fail Ard Fheis approval to go into negotiations on future participation in Government by FF with other parties. It will therefore be beyond Easter before any new Government is formed, in my opinion.

I’m predicting that, of course, Fianna Fail will be the smaller party this time around (39 seats but still below FG) and their fear must be that they’ll be cannibalised in any joint venture. Die-hard Soldiers of Destiny will feel they haven’t gone through the near-death experience of the last five years only to serve as a lapdog to prop-up Fine Gael. So only when the Richter Scale of public demand becomes so great will Fine Gael and Fianna Fail go against their tribal instincts.

I’m not surprised at the rapid shortening of Paddy Power’s offer that there will be no Taoiseach on resumption of the next Dail to 1/5.

Ivan’s Irish General Election prediction

  • Fine Gael: 51
  • Fianna Fail: 39
  • Sinn Fein: 29
  • Labour: 7
  • Independents: 32

GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final, Croke Park, Dublin 30/8/2015 Dublin vs Mayo An Taoiseach Enda Kenny Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

In these circumstances, the Labour party will be in no state for Government. No Government can be formed without Fianna Fail who’ve had a spectacularly good election. At 39 they hold the balance of power. My advice is in terms of government formation – hold all bets.

What happens here is that Enda (above) and the re-elected ministers could carry on as an interim, caretaker government. The roof won’t fall in, notwithstanding business concerns about instability. The permanent government of the civil service will continue to function. Taxes will be collected. Teachers will teach. Nurses will nurse.

There are only two conceivable governments: Fine Gael and Sinn Fein; or Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. Other combinations for Fianna Fail are even more difficult. So, there could well be another election but because of the personal debt incurred by candidates to run (about €30k each), they’ll do anything in their power to resist.

We could have a minority government limping on until the budget, with a November 2016 election. After that, Fianna Fail could be left with the same choice on partners – but as the largest party at that point.

Don’t rule out the possibility of a ‘rotating Taoiseach’ (14/1) something which could emerge due to so much blood-letting within Fine Gael leading them to offer the position to Fianna Fail in the first period in office, before a Fine Gael Taoiseach would take over in the second-half of the administration. Here, we are into the realms of speculation and fantasy. But watch this space.

Snippets

  • Don’t write off Eamon Ryan (despite Paddy Power’s odds) or the Greens for two seats.
  • Josepha Madigan is an even-money bet not 1/3 – I don’t know why bookies are so afraid of her.
  • I don’t think Danny Healy Rae is a shoo-in despite the 1/8 price. Kerry people don’t like being told how to vote (especially in North Kerry). There could be backlash against campaign tactics.
  • Regarding Donald Trump in America – he keeps winning. He’s humorous, effective and not politically correct with novelty value. Didn’t America elect a former B-movie actor? However, it’s Hillary’s to lose.
  • There’s quite a bit of chatter on social media about the Social Democrats. Does this chatter equate to bums on seats? No. They have candidates who will put up a great showing and may be prospects for the future, but on this occasion it’s a case of close but no cigar. They’ll be trumped by Sinn Fein or more established independents. The Social Democrats don’t have the infrastructure, organisation or resources to convert conversation into seats, aside from Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy and Roisin Shortall who could all top the poll. Their brand has long-term potential, particularly in the context of Labour’s demise, but I don’t see the Social Democrats adding to those three seats.

Is it the end of Civil War politics? Dip into the latest Coalition odds >

Ivan Yates is a broadcaster for Newstalk and former TD for Wexford who served as Minister for Agriculture. He was also chairman and managing director of Celtic Bookmakers

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