Flannery criticises Fine Gael election efforts

Party’s poll campaign ‘one of the worst’, says ex-FG strategist and Rehab CEO

Frank Flannery tells the summer school  it is “increasingly” the destiny of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to come together. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Frank Flannery tells the summer school it is “increasingly” the destiny of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to come together. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:00

Former Fine Gael strategist and Rehab chief executive Frank Flannery has sharply criticised the party’s local election campaign as “one of the worst” he ever saw.

Mr Flannery, speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, also said it is “increasingly” the destiny of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to come together. The same applies to Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, he said, in a realignment of Irish politics on a left/right split.

Mr Flannery said an analysis of votes over recent elections proved the Irish electorate wanted such a move. Mr Flannery was a senior strategist with Fine Gael and was centrally involved with planning for the local elections until he resigned his position in early March following controversies over his lobbying for Rehab. He said the Fine Gael performance during the four-week campaign leading up to polling day on May 23rd was “very, very weak”, with the Opposition setting the terms on which the election was fought.

‘Sour grapes’

Former minister for the environment Phil Hogan was Fine Gael’s director of elections and Mr Flannery said his criticisms were not “sour grapes” because he wasn’t involved. Fine Gael took 24 per cent of the vote in the local elections, and lost 100 council seats, but Mr Flannery said it had been polling at 28 per cent in the months before the election.

“In the course of the campaign, 4 per cent was lost and that cost virtually most of the 100 seats that were lost. The Government lost the debate during the election, issues were driven by the Opposition. Whoever can set the agenda for an election has the best chance of winning it. No really strong or coherent attempt was made to set that agenda.”

Mr Flannery also said Fine Gael, while in power, has traditionally “got sucked into the system” to the detriment of its identity as a party with the “exact same” happening in this Government, to his “surprise”.

“They have been ineffective in elections since they went into Government by and large, with the exception of some very well-run byelections but, if you just recall back to the presidential election, the party pulled 7 per cent of the national vote some months after getting 36 per cent of the vote in a general election,” Mr Flannery said.

“I’ll tell you, that took some ingenuity to achieve a result like that. The recent local elections probably, as an election campaign, was, in my honest view, one of the worst I ever saw. We had the Seanad referendum. That was hardly a glorious effort for a party that actually brought it in as a significant and a major reform.”

He said the relationship between Fine Gael in Government and the party in the rest of the country, such as councillors, organisations and volunteers who knock on doors, as well as with backbench TDs, has become “fractured”.

Fine Gael “governs almost like an extension of the Civil Service” but must go to the country as a party, not a government, Mr Flannery said. He also claimed “human empathy and emotion” is missing.

Party politics

“For Fine Gael the idea of government, the act of governing, are the holy of holies, these cannot and must not be ‘contaminated’ by the politics of the party.”

The party in power loses its sense of “the raw politics of the party”, he added, but said Fine Gael is still in a good position going into the next general election. However, he said working for the party again is a “less attractive option by the day”.