Regina Doherty: woman who keeps FG in line without being nasty

‘I have a way of getting what I want without falling out with people’

 Regina Doherty: “To be fair to Fianna Fáil, they are incredibly good when they are good and they are bowsies when they are bowsies. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Regina Doherty: “To be fair to Fianna Fáil, they are incredibly good when they are good and they are bowsies when they are bowsies. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Enda Kenny had a particular character trait of Regina Doherty in mind when he chose her to be his chief whip, a task unlike any other in Dáil history given the extreme minority nature of his current administration.

A majority in this Dáil is 79, whereas Doherty can usually count only on the support of 59 TDs, nine of whom are Independents – with two of those, Michael Lowry and Michael Harty – not even part of the Government.

Indicating why he had chosen the 45-year-old with just one Dáil term behind her for one of the most difficult jobs in government, Kenny told Doherty that she has a “way of being nice to people when I am not being nice, or something”.

“He uses his own phrases,” she says of the Taoiseach. “I have a way of getting what I want without falling out with people. And he probably thought that was a skill needed in this particular job and it has been tested the last couple of months,” she adds, laughing.

Warning

She hints that her own Fine Gael TDs are more likely to play truant than the Independents, and she had to recently warn her parliamentary party about missing votes. “I have never had to go chasing the nine [Independents], if I can put it in that frame,” she says.

The relationship between Lowry and the Government is one of the curiosities of the current Dáil. The Tipperary TD insists he has an “arrangement” with Kenny’s Coalition. Not so, insists Kenny.

Doherty, who says Lowry is a “gentleman”, arranges a weekly brief for the controversial TD on upcoming legislation but says he has never asked her for anything in return.

“I put briefing notes in so he doesn’t have to go and look. I’m just trying to be useful but he has never actually asked me for anything.”

Nor does she believe Lowry gets anything from Kenny or others for his support.

“I’d be very surprised. He is a terribly – the Taoiseach I am talking about now – honourable person.”

Despite managing Lowry and others, Doherty’s main concern, however, is Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael’s partners in the confidence and supply agreement. The Government is largely dependent on Fianna Fáil’s acquiescence to pass legislation.

The relationship with Fianna Fáil is healthy, yet she must always try to be aware of Fianna Fáil’s voting intentions in order to properly marshal her own troops.

There have been wobbles.

“To be fair to Fianna Fáil, they are incredibly good when they are good and they are bowsies when they are bowsies. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but there was one particular vote where they were voting with us and as I was walking up the stairs to let the delegates go through the gates, Fianna Fáil changed their minds and decided they were abstaining.”

The two larger parties also share a concern that the smaller groupings in the Dáil are getting too much speaking time relative to their parliamentary strength, something that is now kept under constant review.

Balance of power

She acknowledges that a traditional majority government would be an easier ship to run but says the balance of power had perhaps tipped too far away from parliament and towards the executive. The risk now is that the scales overcorrects itself in the opposite direction but an election in the morning would likely result in another minority administration.

Doherty and her constituency colleague Helen McEntee, a Minister of State for Health, were a bright spot for Fine Gael in last year’s general election, with the pair securing two of three seats in Meath East.

Surely, such a feat will be hard to repeat against a revitalised Fianna Fáil in one of its old stomping grounds?

“No, because the two of us are so fabulous,” she mockingly says of both herself and McEntee, prompting the further question of whether there is healthy competition between the pair. “That would be a nice way of putting it.”

Do they get on? “No, not at all. And I have no idea why. She would walk past me in the corridor and wouldn’t even blink her eyes. And I don’t know why.”

Other constituency matters have also been on her mind of late. Doherty recently raised the prospect of leaving government because of her opposition to an electricity interconnector that will see overhead pylons pass through Meath East.

It is a huge gamble. Perhaps, to paraphrase Kenny’s remark of her, she will find a way of getting what she wants without falling out of government.