Cowen targets Fine Gael strategist


TAOISEACH'S VIEW:FINE GAEL’S national director of elections, Frank Flannery, should be “considering his position” following his weekend comments about working closely with Sinn Féin, Taoiseach Brian Cowen has suggested.

Describing the director of elections as Fine Gael’s “chief strategist” and claiming that nothing happened in the main Opposition party without Mr Flannery’s “say-so”, the Taoiseach noted that party leader Enda Kenny had nevertheless been “disowning him within 24 hours”.

Speaking on an election visit to Carlow, Mr Cowen claimed that Fine Gael was already “joined up” with Sinn Féin on various local authorities including on Dublin City Council and that “Mr Flannery is at such a digression from his party’s position that presumably he’ll be considering his position”.

Speaking in Cork yesterday, Mr Kenny acknowledged that Fianna Fáil MEP Eoin Ryan losing his seat in Dublin – where he is competing with Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin and Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party – would increase pressure on Mr Cowen but he refused to be drawn as to whom Fine Gael voters should give their lower preferences.

“No, I don’t give comments on other candidates. I am solely interested in the Fine Gael party, we have no pacts with anybody in this election – we are advising our people and those that want to support us to vote for Fine Gael, so in Dublin I want to see Gay Mitchell elected.”

When it was pointed out that Mr Mitchell had more than a quota in last Saturday’s Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll, Mr Kenny still refused to be drawn on where he would like to see the surplus go, or if he wanted to see Fianna Fáil lose Eoin Ryan’s seat.

“I’m only asking our people to vote [number] one Mitchell in Dublin and I’m not advising to vote anywhere else beyond that . . . from our point of view it’s the election of a superb MEP who has done wonderful work out in Europe in a constituency down from four to three,” he said.

He insisted that the comments by Mr Flannery apparently endorsing co-operation with Sinn Féin had done no damage to Fine Gael and reiterated that the party under his leadership would not countenance any voting arrangement with Sinn Féin.

In the Irish Mail on Sunday, Mr Flannery said: “In the past, Fine Gael has been doctrinaire in its opposition to Sinn Féin but I wouldn’t say that is the case now. We are willing to work with any party that has the aim that we have – to get the current Government out of office.

“We have been working together in the Dáil and we have put forward many of the same policies. Sinn Féin has moved fully into mainstream politics. It has received a mandate North and South and is willing to work to get the current Government out of power. There is still the outstanding issue of their private army and that situation has to be fully articulated. We also must see that they are fully committed to condemning atrocities like the murder of Jerry McCabe, which some of their candidates did not do recently. But we are willing to work with Sinn Féin.”

On possible coalition with Sinn Féin, he said: “Let’s suppose that Fine Gael and Labour were short and Sinn Féin had the numbers. Could I see that, theoretically? I could see that happen. I think I could because I think that they’ve shown in the North that they’re very pragmatic politicians and they are professional. They are capable of doing business.”