Fine Gael blames poor election result on series of pre-poll gaffes
Seán Kelly MEP singles out Catherine Noone controversy at party postmortem meeting
Former senator Catherine Noone pictured with Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times
A series of gaffes prior to and during the general election cost Fine Gael at the polls, a meeting of the parliamentary party has been told.
Ministers and Ministers of State held discussions reviewing the party’s general election performance on Tuesday ahead of a further meeting of the entire parliamentary party on Wednesday evening.
At the meeting, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar discussed Fine Gael’s timing of the election with sources saying he acknowledged the party could have maximised on its Brexit successes at earlier stages than February of this year, and perhaps called the election sooner.
Seán Kelly MEP is understood to have pointed towards a number of gaffes that were made before and during the election campaign as well the issue around the planned increase in the pension age and cuts to the disability sector. Sources present say that he also singled out comments made by former senator Catherine Noone about Mr Varadkar during the campaign.
Ms Noone, who was elected to the Seanad after failing to win a Dáil seat in 2016, said “he’s autistic like, he’s on the spectrum, there’s no doubt about it. He’s uncomfortable socially and he doesn’t always get the in-between bits”. She apologised for the comments after they were published.
The meeting heard that the pension age became a dominant issue during party’s campaign. It was one of the major issues in the general election which took place on February 8th, with Fianna Fáil saying during the campaign that the qualification age should be deferred pending a review.
Wexford TD Paul Kehoe also told the meeting that the party needs to strengthen its local branches and work from the ground upwards.
Fine Gael was the largest party in the 32nd Dáil but returned with just 35 deputies, 15 fewer than in 2016. It was the party’s second worst election result.
Mr Varadkar is understood to have told his party that there was a focus during the election on Fianna Fáil being the main political opponent but it was clear that Sinn Féin was just as much as a threat.
Sinn Féin candidates all over the country won huge victories and topped the poll in many areas winning 37 seats.