The biggest issue that Fine Gael faced during the election campaign was its inability to counter Sinn Féin's promise to return the State pension age to 65, Fine Gael's Michael D'Arcy has said.
The outgoing Minister of State, who lost his seat in Wexford, said Sinn Féin's surge was helped by opposition to the State pension rising to 66 and 67, leaving retirees out of pocket.
The State pension age is due to increase to meet the rising cost of future State pensions from the decline in the ratio of working-age people to State pension recipients due to an aging population.
Mr D’Arcy said it was impossible to challenge Sinn Féin’s pledge to reduce the pension age on “something as all-out populist as that” when it would cost hundreds of millions of euro.
“You can’t counter something like that when that type of policy was agreed a decade ago and Sinn Féin didn’t have a policy position on it prior to that,” he said.
During the campaign he met a 64-year-old woman, previously a Fine Gael supporter, who said she was not going to vote for the party because of the pension issue and did not care about the cost of reducing the age again. Mr D’Arcy said she told him: “I don’t give a f**k, I want my money at 65.”
Mr D'Arcy, who attempted to reduce the cost of insurance during his time in office, said Fine Gael being in government for nine years and seeking a third term made it a "tough campaign" for the party. However, he said he did not see a new leader taking over from Leo Varadkar.
He also highlighted the impact of the Government's unpopular plan, later abandoned, to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), which he described as "a trigger" for opposition to Fine Gael.
Mr D’Arcy said he felt the election raised two main issues: the country was back at work but people wanted more money in their pocket and opposition politicians made what in his view were unrealistic promises.
“People are all back at work, but they have no money. You can fix that by doing two things: you either increase salaries, which has an impact on business, or you decrease taxes,” he said.
“Our message was to allow people to take home more salary and they didn’t vote for us.”
He said it was easy for Sinn Féin and other opposition politicians to say that “everything is wrong” and make big promises but he urged people to “wait and see how good they are until they have to balance the books and there is only so much money to go around”.
Sinn Féin, he claimed, believe they have a “magic wand” and a “magic money tree” and that they can pass legislation and the housing issue will be fixed.
“The only way they will be found out is if they get in. I hope they don’t destroy the country because the lost decade has been too difficult,” he said.
Mr D’Arcy said he was not sure what he was going to do following his election defeat.
“It has gone pretty coarse, politics,” he said. “The only place you can be successful in politics now is on the opposition benches.”