Charlie Flanagan: Politics is ‘volatile’, with people drifting to ‘serious and dangerous fringe’

People on both far right and far left sides have threatened me, says former minister who will stand down at next election

Former minister Charlie Flanagan has said politics is “volatile” and “chaotic” and there have been incidents where he felt his “personal safety was at stake”.

Speaking after his announcement he will not be contesting the next general election. Mr Flanagan also expressed confidence a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition will be returned to government.

Announcing his plans on Monday Mr Flanagan has said the impending split of his Laois-Offaly constituency into two three-seaters felt like the right time to make the announcement he will not run in next election. “It’s time to pass the baton to a younger generation,” he said.

In an interview on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show on Tuesday he said: “It was an appropriate opportunity for me to signal my intention.


“It’s over 36 years since I stood. I’ve had a long innings. I need to discharge my public duties until the end of my electoral mandate, and that could well be another year. But that will be up to Leo Varadkar and others, not me.”

Mr Flanagan acknowledged politics is a demanding, increasingly high-pressure career. “The role nowadays is 24/7 with the news cycle, with social media, with the demands of the public. And things are somewhat volatile.

“Oftentimes the work of a TD can be somewhat chaotic. That’s my own experience. And yes, there have been a number of incidents where I felt my own personal safety was at stake.

“However, I don’t wish to dwell on the negativity because I don’t think there’s any other arena where you meet on a daily basis, such an array of different characters and challenges, incidents, unexpected events, surprises,” Mr Flanagan said.

“And that’s why I think there is room for young, active, energetic, committed people in politics. That’s our democratic system. I don’t think politicians should be cowed or should be defeated by the emergence of what is a serious and dangerous fringe on both sides of the political spectrum of hopefuls.”

When asked how his family felt about his decision not to contest the next election, Mr Flanagan said there would have been resistance if had decided to run again, particularly from his two daughters.

Serving as minister for justice had been a challenging experience in terms of his own personal safety, he said. “But I’m an adult. I’m around a long time. I’m able to look after myself for the most part.”

“But I do hear what my colleagues are saying, and particularly my women colleagues, about life and politics, both here and across the water. I think we need to be conscious of that. And I also think that members of the public need to be conscious of the fragility of democracy.”

People were drifting towards the fringes so it was important for the public to have “centre-ground representation” which was what Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil offered, he said, adding it was “simplistic” to label people as right or left.

“I’ve been threatened by people described as far right. I’ve been threatened by people described as far left. We see unacceptable behaviour on both sides of the political spectrum,” Mr Flanagan said

“Of course, I accept that, you know, in politics things won’t always go the way that you want them to go. It’s, you know, it’s a high-pressure life.

“People perhaps need to take a stance and need to stake the ground. You know, we’ve had 100 years of independence. Ireland is a respected country all over the world. Our political system is almost free of corruption compared to most countries in the world,” Mr Flanagan said.

“Ireland is still a reasonably safe country. So after a hundred years, we can be proud of how far our country has come. But I don’t hear that. I don’t hear it in the media. I don’t hear it in the streets.”

Mr Flanagan said there would not be a member of his family following in his political footsteps, and that his daughters had opted for different careers.

He suggested a coalition involving Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could be returned to power and said he would be opposed to Sinn Féin in government.

Opinion polls over the last two years “steadily and consistently” indicated Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar were popular,” Mr Flanagan said, adding politics needed to regenerate and reorganise which was what Fine Gael was doing.

As for the future, Mr Flanagan said there were many issues he intended to pursue. “I do some international work and I have a great interest in peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. I fully support what Micheál Martin is doing in his concept of a shared island and to John Hume concept of uniting people. And so this is an area that I’m going to continue my work in.”

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times