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GE16: Fine Gael Take Aim

Irish people want a proactive government who will strategize for the future. Of course, each party is vying for that title. Last weekend saw Fine Gael hold their Ard Fheis in Citywest but were Fine Gael guilty of myopia and of talking only to Fine Gael voters?

In brief, Fine Gael will commit to using a “sizeable majority” of all resources available to the next government to fund services and infrastructure over cutting taxes. This move marks a shift from previous Government policy which equally prioritised tax cuts and public spending.

Political parties in Ireland understand that we, the Irish, are a tricky kind of people. We may have voted one way in 2011 but after 5 years, some people haven’t experienced the same kind of recovery that others did, meaning the possible outcomes of this election are still unknown.

Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald, has said the economic recovery that Fine Gael and Labour talk about isn't being felt by all: “Their recovery is largely a paper one, it is largely statistical, they know full well for the vast, vast majority of families, up and down the country, the recovery has not yet been felt. There isn’t a recovery until people feel it in their pocket, feel it in their households, feel it in the fact that they can breathe easy and sleep easy and have full opportunities”, McDonald said.

So what else did we learn from the Ard Fheis?

- The fear of Fianna Fail is real, but is it necessary?

Shots were fired at the Ard Fheis over the weekend and it comes as no surprise that it was towards Fianna Fail. Just in case anyone had forgotten, Kenny made sure to remind the listeners about the last time Fianna Fail were in government. “Its previous time in government delivered ‘a disastrous plan’. Now is not the time to take risks with our country’s recovery,” the Taoiseach said, adding that we are currently operating in an “uncertain world”.

In what sounded like a ‘don’t jump ship now’ plea, Kenny may have shown his hand. Second chances are not something that Fine Gael have ever received before, not having ever been re-elected into power and Kenny certainly doesn't want to see it happen under his watch.

Kenny used his Ard Fheis speech to outline the Fine Gael long-term economic plan which is based on getting more people back to work, investing in public services and making work pay. The Taoiseach said the choice the electorate would face was “as stark as it is clear”.

Mr Kenny said: “It is your choice and yours alone. In the privacy of the ballot box, you choose, you decide. And what do you want?

“Do you want the recovery, the recovery you have worked for, suffered for, and made so much personal sacrifice for, to continue? Or do you want to put it at risk? That’s the only question you will be asked. That’s the only question you will answer.”
Someone sounds worried don’t they?

- Homelessness issue not addressed

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said last week that tackling the homelessness crisis would be a "social imperative" of the next government. He said it was not acceptable that the emergency accommodation being provided for homeless people was "not fit for purpose". He said the current Coalition had come into power at a time when the "entire housing market had collapsed".

This is all true of course, but why didn’t Kenny address it at the Ard Fheis. An epidemic like this deserves to be spoken about on the highest platform and instead of tackling it head on, he chose to ignore it. Is it a subject matter they will pick up and drop down whenever the media attention allows?

Either way, if elected Kenny and Fine Gael will have to make good on their promise.

- Are they prepared for battle?

With so much uncertainty hanging in the air, it’s hard to be sure of oneself going into GE16 but Fine Gael have remained quietly confident even amidst the media furore. Kenny’s speech on Saturday was the highlight of the Ard Fheis and some commentators were surprised that it lacked passion compared to Fianna Fail’s spirited display the week previous. So will Fine Gael enjoy the same success as in 2011? It’s difficult to know, but due to the scale back in some constituencies, they might struggle.

Cork South Central is one such constituency. Reduced from a five seater to 4, a high profile TD will probably see the door. Michael Martin and Michael McGrath will lead the FF charge while Simon Coveney and Jerry Buttimer will represent FG. Ciaran Lynch of Labour may be the people's pick to lose his seat especially with growing pressure from Sinn Fein’s Donnchadh O'Laoghaire but Fine Gael holding onto 2 seats would be seen as a good achievement.

Donegal’s 2 separate 3 seaters are now one giant 5 seater which could also pose problems. Currently, Joe McHugh, Dinny McGinley (FG), Charlie McConalogue (FF), Padraig MacLochlainn and Pearse Doherty (SF) are the elected representatives for the area. FG are already losing McGinley who is not seeking re-election, leaving McHugh to fly the flag solo. Could SF cause a shock and win 3 seats or would an Independent such as Niamh Doherty grab the fifth seat.

While Enda’s speech may not have been the most inspiring, he can rest easy in his constituency. Reduced from 5 to 4, Fine Gael may not retain the 3 seats they won in 2011 with Michelle Mulherin predicted to lose out. SF are targeting a victory with Rose Conway-Walsh while FF will also hope to stop a FG whitewash with Dara Calleary and Lisa Chambers providing the opposition.

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