So, Fine Gael. Not a great election. Probably slightly less damaging for them since the poor old Labour Party mudguard is catching most of the attention of the press in the immediate aftermath.
But they know better from their own sweeping of FF council trenches in 2009 that a lot of the damage they shipped at the weekend is already irreversible. Even in the European elections, the core figures for both party’s actual vote are scary:
- Fine Gael 369,120 1st preferences
- Fianna Fail 369,545 1st preferences
They were fortunate to get four MEPs back (to FF’s one), although in the case of Sean Kelly and Mairead McGuinness they had two banker high profile candidates with a huge amount of their personal capital to get them over the win line.
Brian Hayes’ presence in the Dublin race was intriguing from the start. One of a tranche of talented younger Fine Gael TDs he was a hell of lot of political coin to have to spend on a European seat.
Setting aside the question of why a high profile TD Mr Hayes forsook a junior minster’s role in the Department of Finance, it indicates that the party’s leadership understood at some level the size of the anti government sentiment that was coming.
In fact the economic tide has been turning in Dublin since the beginning of last summer. But much of the damage has been self inflicted notably by some of those members of cabinet most closely associated with the Taoiseach defence against that famous heave.
Losing Alan Shatter was bad, but it was the length of time it took for him to go that created the damage. Withdrawal of GP cards (exemption from the primary health care fee) by James Reilly and the Irish Water debacle under Phil Hogan, added to a sense of drift.
Some of the party’s problem is that they are not used to being government. It’s much easier to attack from opposition on an issue by issue basis, but far harder to govern through hard times if your political narrative is borrowed from your predecessor.
There’s two years to go (if Labour’s young bucks can hold themselves in check that long), and a rising economic tide.
Post Shatter, the Taoiseach will hope to re-group with a new Labour leader and try to build a new narrative of their own.
However, with the ground already conceded and with the biggest parliamentary majority in history, a lot of his own backbenchers are going to get very twitchy too.