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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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so long farewell

Is Fine Gael in the midst of an exodus or are recent departees par for the course?

The Journal spoke to three TDs who have decided to not seek re-election.

WILL MORE FINE Gaelers be heading for the door ahead of the next general election? 

Cork-East TD David Stanton, who announced he will not seek reelection in May of this year, told The Journal: “I don’t know, it’s possible.”

In recent months, former environment minister Richard Bruton, former agriculture minister Michael Creed, alongside other TDs like Brendan Griffin, John Paul Phelan, Joe McHugh, and David Stanton have all announced that they will not be seeking re-election.

Such a mass exodus has sparked questions about how it reflects on Leo Varadkar and his leadership of the Fine Gael party. 

The Taoiseach tells people not to read too much into it. 

At the Fine Gael party think-in in Limerick, The Journal questioned a number of TDs who have decided to pack it in, asking them what life holds for them in the future and if the mass departures from the party means trouble for the leader.

Stanton has been a TD for 27 years, having served as a junior minister at the Department of Justice during the 2016-20 Fine Gael-led Government. 

During this time he held responsibility for integration and equality.

Stanton, who is 66, told this website that he has “loved” his time as a TD which has come with “great challenges and great privileges”.

However, he added: “You have to be realistic, you can’t keep going this way into you 70s.”

3621 David Stanton Sam Boal / David Stanton pictured in 2018. Sam Boal / /

On the idea of there being a “mass exodus” from the party, Stanton said that was not his view. 

“Each person that you look at here that has decided not to run again, there’s a story each time.

“I’ve 27 years done, I’m not getting any younger. Other people have their own reasons, So it’s not a case of disillusionment. I would love to do another run, but I just have to be realistic. So it’s the same for everybody,” he said. 

He said he would be optimistic that he would get elected again if he ran but he said the commute from Cork to Dublin, and being away from his family two or three nights a week, formed part of his decision to not seek re-election. 

On what he plans to do next, the most Stanton would say was that he plans to stay involved in politics and the Fine Gael party “at some level”.

Politics is like a drug 

“It’s like a drug or something, you kind of get addicted to it,” he said, joking that his wife (who he said has been fantastic) is still waiting for him to “get it out of his system after all these years”.

“It’s a great privilege altogether, I have great friends on all sides, all parties,” he added.

Stanton acknowledged that 27 years of being a public representative can be difficult to juggle with family life, and said that when you are a TD it is not just you that is a public figure “it’s the family as well”.

“Everyone is under that shadow if you like,” he said.

Reflecting on his time as a TD, Stanton said he is particularly proud of the work he has done on National Missing Persons Day, which was established in 2012.

Former agriculture minister Michael Creed said in April that he would not be seeking re-election. 

When asked if this could be the last Fine Gael think-in before the election, he said:

“I suspect probably not. But yeah, who knows? I mean, events dear boy in politics. So I’m not sure, but I suspect there will be another one this time next year before a general election.”

NO FEE TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR MIN CREED SUMMER PROVISION JB2 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and for Agriculture Minister Michael Creed .

Creed said he hasn’t really thought about his retirement, stating that he is focused on the job “until the curtain drops”. 

“I’m 40 years in politics. So I think by any measurement that’s a long level of commitment. It will be for others to judge the merits of it, or otherwise, but I mean, I’m quite happy to move on at this stage.

“I just felt it was the right time for me personally, but everybody has their own different circumstances that impact on their own decision making, but I’m quite happy with my own decision,” he said. 

Varadkar exposed?

The Cork North-West TD said he didn’t believe the exits from the party leave Varadkar exposed. 

“I don’t think so, like, every one of these has to be taken on its merit and if you look at every one of them, there’s a rationale behind it. So I don’t think you can draw a collective conclusion that kind of says that, ‘oh there’s something deeper and more sinister behind this’.

“I don’t think there’s anything like that there, but people might want to spin that,” he added. 

He questioned if Fine Gael were in opposition or if they were riding at 40% in the polls would the same attention be given to the retirement announcements. 

Creed said they are “individual decisions” made by politicians who have considered a “myriad of circumstances”.

“They’re not, I would say by any yardstick, a political decision,” he said.  

With farmers protesting nearby over the nitrates issue, The Journal asks if he’ll miss dealing with such issues he had to handle as agriculture minister. 

“I’ve been there done that and I don’t miss that,” he joked. “But, I understand their issues. Good luck to them,” he added.

Richard Bruton, Fine Gael’s party current chairperson announced this month that after four decades in Irish politics, he too is not seeking re-election next time around. 

Bruton said he would like to do another 40 years in politics, but he too has to be realistic, stating: “This is a good time to go.”

“I think it’s good to go when you give a chance to your successors to come and have a good fighting chance of taking a seat,” he added.  

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He disagreed that the numbers leaving Fine Gael is a reflection on the party leader, stating that many of those stepping aside before the next election have served for decades and have made the decision to retire.

Bruton said he would still remain a party member and would like to stay involved.

He is also known to enjoy cooking, often taking to Instagram to show off his culinary skills, particularly during the pandemic. 

Perhaps a cookery show or book in his future? 

He joked that if a contract was offered to him, he would take it. 

“The only thing you need is someone to clean up after me because the missus is giving out, she sees the kitchen deteriorating rapidly since I announced this extra time I have,” he laughed. 

Bruton said he would like to do other things in his retirement, stating that having been in public service for so long, he feels there is lots of useful work he could do with organisations on a voluntary basis.

“A lot of people say politicians are good for nothing, but you do learn, you have a lot of knowledge of how systems work, of how change can be achieved,” concluded Bruton. 

Regardless of the reasons for heading off into the sunset, be it in support for the party leader or a personal choice that it is time to hang your hat, Varadkar has said he has a succession plan for each and every constituency. 

The TDs The Jounal spoke to said that new fresh blood in the party is a good thing and can only help reinvigorate it. But will new faces be enough to bring Fine Gael electoral success – we’ll have to wait and see. 

Christina Finn and Jane Matthews
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