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Frank Flannery speaking at the MacGill Summer School Screengrab/Donegal County Council
Frankly speaking

Frank Flannery: Fine Gael's local election campaign was one of the worst I ever saw

The former Rehab chief and Fine Gael strategist has been speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal.

Updated 7.04pm 

FORMER FINE GAEL strategist Frank Flannery has criticised the party’s election campaigns over the last three years, citing the strategy for the recent local elections as “one of the worst I ever saw”.

Flannery was speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties this evening where he also said it is the “destiny” of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to govern together. He said there are very little practical differences between the two parties.

Fine Gael’s former director of elections quit that role earlier this year amid controversies over his role as a lobbyist for the Rehab Group where he was a former CEO and board member.

In his speech during a session on the current political landscape, Flannery said that Fine Gael holds itself “aloof” from the electorate and does not focus enough on the politics of the party but on the interests of governing.

He identified this as a reason why the party has never been re-elected despite being in government seven times. Flannery said that Fine Gael’s results in elections since 2011 have “by-and-large” not been good.

‘Very, very weak’

He said that it took “some ingenuity” to go from over 30 per cent in the general election in 2011 to 7 per cent in the presidential election later that same year.

He described Fine Gael’s local election campaign in May as, in his view, “one of the worst I ever saw”. He was the party’s director of elections until he resigned on 10 March over the ongoing Rehab controversies.

Speaking to journalists a short time later, Flannery said Fine Gael’s performance during the election campaign in May was “very, very weak”. The party lost four per cent of the vote within the month of the election campaign resulting in the loss of a hundred council seats, he said.

“I think it was lost because the government lost the debate during the election,” Flannery said.

“The election was fought on the issues that were driven by the opposition. Whoever can set the agenda for an election has the best chance of winning it and I think on this occasion, no really strong or coherent attempt was made to set that agenda.”

Flannery said working for Fine Gael again is “becoming a less attractive option by the day”. Asked whether he still has a personal relationship with the Taoiseach, he said:

“Have I personal relationship with the Taoiseach now? No. Had I one with him? That’s a different question. I am not sure the situation has materially changed from what it was over the last couple of years.”


During his speech at MacGill, Flannery also said Fine Gael has 18 months to move away from the “some would say fetishistic” position of “being the party that does the business of the ‘state’ to being the party that does the business of ‘the nation’”.

He said that Fine Gael governs as an extension of the civil service and tends to lose its sense of itself as a party and its rapport with the people when it gets into government.

“They forget that at the next election, it’s the party, with its raw politics, that is going to be knocking at the doors of the electorate, looking for their vote,” he said.

Of the other main parties, Flannery said that Fianna Fáil’s wipeout in the 2011 general election was akin to the losses Manchester United suffered in the Munich air crash in the 1950s due to the loss of many senior figures.

He said Sinn Féin is on its way to being a party of government and of Labour he said the party never seems to happy in government as it cannot retain its principles. It thrives more in opposition, he said.

He concluded that current political trends indicate that it is “destiny” that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael come together and for Labour and Sinn Féin to do likewise.

Flannery said that Fianna Fáil has “tremendous experience of governing” and is better at the technicalities of it.

“In practical terms there isn’t a massive amount of difference [between the two parties]” he added.

‘Mad as hell’

Political commentator Noel Whelan said that the factors which influenced people’s vote in the 2011 general election also existed at the last elections in May and will continue through to the next general election in 2016.

He said those left behind by the economic recovery are “mad as hell” as they expected more from the current government.

In her presentation, UCC’s Dr Theresa Reidy said that Irish people are less likely to engage in political discussion than their European counterparts.

She also said economic issues almost always dominate at general elections with little discussion on political reform, noting that ”we have five-point plans for everything, except political reform”.

In his speech, independent TD Stephen Donnelly said that a “political cartel” of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael/Labour governments have run the country since inception, saying there are few differences between the three parties in the public’s mind.

The Wicklow deputy said that the strict party whip system means that no one is allowed think in an independent way and act in an independent way.

  • will be bringing you rolling coverage from the Glenties all this week and you can follow @oconnellhugh for updates.

First published 5.58pm 

More from MacGill: ‘A feature of our calamities in Ireland is that we keep repeating them’

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