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THE MORNING LEAD

Fianna Fáil won the highest number of council seats in the local elections. Is the party back?

Party members say they aren’t taking anything for granted.

“WE ARE NOT getting carried away at all, at all”, one senior Fianna Fáil source said as the dust settles after the local and European election results this week. 

There is no reason to, they explained, acknowledging that the party lost seats in the local elections, though it did well in the Europeans. 

Fianna Fáil has retained its crown as the largest party in local government, where it won a total of 248 seats compared to Fine Gael’s 245.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin was in great form when he visited Dublin’s count centre in the RDS on Monday morning. He shook the hands of the count staff, as did Taoiseach Simon Harris the day previously. 

Is Fianna Fáil back? 

There was a pep in Martin’s step, which made people ask: are Fianna Fáil back? 

One would hardly think the two Coalition parties had actually lost seats in the election, but the air of relief was due to the fact that both parties had been expecting major losses.

The celebrations were because they performed better than they thought, with both party leaders putting that down to their positive message on the doors. 

Harris was grinning from ear to ear when he spoke to reporters about Fine Gael’s results, something which carried on into Leaders’ Questions on Tuesday, when the Taoiseach appeared to gloat about the election results to a bruised Mary Lou McDonald.

He was accused on “arrogance” and “hubris” by Sinn Féin backbenchers in the Dáil, something he might want to watch out for. Nothing turns a voter off like smugness, particularly when the same problems that existed before the elections are still there. 

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If one is to compare Martin and Harris, it can be said that the Tánaiste displayed a lot more humility in the aftermath of the weekend’s results. 

Martin said that Fianna Fáil had enjoyed a “pleasant campaign” and that he had enjoyed getting out to “great hurling and football matches”, but also admitted that the party still had a lot of work to do. 

“We have lessons to learn from this. We have to evaluate this election from our own point of view. We did well in many, many areas. There’s other areas where we didnt do as well. And there’s aspects of the logistics of our campaign that we can improve upon,” he told reporters this week. 

Dublin problem

One area where Martin highlighted a need for improvement for Fianna Fáil was in Dublin. 

“I think we certainly have work to do in Dublin. I think Barry Andrews proves that there’s a template of what we can do with a strong candidate, a strong campaign but also I think we will be evaluating areas where we did well and where we didn’t do so well,” he said. 

He added that there needs to be a refocus on candidate selection in the capital. 

Speaking to The Journal, Fianna Fáil TD for Cork East James O’Connor said his read on how the party is faring in Dublin is “very simple”.

“I think that the housing situation in Dublin is something that we need to get a full understanding of,” he said.

“It is affecting an awful lot of people, first-time buyers, younger voters as well. You look at the fact that 98% of of the new apartments in the city are built to rent and tackling the issue of dropping home ownership rates, these are things that should be concerning I think to the party in general.” 

O’Connor added that he wants the party manifesto to reflect this, stating: “We need very, very serious re-evaluation of that group of voters between 20 and 30.”

“It is difficult when you’re young, you’re paying extraordinarily high rents, starting a family is very challenging. And, being able to save for a mortgage in a lot of cases is near next to impossible,” he added. 

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Aside from the party’s problems in Dublin, Martin didn’t appear this week to be relying on the election results as some sort of signifier to what might come in a general election, telling the media that local elections are a very different animal.

Former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also gave a similar warning last week, highlighting how Sinn Féin fared badly in the local elections in 2019 and came back with a huge surge in support in the general election in 2020. 

No room for complacency 

So what is the mood music in Fianna Fáil HQ? Is there a greater confidence there now in the party than there might have been just a few weeks ago? 

One senior source reiterated Martin’s view that a general election will be “totally different”, and that to think otherwise would be a major mistake. 

They said there was no room complacency, adding that the party will be assessing all areas and will improve on the areas that the party needs to. 

The same source added that the party is very aware that not all people are benefiting from the strong economy and Fianna Fáil aims to improve that.

O’Connor echoed that point, stating that the local and general elections are different. 

Overall, he assessed Fianna Fáil’s performance as positive in many parts of the country, notwithstanding that in Dublin and some other constituencies “there is a worrying trend”. 

“But we were aware of that,” he added.

“The swing away from Sinn Féin has been extraordinary to witness on the doors over the past four weeks, just how quickly they lost ground,” said O’Connor.

“So there is a shifting sand. I think that Fianna Fáil are in a good place for the general election, but we’re not taking that for granted. My own colleagues aren’t either,” he said.

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