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so 2016

These are the Winners and Losers from a very unusual Irish political year

Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’ll still be around this time next year?

IT SEEMS LIKE a distant memory at this stage in the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but you may recall we had a general election of our own back in February.

Compared to those seismic events, our own democratic exercise looks like a relatively straightforward affair.

Still, we’ve been left with a very odd arrangement indeed, whereby Fine Gael (the not-very-large-largest-party) is being propped up courtesy of a deal with Fianna Fáil (the slightly-smaller-but-bigger-than-they-thought-they’d be) second party, and independents of various stripes have been handed ministerial geegaws by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in return for their support.

So, looking back at the election, the talks that followed and everything that’s happened since, who are Ireland’s political winners and losers of the year?

In no particular order, here’s our take:


Enda Kenny 

The great political survivor – first elected to the Dáil in 1975 – managed to hold on to the leadership of his party in spite of an election result that saw Fine Gael’s Dáil representation drop from 66 to 50.

21/09/2016. National Ploughing Championships . Pic Sam Boal Sam Boal

He became the first Fine Gael leader in history be re-elected as Taoiseach in May – but rumblings about his role soon followed in the dog days of summer.

Unwilling to be seen to make a move against their leader amid such an uncertain political landscape, all of the prospective contenders for the job kept their powder dry this time around.

At the helm of a minority government, and with any number of potential political banana skins (including water charges) to be dealt with over the next year, it remains to be seen whether the Father of the Dáíl can hold on to the top job in Irish politics for another 12 months. That said, with Brexit negotiations around the corner for our nearest neighbours, many commentators have made the point that it can’t hurt Ireland’s cause to have a familiar face at the head of our team at EU summit meetings.

Micheál Martin  

Regarded for generations (not least by themselves) as the ‘natural party of government’, Fianna Fáil were all-but-annihilated at the ballot box six years ago, as the electorate vented its fury at the Brian Cowen-led government for its handling of the economic crash.

Martin, seen as a safe pair of hands as the party fought its way out of the wilderness, had to put up with sniping from his own backbenchers (or rather, spokespeople – they didn’t have enough TDs to have backbenchers) as he rebuilt the party and built towards February’s election.

24/2/2016 General Election Campaigns Starts Photocall Ireland Photocall Ireland

Always a solid performer in the Dáil, he put in capable performances holding Enda Kenny to account – particularly during the Fine Gael-Labour coalition’s annus horribilis in 2014.

His more than doubling of FF’s haul of Dáil seats, coupled with his successful negotiation of the confidence-and-supply arrangement with Fine Gael, puts him in a uniquely powerful position in the current political set-up.


With veteran Joe Higgins bowing out in advance of the general election, left-wing grouping the AAA-PBP went into the campaign with just three sitting TDs but managed to emerge with twice that number.


Paul Murphy, after his by-election win in late 2014, had been one of the most influential politicians in the country in the 18 months or so leading up to the general election – as left-wing politicians successfully made Irish Water and water charges a central topic of debate.

Richard Boyd Barrett and Ruth Coppinger were also high-profile figures in that campaign. High-profile spokespeople, combined with local organisational skills honed during months of community and larger-scale meetings and protests, meant they were well positioned when it came to the election. Mick Barry, Gino Kenny and Bríd Smith joined their colleagues on the Dáil benches when all the votes were (finally) counted.

Members have kept up pressure on the government on some of their key issues in recent months – particularly in the area of abortion. In arguably the most effective political stunt of the year, the TDs made headlines by wearing black ‘Repeal’ sweatshirts to call for the repeal of the 8th Amendment during a session of Leaders’ Questions in September.

The Healy-Raes

Say what you like about the Healy-Raes (and people do), getting two members of the same family elected to the Dáil in the Kerry constituency was quite the achievement.

The less said about the elder brother’s views on climate change the better. / YouTube


Alan Kelly 

Nicknamed AK47 on account of his abrasive style, the then Labour Deputy Leader wasn’t looking in a particularly strong position heading into the election.

Housing and Homelessness forum PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

His party’s popularity was plummeting, for starters; as Minister for the Environment, he’d been in charge of policy for Irish Water; and then just weeks before the election, he gave some VERY ill-advised quotes to Niamh Horan of the Sunday Independent (remember the ‘power is a drug … I think it it suits me’ interview?).

In the end, Kelly just held onto his seat in Tipperary – but there was humiliation on the horizon for the former minister, as he was outmaneuvered for the Labour leadership by veteran Brendan Howlin.

Kelly snubbed Howlin’s unveiling as leader, and later tweeted out a picture of a row pints of Guinness ranging from full to empty, presumably supposed to indicate he was drowning his sorrows.

The whole unpleasant affair was forgotten in the space of a few months, however, as Kelly returned to the party fold. He’s made a number of strong contributions in the Dáil chamber, and his recent proposals for the craft beer sector have been going down well among brewers.

James Reilly 

One of the highest profile figures of the Fine Gael-Labour government, serving as health and children’s minister, Reilly suffered the humiliation of losing his seat in the general election after a lengthy count process in Dublin Fingal.

Daragh Brophy / YouTube

He didn’t disappear from the headlines, however: in a bewildering sequence of events over the summer he was stripped of the deputy leadership of his party by Enda Kenny and then reappointed within a matter of weeks.

“Look … things happen,” he said of the Taoiseach’s contrary decisions about his role as party deputy leader.

He had joined the Seanad in the interim – appointed to upper chamber by Kenny, in spite of some fierce criticism of the house during the 2013 referendum campaign to abolish it.


You might have thought it couldn’t get any worse for Renua after they failed to get any of their three TDs re-elected to the Dáil in February’s election.

File Photo Lucinda Creighton has announced she is stepping down as leader of Renua Ireland at a meeting in Portlaoise today. Sam Boal Sam Boal

But that was before Lucinda Creighton, their leader and only politician with a national stature, bowed out from the role and left the political scene in May.

Eddie Hobbs, the financial adviser and former TV presenter who had launched the new party alongside Creighton but declined to run in the election, left in June.

The party’s now been left in a very strange position – its main figures have all left, its candidates were rejected by voters, but it still gets €250,000 State funding each year as a result of garnering more than 2% of the national vote in that same election.

Offaly councillor John Leahy took over in charge in September, telling he was “not unrealistic in terms of what needs to be done”.

“A couple of hundred members have renewed membership” of the party this year, Leahy added. He intends to continue the long rebuild of the party in the coming year – but it’s safe to say that Renua will not be lobbying for an early election anytime soon.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor 

The arithmetic of the new Dáil meant there were more jobs to go around to Fine Gael TDs, when it was finally time to pick the Cabinet.

Mitchell O’Connor was seen as a surprise choice to take over from Richard Bruton in the jobs portfolio – and within months the Taoiseach was forced to defend his appointment, after the Irish Times published a piece that quoted a number of anonymous sources discussing their concerns about the Dun Laoghaire TD’s aptitude for the role.


She parted company with advisor Alan Cantwell, the former TV3 news anchor, shortly afterwards.

Mitchell O’Connor has presided over a series of high-profile jobs announcements in recent months, however, and with Brexit negotiations on the horizon in 2017, will have plenty of opportunities in the next 12 months to prove her critics wrong.

What do you make of our assessment? Have your say in the comments section below.

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