FG blame game begins

A blame game is under way in Fine Gael, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and backbench TD Maria Bailey in the firing line.

While the Taoiseach is playing up the idea of a general election this year, many in his party believe the local elections have dealt them a serious blow.

Fine Gael will gain local authority seats compared with the drubbing received in 2014.

However, the party has performed well below expectations and will lose the popular vote to Fianna Fáil.

Ministers were last night briefed to say “the Government is pressing ahead with its work programme, creating jobs, growing the economy, and supporting families”.

However, they also were expressly told to add that “external factors like Budget negotiations, Brexit, and now the impact of by-elections on the Dáil arithmetic, could all impact on the stability of the confidence and supply arrangement.”

Party sources told the Irish Independent there will have to be a change of strategy before a general election.

Feedback from canvassers around the country has focused on Mr Murphy, who is being blamed for “failing to understand the housing crisis”.

Mr Varadkar raised the prospect of an election in the coming months, saying: “I’m certainly not ruling it out.”

  • Read more: Elections 2019 analysis to date: the good, the bad, and the downright awful

Adding to his woes is a meeting he plans with Maria Bailey this week. She has dropped her compensation claim over a fall from a swing – but TDs believe the controversy cost Fine Gael seats. It is understood Mr Varadkar is minded to refer the episode to Fine Gael’s executive council, which has the power to expel her from the party for a period of time.

She could also lose her position as chair of the Oireachtas Housing Committee, a perk that comes with a salary top-up of €9,500.

MEP Mairead McGuinness said the Bailey controversy “did impact” on the Fine Gael campaign.

Fine Gael had expected to win the popular vote but as of late last night was trailing Fianna Fáil by 27pc to 25pc.

There is likely to be a major post-mortem of its campaign that was plagued with controversy.

In the build-up to the election, the Government was under pressure about the cost overruns at the National Children’s Hospital.

This was followed by a sometimes heated debate over the €3bn price tag attached to the National Broadband Plan.

A decision to reveal details of the plan so close to the election is likely to be carefully scrutinised.

But it was comments by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and a personal injuries claim lodged by Ms Bailey that engulfed their campaign in the final days.

There is considerable anger over Mr Murphy’s performance in housing. He launched into a defence of co-living last week, suggesting that young people should be excited about the prospect of having their own en-suite bedroom but sharing a kitchen and living room.

While the election is being widely interpreted as a move towards green politics, Fine Gael candidates in Dublin have reported housing as a far bigger issue on the doorsteps.

Fianna Fáil made a number of significant advances in the capital and will be the largest group in Dublin City Council.

Micheál Martin will be enthused by wins in working class areas like Finglas, Ballymun and Donaghmede.

Part of this is down to the collapse of Sinn Féin’s vote – but Fine Gael TDs in Dublin believe they missed out on opportunities for easy gains.

One minister said: “We’re obsessed with rural Ireland and have let them back into Dublin.” Another party insider: “Murphy should be made to live in social housing. The utter donkey.”

Gardaí had to intervene after Mr Murphy was targeted by protesters inside the Dublin count centre in the RDS yesterday. Protesters shouted “Murphy, out, out, out” as the Fine Gael man watched election workers count votes.

  • Read more: ‘I’m certainly not ruling it out’ – Taoiseach opens door to general election in coming months

Party colleagues, security and garda officers moved to form a barrier between Mr Murphy and the protesters.

The group which confronted the minister included People Before Profit activists.

At one stage, the Taoiseach had indicated that after the local elections would be the natural time to perform a Cabinet reshuffle.

But he has now ruled it out, saying it is “not something I am planning …at the moment”.

“The Government needs to focus on the work to be done, it needs to focus on delivery, whether it is in health reform or housing, getting another budget over the line or sailing Ireland through some pretty choppy waters relating to Brexit.

“I’m not sure now is the time to ask new ministers to read into a new brief in those areas. We need to get the job done, I think,” he said.

However, Mr Varadkar went on to speculate about the possibility of a general election later this year.

Asked whether he would go to the country rather than hold a number of by-elections on foot of the European election results, the Fine Gael leader said: “I can’t rule it out.”

He added that, because of the Confidence and Supply Arrangement with Fianna Fáil, the situation may be outside his control.

But Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has already recommitted to facilitating the passage of a budget in October, meaning there is no necessity for an election.

Government sources categorically ruled out the idea of a snap election last night – but left the door open for one after the Dáil’s summer recess.

Meanwhile, the situation is even more perilous for Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, who was last night forced to admit she was “disappointed” by the local election disaster which saw the party’s standing on several councils decimated.

“I imagine there is a number of factors that we need to reflect on and we need to learn,” she added.

In all four Dublin local authorities, Sinn Féin haemorrhaged seats while nationally the party held just 9.6pc of the vote, a drop of more than 5.6pc since the last election.

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