Fine Gael Senator Martin Conway has criticised what he has described as a “disastrous” Fine Gael election campaign nationally, however, he said he is hopeful of a positive Clare result.
He said he felt sympathy for Clare County Councillor Mary Howard who he said was “put on the back foot” by Fine Gael by putting her forward as a General Election candidate too late.
Senator Conway said he believes he could have performed well and attracted a significant vote if he had been chosen and the North Clare and West Clare areas were left “wide open” for Dr Michael Harty and other candidates by deciding not to select him.
He said he believes Fine Gael made a “big mistake” by not selecting him but he is relatively confident Fine Gael can claim two seats.
“Nationally at the moment it has been a disastrous election for Fine Gael. Our message clearly hasn’t resonated with the people. You could be forgiven for feeling a little bit sore on the basis that we did take over the country when we were in a bailout and when there was a threat that there could be a further bailout [needed],” he said.
“We steered the country through a very difficult time, probably the greatest austerity the country has ever seen. We’re in a situation now where we did make mistakes but who doesn’t and because of that we’re in a situation now where some very fine Dáil deputies and some very fine men and women.”
Senator Conway said politics is “very tough” business.
“It’s certainly not an easy business and it’s certainly not an easy life. We have a situation where as a party Fine Gael now have to do some adjudicating on our performance,” he said.
“If you ask me what went wrong I think our messaging in terms of the campaign structure was a disaster. The economy was one of our strong points. We certainly didn’t communicate that economic message properly.”
Senator Conway said county Clare and rural Ireland had been left disenchanted by the Fine Gael campaign but he said he is still “hopeful” his party will claim two seats in the Clare constituency.
“The whole ‘Lets keep the economy going’ slogan. That’s fine if you are in recovery. It was a slogan that was created out of corporate Ireland, not taking into consideration people [in rural Ireland] and I think it was a very regrettable slogan because if you’re not in recovery [yourself] you’ve nothing to keep going.”
Senator Conway praised the impressive campaign of Dr Michael Harty.
“Dr Michael Harty absolutely caught the imagination of the people of Clare. For a four or five-week campaign to garner in excess of 8,000 votes I think you have to drop the hat to his machine and his movement,” he said.
“We had a situation where it started off being a ‘No doctor no village’ campaign but he did provide a vehicle for people who were cross with Fine Gael and Labour, who didn’t want to go back to Fianna Fáil, who won’t vote for Sinn Féin and who wanted a bit of an independent. He ticked all of those boxes.”