‘Fine Gael could lose 25 seats… but Enda will be Taoiseach again!’

‘Conor Lenihan adds to gaiety of nation’

As his People’s Debate roadshow rolls into Roscommon town next Monday night (to be broadcast on TV3 the following Wednesday) Vincent Browne chats to Roscommon People Editor Paul Healy about Ming, Denis … and Enda

Paul Healy talks to Vincent Browne

PH: Have your debates lived up to your expectations?

VB: They’ve exceeded them in fact. The contributions from the floor have been great. The standard has been great and there have been very important issues raised. People have conveyed a sense of disillusionment with the political process, and an anger at the various cuts.

PH: So do you expect the political establishment to get another seismic shock – as in last year’s local elections – when the General Election is held?

VB: The political establishment doesn’t seem to recognise seismic shocks.

PH: What landscape to you foresee after the election?

VB: I think Fine Gael will still be the largest party, but they’ll lose about 25 seats. Labour will fare very badly. Fianna Fail will do a bit better this time. Sinn Fein will do significantly better than before. I expect Fine Gael to be the largest party and that Enda will be Taoiseach again.

PH: And in partnership with who?

VB: Not necessarily in partnership with anyone…it could be a minority government. Two of the best governments we had were minority ones (one led by Sean Lemass, one by Charles Haughey). Fine Gael could lead with support from Fianna Fail from the opposition benches.

PH: Getting back to the debates, there was drama when you recorded in Dublin on Monday night: the Gardai were called. Is a ‘rent-a-crowd’ element and the presence of protestors going to be a problem for TV3’s debates as the election nears?

VB: Not at all. It was a very minor incident on Monday. There was excited reportage of it which utterly misrepresented what happened…we did receive an allegation of intimidation and because of that we informed the Gardai, who arrived a half an hour later. But they spoke to no one; it was wildly exaggerated…

PH: This Monday night your debate for Roscommon/Galway constituency takes place. You had a famous run-in with Conor Lenihan on your ‘Tonight’ show a few years ago. What do you think of the news that he is considering seeking a nomination for Fianna Fail in Roscommon?

VB: I gather Fianna Fail people in Roscommon are not very enthusiastic about it! And that Conor has acknowledged that….that incident with Conor on the show by the way was a piece of theatre.

PH: Do you think his return to the Dail would be a good thing?

VB: Well, it would add to the gaiety of the nation…

PH: Turning to our three sitting TDs….Frank Feighan has told the Roscommon People that he won’t take part in the debate, but that’s not necessarily because some Fine Gael TDs have snubbed previous ‘People’s Debates’ – he says it’s because he’s not running in the next election. What’s your view on him not taking part?

VB: That’s fair enough.

PH: Denis Naughten and Michael Fitzmaurice will be there. What’s your view of Denis Naughten? Where do you see his future? Is a return to Fine Gael inevitable?

VB: I don’t really know. I’ve only met Denis Naughten a few times. But he’s impressive; he’s a formidable TD. So is Michael Fitzmaurice. They are impressive people. In fact the standard of TDs is quite high. The only problem is they’ve nothing to do most of the time. It’s all about which crowd will get ministries the next time; there’s nothing about policies, no significant debate about what kind of society we want…

PH: And speaking of Roscommon politicians, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan has been a regular on your show; you seem to have hit it off with him?

VB: I don’t know…well, Luke also adds to the gaiety of the nation. Actually he’s also a very formidable fellow. People thought he was a wacky backy headbanger but he’s not; he was a very good TD. Mind you, I think he made a mistake in running for Europe.

PH: Should he come back and run for the Dail again?

VB: He should…well, he has a problem now, because he’s not likely to go against Michael Fitzmaurice, he wouldn’t do that.

PH: Not the next election, but maybe in a future election….anyways, in terms of issues, there are many in Roscommon just now, but the health service remains the dominant one. There was the closure of Roscommon A&E which is still an issue for many people, and now there’s a threat to the Sacred Heart Hospital. Do you think the A&E closure was a big betrayal by Enda Kenny and James Reilly or do you think too much was made of it all?

VB: Well, they went down and gave an undertaking that Roscommon A&E would not be closed and they broke that promine and several other promises. The question now relates to their credibility. Can they be believed? You know, Fine Gael and Labour made a big thing a few years ago of how pathetic and awful Fianna Fail were, but things would have been much worse if what they had been proposing (in opposition, before 2011) had been implemented. Now they claim to be a really effective and competent Government but if you read the Fennelly Report any claims of competence go out the window…

PH: That having been said, and notwithstanding your own criticisms of him over the years, you’ve just said that your best guess it that Enda will be Taoiseach again…that will be a monumental achievement?

VB: Well, is it an achievement to lose 25 seats?

PH: Ok, fair enough, but you still see him becoming a two-term Taoiseach?

VB: Only because of the way things are.

PH: In historical Fine Gael terms, will that be some achievement for Enda Kenny?

VB: It will be hailed as an achievement, but it’s just nonsense.

PH: You’re in Roscommon on Monday night, are you looking forward to coming down to the Abbey Hotel to host the debate?

VB: Yes, I’m looking forward to it very much. And I will be meeting up with Tommy Grealy (of the Grealy family, proprietors of Abbey Hotel) who is an old school friend of mine. We went to school together in Dublin…

PH: Have you kept in touch?

VB: Yes, we meet up every now and again. I hope a great crowd comes along on Monday night and I am looking forward to a great debate.