There’s “no dressing it up” that the election was a “bad day for Fine Gael”, party leader Leo Varadkar has said.
In an email to party members on Thursday night, Mr Varadkar thanked them for all of the work they did to secure more than 450,000 votes for the party on February 8th. However, he acknowledged that the election results were “disappointing”.
Several high-profile front benchers lost their seats including Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, Minister of State in the Department of Finance Michael D’Arcy, and Minister of State for drugs Catherine Byrne.
“We lost seats and votes. Less than we feared a week ago, perhaps. But more than we hoped when we saw the exit poll on Saturday night,” Mr Varadkar’s email said.
“I know, only a few short months ago we had expected to make gains. There is no dressing it up. It was a bad day for Fine Gael. We have lost colleagues who did not deserve to lose their seats. New candidates for years deserved to poll much better, but had to battle against the tide.”
He added that he thinks, “in the fullness of time, history will judge the last government more kindly than the electorate has”.
Mr Varadkar called on the members of his party to not dwell on the result, and to accept the electorate’s decision.
“We now have a very different political landscape. It is not easily comparable to the past. There are three major parties with roughly the same number of votes and seats. No two can form a government without support from a third party or parties,” he said.
“And, given how volatile politics is, it can all change again, and quickly, and in our favour.”
The Taoiseach said despite the election result, Fine Gael “remains relevant” and “our mandate counts whether it’s as the lead party of the opposition or as part of a future government”.
He said that he relishes the “challenge of continuing to lead the party I love in the interests of the country I love”.
However, in accordance with the party’s constitution, once a government is formed he will submit himself to a confidence vote and seek the support of the party to continue as leader.
He said that members of the party “have much work to do”, and he is currently contacting all successful and unsuccessful candidates to discuss the next steps.
There will be a meeting of the parliamentary party on Monday, and the cabinet will meet next week, with all Ministers and Ministers of State continuing to carry out their duties until a new government has been formed.
The new Dáil will meet on Thursday next week, during which time a Ceann Comhairle will be elected and attempts to elect a new taoiseach will also be made.
“The process of forming a government may go on for some time. There will be a Seanad election next month and it is essential that we use it to build for the futre,” Mr Varadkar said.
“As we gained more council seats last May than we lost in Dáil seats last week, we should hold our own or even make gains.”
He added that the executive council of the party will lead a “full review” of the campaign at constituency and national level.
“When the situation becomes clearer, I will convene a special meeting of all our elected representatives as well as members of the Executive Council and and key constituency officers, as an opportunity to regroup and chart the future,” he concluded.
The makeup of the 33rd Dáil will make government formation difficult, with both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ruling out going into government with Sinn Féin.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was yesterday backed by his party to refuse coalition talks with Sinn Féin and instead try to form a grand coalition with Fine Gael, a move which Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said would be “a slap in the face”.