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What are the reasons behind the apparent exodus of TDs from Fine Gael?

Problem for FG and Taoiseach is that Paul Kehoe is 10th party TD not seeking to defend seat

Since announcing his intention not to run for the Dáil again on Monday evening, Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe says he has been inundated with texts and calls from wellwishers – one of whom told him he could not be replaced.

“They said the same about Ivan Yates,” says Kehoe, a veteran of Cabinet, the chief whip’s office and a Dáil deputy for 22 years who started as Yates’s protege in Wexford. He has been around long enough to know that the system moves on.

At age 51, Kehoe is young enough to have another act in his professional life, and he has not ruled out a run for Europe alongside Seán Kelly in Ireland South. With his ministerial career likely behind him, it was time for a change after more than 20 years in Leinster House.

“It’s a difficult, difficult career, but a very rewarding career,” he says. “I don’t regret one minute of it, I would do it all over again but there is a time when you call time on your career.”


The issue for Fine Gael and its leader, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, is that Kehoe is the 10th party TD to announce they will not be seeking to defend their seat. The trend, started by former minister for housing Eoghan Murphy back in 2021, has gathered pace in recent months.

Varadkar, Kehoe says, did ask him to reconsider, and queried whether he was certain that he was making the right decision. But there was no attempt to strongarm him into staying on. “I was more appreciative of that than anything, that he didn’t make me feel bad about retiring,” says Kehoe.

The reasons for the exodus are wide-ranging – from alienation or disgruntlement in some cases, to age, health, desire for a change, seats endangered by redrawn constituencies, weariness with the grind of political life and the prevalence of online abuse. Sometimes it is due to a combination of these factors.

There is something to Varadkar’s view that the trend is cyclical rather than a function of some deeper malaise – parties inevitably have rotations, either courtesy of the electorate or over time, and that Fine Gael’s longevity in Government, and the duration of the careers of some of its retiring TDs, makes it more pronounced.

No matter what the reasoning is for people stepping down, the impact on the electoral landscape is inescapable. Fine Gael will face into the next election shorn of a cadre of proven vote-getters and will be forced to fight battles without the benefit of incumbency, often in radically different terrain.

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Kehoe’s Wexford constituency is a good example. Local sources say a large chunk of its Fine Gael vote was cleaved to the new Wicklow-Wexford three-seater. On the ground, they are bullish on Fine Gael’s chances of taking a seat in the new constituency, but in the remaining rump of Wexford, a new face will have to battle for a seat where Verona Murphy – once a Fine Gael candidate – is mopping up some of its traditional support.

The party entered the 2020 general election campaign in Wexford with two incumbent ministers of State: Kehoe and Michael D’Arcy. The latter lost his seat, was elected to the Seanad and later decided to leave politics to become chief executive of the Irish Association of Investment Management.

Privately, some in the party quietly welcome the clear out, noting that it was the general election collapse of 2002 that ushered in new faces and that generational shifts and renewals can be painful but necessary things.

In the long term, that may be true but the general election is increasingly in the short term, and this is a headwind that keeps getting stronger for Fine Gael.

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