Offaly not being punished for Cowen loyalty

DEPUTY Charlie Flanagan has said Fine Gael was not punishing Laois/Offaly for its loyalty to Brian Cowen and Fianna Fail by ridding the constituency of cabinet representation for the first time in nearly 20 years.

DEPUTY Charlie Flanagan has said Fine Gael was not punishing Laois/Offaly for its loyalty to Brian Cowen and Fianna Fail by ridding the constituency of cabinet representation for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Deputy Flanagan believes he has fallen victim to political “snakes and ladders” in being overlooked for a job in Government.

While he said it would be “foolish” of him to speculate on why he had not made it to cabinet, Deputy Flanagan accepted that his decision to go against Enda Kenny in last year’s failed leadership heave “may” have been a factor.

Speaking to the ‘Offaly Express’, the Laois-Offaly poll topper said that while the lack of a Ministerial post had affected him personally, it had an even greater impact on voters.

“I’m even more disappointed for he 10,500 people who gave me their number one votes. I’m disappointed for the Fine Gael organisation. I’m disappointed for the entire constituency that will not have a representative at Government level for the first time in many years. However, I entirely respect the decision of the party leader Enda Kenny - it was exclusively within his remit, I both accept and respect that decision.”

Deputy Flanagan said he had not questioned his reason for being in politics after being overlooked.

“This is the snakes and ladders of politics. Over the years I have had a fair share of success and of knocks. One expects that in politics. I lost my seat and topped the poll within a decade - this the rough and tumble.”

The Fine Gael Deputy lost his position as Spokesman on Justice last summer after backing Richard Bruton for leader. He stayed on the front bench but lost out in the ministerial shake up while other Kenny opponents became Ministers. Asked if his decision was a factor, the TD would not rule it out.

“That may well have been a factor,” he said.

Deputy Flanagan said that his job now would be to represent the people of Laois/Offaly at Government level and he would not be deterred from working robustly for his constituents. He said the existence of a Minister has never been quantified but he believed it “is important”. He acknowledged the “substantial” influence of Brian Cowen who had been at cabinet for all but three years from 1992 to 2011.

Deputy Flanagan accepted that he may have had a stronger hand if FG had taken three of the five seats. However, he pointed to the Fianna Fail machine, three new FG candidates, the absence of Olwyn Enright and his confinement to a small area of Laois in the campaign as all being factors in not making a gain. Deputy Flanagan’s colleague Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy insisted that while everyone was disappointed there was no minister appointed in the constituency, she would not see this as a slight on Deputy Flanagan, rather a reflection on the amount of “high calibre” deputies between the coalition parties.

“Charlie has incredible talent and ability and a great track record. There was a lot of talent for the number of places,” explained Deputy Corcoran-Kennedy, adding, “We have a huge job of work to do to pursue the reform agenda we have.”

She said she was confident the ministers appointed will look after that and work on the “mess initiated by Fianna Fail.”

Deputy Corcoran-Kennedy said while Deputy Flanagan lost out this time, there would be a review in a few years and “he may be appointed at that stage.”

Deputy Barry Cowen said it was disappointing not to have a minister in the constituency. “Whenever anyone is in Government they hope to be elevated and I’m sure government party members were hoping for the same,” he said adding it was “disappointing” for the Fine Gael members in the Laois/Offaly constituency.

“It is also disappointing for the constituency not to have a representative at cabinet level,” he said.

However he added, “We will all work together for the betterment of the electorate.”

Fianna Fail TD, Sean Fleming says it is now up to the opposition to fight more to ensure that Laois/Offaly doesn’t lose out. Deputy Fleming said the new government had turned their back on the constituency.

“This displays a certain attitude from the new Government. They don’t seem positively disposed to Laois/Offaly so it is now up to the opposition to be doubly vigilant to ensure that Laois and Offaly don’t lose out.

“The Government have turned their back on Laois/Offaly and the opposition will have to fight more now.”

Sinn Fein TD Brian Stanley said judging on the results of past ministers from the constituency, the area would not be any worse off.

“Fine Gael let it be known during their election campaign that there would be a minister from Laois/Offaly. Obviously Charlie Flanagan was the front runner. Particularly in the run-in to the election, and that hasn’t happened.

“It’s disappointing from their point of view. It can be seen as a positive to have a minister in the constituency but I could turn this around and say that we had a Taoiseach and Minister for State in the constituency with the last government and did things improve,” he questioned.

“There are 16,000 people unemployed and we have two hospitals which do not have the full services. Judging by that we are probably not going to be worse off without a Minister in the constituency.”