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Elaine Loughlin: 'Political funeral procession' as Flanagan is latest to leave politics

"Welcome to the club," echoed the voice of Denis Naughten though a Leinster House stairwell.

Naughten, who left Fine Gael back in 2018 and has decided not to stand in the next election, was bounding down the steps alongside Charlie Flanagan and Richard Bruton, the two latest members of Leo Varadkar's team to announce that they will be bowing out of politics at the end of this Dáil.

"It's like a political funeral procession," Naughten joked.

After serving 36 years in Leinster House, the Laois-Offaly TD this week told a meeting of local constituency members that "it’s time to pass the baton to a younger generation".

Paying tribute to Flanagan who he said has made an "outstanding contribution" to his constituency, his party and his country, the Taoiseach said he has been "a passionate advocate for the Midlands" throughout his career.

However, some within Fine Gael have quietly said that Flanagan's decision not to stand for reelection won't be mourned for long, especially by those at a senior level.

Viewed as a stable pair of hands when he held ministerial positions, it has been noted that an increasingly cantankerous Flanagan never forgave Varadkar for a reshuffle which saw him removed from the Department of Foreign Affairs to make way for Simon Coveney.

Richard Bruton is bowing out of politics.
Richard Bruton is bowing out of politics.

"I would think that the leadership would be content enough to see him go because he was uncontrollable, Charlie was always going to speak his own mind."

In June he hit out at the "discord between ministers and backbenchers" at weekly party meeting, with one TD dismissing it after as "Charlie just bring cranky".

As well criticising at the direction in which Fine Gael is going, Flanagan in recent times has been raising what are considered contentious issues, including transgender rights and proposed hate speech legislation.

"The last number of years he has been like an old grumpy man, he seems totally out of sync with how politics is going," said one more liberal member of the party.

Another Fine Gael member yesterday was critical of what they described as the the "revisionist attitude" Flanagan has taken up in relation to the passing of the Gender Recognifition Act.

At a private Fine Gael meeting in March, he suggested that issues around transgender people were not fully discussed in advance of the legislation.

Flanagan who was a minister when the law passed, claimed that other countries are “rapidly rowing back” on what was legislated for in Ireland in 2015.

"Maybe when you get older, you get a little bit more conservative," noted one party member.

Denis Naughten left Fine Gael back in 2018 and has decided not to stand in the next election. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins
Denis Naughten left Fine Gael back in 2018 and has decided not to stand in the next election. Picture:Gareth Chaney/Collins

However, others say given his standing in the party Flanagan has been able to express some of the views that others may hold but don't feel willing to articulate.

Defiant right until the end, Flanagan strongly rejected mounting rumours around his future until he eventually made his intentions known on Monday night.

In January when the Irish Examiner included Flanagan on a list of nine party members that were expected to step down, he made his disgust clear to Fine Gael colleagues, dismissing the report.

When again asked by the Irish Examiner earlier this month, Flanagan in no uncertain terms said he would be continuing on and made it clear that he didn't appreciate the speculation being put to him.

He stressed that he was “in good health, energetic, and active” and that he was still working on the international stage, citing a recent visit to Kyiv in Ukraine as chair of the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee.

Flanagan's exit might mean one fewer dissenting voice to deal with, but his departure signals the loss of yet another experienced Fine Gael politician.