Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

He led Ireland out of the worst recession in living memory, then called people "whingers" for not realising it, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Irish Examiner Political Correspondent.

He gained credibility in a scathing Cloyne clerical abuse speech, then saw credibility slip away in a dreamy haze of multiple two pint men and imaginary soldiers manning banks.

Enda Kenny's record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader has never been far from controversy.

But as his time in power comes to an end today, it is clear his period in power has had as many depressing lows as it does intoxicating highs.

THE RE-BIRTH OF A PARTY:

Back in 2002, Michael Noonan's doomed leadership saw Fine Gael win just 31 seats, lose 23 and gain a paltry 5% general election share.

After replacing Mr Noonan and claiming he would "electrify the party", Mr Kenny slowly rebuilt, with steady growth in the 2004 and 2009 local elections resulting in a respectable if not spectacular 51 seat haul in the 2007 general election.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

THE 2011 SEISMIC SHIFT:

Fianna Fáil's horrific overseeing of the economy, the presence of the Troika and Brian Cowen's failing leadership meant Fine Gael was always going to gain power.

However, the 76 seats won and the "democratic revolution" is unquestionably Mr Kenny's career highlight.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

CLOYNE SPEECH:

On July 20, 2011, Mr Kenny's decision to take aim at the Vatican in a powerful Dáil speech led to further public support.

In a passionate attack on the church over the Cloyne sex abuse scandal, Mr Kenny - a devout Catholic from an older generation - received plaudits for his scathing response.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

SURVIVING A HEAVE(S):

The obvious question, of course, is which one?

In 2010, with almost all of cabinet preparing to wield the knife, Mr Kenny avoided being ousted from power by Richard Bruton.

Seven years on, and against all logic, he also managed to squeeze another few months out of his time at the top, showing a wily ability to survive.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

THE ECONOMY (part I):

While not universally accepted, Mr Kenny has repeatedly pointed to guiding Ireland through the economic crisis as proof of his success as Taoiseach.

The positive spin is that the Troika has left, the economy is one of the fastest growing in Europe, unemployment and emigration levels have consistently fallen since 2012, with Mr Kenny's supporters claiming his stewardship has - dare we say it - kept the recovery going (see part II).

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

TRUMP AND BREXIT (part I):

For his backers, Mr Kenny's alleged chiding of US president Donald Trump and ability to press home the special Brexit needs of Northern Ireland to EU allies - including last week's visit of Michel Barnier to a joint sitting of the Dáil and Seanad - will prove to be another symbol of his long-lasting success.

However, like the economic recovery, it is far from accepted the White House 'achievement' and his Brexit negotiation skills have been the resounding success that is claimed (see part II).

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

PATRICE LUMUMBA:

Mr Kenny's most embarrassing verbal faux pas occurred during an unguarded moment in 2002, when he told reporters a racist joke about murdered Congolese leader and revolutionary Patrice Lumumba.

Despite apologising profusely, Mr Lumumba's now Irish-based relatives did not see the funny side.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

2016 ELECTION:

Like it or not, last year's election result and eventual creation of a minority Government has left Mr Kenny as a lame duck leader, and opened the door for Fianna Fáil's Machiavellian return.

Calling critics "whingers" and saying the public doesn't need to understand "economic jargon" has hardly helped, while the "keep the recovery going" election slogan is now accepted to have been a self-inflicted disaster.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

"I MET A MAN WITH TWO PINTS...":

Folksy remarks may work when abroad, but they hardly create confidence at home.

Despite seeing himself as an international statesman, the Taoiseach's oft-lampooned tales of men with two pints discussing water charges, soldiers stationed outside banks and an imaginary meeting with Children's Minister Katherine Zappone means a less charitable image is regularly in the public's mind.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

POLITICAL SCANDALS:

Every leader faces difficulties, but Mr Kenny's approach to multiple commissions of investigation, garda whistle-blowers, the 'retirement' of ex-garda commissioner Martin Callinan, the crisis of his successor Noirin O'Sullivan, IBRC/Siteserv, water charges and Nama - to name just a few - takes some beating.

Coupled with the failure to live up to opposition promises like "ending the scandal of patients on trolleys", the Taoiseach's time in power will most likely be remembered for what went wrong as much as what went right.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

THE ECONOMY (part II):

The economy is improving at a national level, the Troika has left and jobs are returning, but Mr Kenny's stewardship of the economy is far from the fairy tale Government spin suggests.

Surging house price and rental bubbles, Nama, vulture funds, zero hour contracts, the homelessness scandal, a two-tier recovery and an alleged too-cosy approach to tax-dodging multi-nationals means while the Taoiseach's policies may have ended one financial crisis, they risk starting another.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

TRUMP AND BREXIT (part II):

Youtube liked last month's White House visit, but Mr Kenny has also been widely criticised for being too close the US president and - as one party said - acting like his "lapdog".

Similarly, while the Government spin suggests Ireland's voice is being heard on Brexit, it remains to be seen whether this is genuine or if we are being used as a ploy for the rest of the EU to put the pressure on Britain before a deal is inevitably struck.

Enda Kenny: Highs and lows of his record-breaking time as Fine Gael leader

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