There’s one face-saving way out of FG for Kenny — the presidency

ENDA Kenny should run for President instead of Taoiseach. That could solve a lot of problems for him, for his party and for his country.

Kenny must wonder what would become of him should he have to step down as leader of Fine Gael, something that remains a very real possibility notwithstanding his successful defence of the position during the summer.

If Kenny is to be persuaded to step down as FG leader — and there are many within the party who would still really like him to do so but who are not prepared to attempt another heave after the summer’s botched effort — some compensation, in the form of a meaningful job, is likely to be required to save face as much as anything else.

Without gainful other employment, would he become the FG equivalent of former Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern who has become an embarrassment to his party with his hanging out with vegetables in a cupboard as part of a TV advertisement for a tabloid newspaper?

Or, as has happened with Labour, would he take on another senior role with his own party, much as Pat Rabbitte and Ruairí Quinn have done, or indeed as Michael Noonan has done recently again within FG, providing a useful precedent?

Or would he become an Alan Dukes figure, taking on a role outside of politics that provokes hostile reaction from within his own party, or would he become like Garret Fitzgerald, so detached as to make some wonder if he really is that committed to FG at all now?

Or would he be like Liam Cosgrave, who has been almost invisible since standing down as party leader in 1977 after his term as Taoiseach — and who has drawn a massive pension ever since?

You can’t see Kenny as a newspaper columnist — either on economics/politics like Fitzgerald or sports like Ahern — and the queue of publishers wanting to put his memoirs into print might not be long or offering much money either. Nor does he have the type of expertise upon which Dukes — a qualified economist — draws for life outside of politics. And, of course, Kenny would not have a significant ministerial pension upon which to draw, having served for only about 30 months as minister during the 1990s.

In any case it isn’t just a financial matter. Kenny is clearly energetic at the very least and needs the buzz of political involvement, even though he might find it hard to deal with the emotions of stepping down as FG leader, especially after doing so much to lift it off the floor of the 2002 general election. It could be that he would do a deal with a new leader of FG to become a minister in the new government, perhaps at some prestigious office such as the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Or he could secure agreement that he would be the FG nominee for next year’s presidential election. That might be a very good idea.

When FG and Labour hammer out their coalition deal — and where FG might find itself the junior partner because of a voter swing to the third party of Irish politics — provision could be found that the coalition would nominate just one candidate.

This assumes of course that the general election has taken place over the next 12 months, but if it hasn’t, then this country is even sadder than anyone thought. If that nomination was to be of a FG person there are few stronger options than Kenny. That would mean disappointment for Michael D Higgins and Fergus Finlay in Labour, but if FF could also be persuaded not to make a contest of the presidential election — and I’d be willing to bet that by the time November 2011 comes around contesting this election would be one of the last things FF would want — then a deal could be done.

Whatever about the public not wanting Kenny as Taoiseach — and this is what the opinion polls say consistently — I doubt if most would have any real problem with him serving as president. While the profile of the job may have improved since 1990 it hardly ranks in the list of political priorities at present.

One problem, however, is that he has shown no willingness to step down — and another is that FG doesn’t seem to have anyone capable of transforming the party’s fortunes in becoming leader.

Be that as it may, what seems clear is that should he step down FG may have a better chance of leading the next government under a new leader. The question is whether Kenny is prepared to put the party and the country ahead of his own career options?

Mike Soden’s comeback is remarkable. Six years ago the new member of the Central Bank Commission resigned in disgrace as managing director of Bank of Ireland. He had broken his employer’s strict policy in relation to internet usage by attempting to access details of “adult escorts” in Las Vegas. He received significant financial compensation but while it may have softened the blow it can hardly have made up for the public and private embarrassment his actions had caused and for the loss of prestige resulting from his departure from one of the country’s best jobs, as it was then.

Most people in Soden’s position would have been tempted to curl up in a ball, never to be seen again in public, or to have left the country to live elsewhere. Soden did neither. Instead he has re-emerged in recent years as an informed and sometimes abrasive commentator on the dangers of the credit bubble, the subsequent collapse of the banks and the things that have to be done now to salvage something from the wreckage. He has even written a book about it called ‘Open Dissent’, a first person analysis which makes a good read (and is one of a number of good new books recently published: Dearbhail McDonald’s ‘Bust’ is particularly impressive as is the new Shane Ross and Nick Webb tome ‘The Wasters’).

SODEN is not popular with many people judging by the text messages I receive to The Last Word whenever he appears. His comments on increasing the length of the working week and on single mothers are not something with which I would agree, but his willingness to say things that are not politically correct can be very useful in stimulating much needed debate.

Nor do I believe that his offence back in 2004 — which was not a criminal one — disqualifies him from ever offering comment on financial and economic issues or should have stopped him from joining the Central Bank Commission. The argument that his business practices at Bank of Ireland were bad is not easily established. As he points out, it took Bank of Ireland more than 225 years to expand its balance sheet to the €100 billion size it was when he left the company.

Within four years of his after departure, its size had doubled. That may have happened under his watch, but we’ll never know — the fact is it didn’t. You have to wonder if he will be neutered now by the decision of the establishment to bring him inside the tent.

We can assume he will argue strongly at Central Bank board level — one of the more interesting passages in his book points out that many bank directors stayed silent during the boom — but how will he be able to comment in public?

Be he right or wrong, I hope it is often if only to help the cause of informed debate.

The Last Word with Matt Cooper is broadcast on 100-102 Today FM, Monday to Friday, 4.30pm to 7pm.

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