Hardy, perennial Enda Kenny continuing to bloom even as his rivals wilt

A safe enough gambit is that Enda Kenny’s ego is telling him he is the only man for the job, writes Alison O’Connor.

Hardy, perennial Enda Kenny continuing to bloom even as his rivals wilt

THERE was an awful lot of hoopla surrounding Taoiseach Enda Kenny this week. There was that photograph tweeted by RTÉ, of Enda doing an interview for Morning Ireland, in which he looked ridiculously young. There he was in a crisp, white shirt, looking like he’d just made his Confirmation, despite being almost eligible for a bus pass.

Apart from how well he looks, I wonder why he would choose to say he didn’t “enjoy” the recent general election, and I wonder about how open he was about the need to find “makey uppy” jobs for the few in his parliamentary party who did not land big jobs in the Fine Gael government bonanza.

In fact, 27 out of 50 Fine Gael TDs have posts as either senior or junior ministers, and a further scattering have roles chairing Oireachtas committees. These include malcontents like Jim Daly, Pat Deering, and Brendan Griffin.

But as Enda knows only too well, the devil makes work for idle hands. It was refreshing how open he was about his plan to quieten these troublemakers by “giving them a range of opportunities to involve everyone”.

Any pups in the Cabinet thinking of a heave against Enda have the prospect of a reshuffle to look forward to in the near future, with Enda “reflecting” on the make-up not just of the Cabinet, but also his ministers of state.

That has involved threats and bribery, and fear. The Taoiseach stressed how we are facing “the most challenging times our country has seen for a long time”. So, who you gonna call at a time like this? Well, Enda Kenny, of course. He’s the man with the mandate.

So what has happened in the mind of Enda Kenny since he told senior members of Fine Gael, following the party’s disastrous general election, that he would hang around until the negotiations with independents were sorted, but he would then clear off?

Well, the workings of Enda’s mind are a mystery to all, be it on the topic of leadership, or how, for instance, a general election campaign might be run. After his cringe-inducing mojo declarations and clear intention to hang on to the job of Taoiseach like a limpet, we can only guess what is going on. A safe enough gambit is that his ego is telling him he is the only man for the job.

I feel sympathy for the Fine Gaelers. They face a particularly complicated scenario. There are more variables at work here than a drunken game of Jenga. On the one hand, they tell themselves, it makes a degree of sense to keep Enda in place.

The “new” politics is bedding in, they have lolly loads of government jobs, and Fianna Fail won’t want to go to the country for a while yet. There is also the issue of Enda’s vast experience in Europe and how he looks like the best man to deal with the Brexit fallout.

On the other hand, if things were to fall apart politically, overnight, and a general election was called, they would be stuck with Enda’s face on the posters.

It was intriguing to hear him say he didn’t enjoy the general election. By putting it in such terms, he is painting himself as victim, a man forced to endure a campaign that was definitely not enjoyed by the voters.

‘I was one of you’, Enda seems to be telling those who felt utterly at odds with the tone-deaf FG campaign.

The official election report compiled by Marian Coy, a former head of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, found the campaign wanting in a host of areas, including empathy, vision, planning and communications.

But was the Taoiseach and leader of the Fine Gael party not ultimately the person in charge of the campaign? Expressing himself in such terms was a rather neat form of passive aggression against the others in his party who were key members of the campaign.

Most senior Fine Gael party members say now that it was a mistake not to hold the election in November, rather than in February. The word is that once their boss made it clear there would be no campaign until 2016, wider election planning shut down. They mutter about how everything was kept to the Taoiseach and his small circle of trust.

The Coy report apparently mentions a “fortress mentality” emanating from campaign headquarters.

This certainly tallies with what has been said. In modern-day politics, it does seem a quite extraordinary way for a party leader to behave, or, looked at another way, to allow those around him to behave. The report, produced by party TDs and presented to the FG think-in by new deputy, Kate O’Connell, speaks of how slogans should be “stress-tested” within the parliamentary party setting and amongst members of the party.

Kate O’Connell

Kate O’Connell

Looked at in totality, it is almost as if the rank-and-file TDs and candidates were sent out to campaign and try to win seats with slogans and ideas that they did not “own”.

Compounding the dilemma for the Fine Gael party is that if Enda is forced to step down, and a new leader is elected, Fianna Fail could insist that the deal they negotiatied to facilitate the Government was with Enda Kenny, and not with whoever replaces him.

This is an entirely legitimate concern. As the political events since the election have shown, the FF’ers could happily spend each day teaching the FG’ers how to suck eggs.

The Fine Gael party is on the horns of a dilemma. But if you ask yourself what would Fianna Fail do in a similar situation, you can’t help but think they would have themselves a new leader this side of Christmas.

They would have moved on from the trauma of the failed heave against Enda Kenny, in the summer of 2010, rather than sport the psychological scars that are now interfering with their political judgement.

In a set of particularly difficult circumstances, Enda Kenny played a bit of a blinder this week, as a man who wants to stay in the top job and who has left potential challengers in confused disarray.

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