Taoiseach’s week to forget amid career of gaffes

To his supporters, Taoiseach Enda Kenny is an underrated politician who deserves more credit for saving Ireland from financial ruin. For his detractors a series of public gaffes — the latest of which have occurred this week — mean his political limitations are rarely far from view.

START AS YOU MEAN TO GO ON:

In 2002, weeks after taking over as leader of the then opposition Fine Gael, Enda Kenny was forced to apologise for a highly inappropriate racist joke about Patrice Emery Lumumba, the first independent leader of Congo, allegedly murdered by the CIA in the 1960s.

Unknown to the Mayo TD, some of Lumumba’s relatives had since moved to Dublin and made it clear they — and many others — were not amused.

IS FEIDIR LINN, IRISH-STYLE:

When is an homage plagiarism? That was the question in Dublin in 2011, when, at a joint event with US President Barack Obama, Kenny relied heavily on a speech from, well, President Obama in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2008 — without any reference to its origin.

While the only words changed in key passages were “Ireland” for “America”, Kenny later explained the similarity as a “tribute” — much to Obama’s obvious on-stage surprise.

‘TWO PINTS’ OF TALL TALE, PLEASE:

Politicians are often accused of exaggerating, spinning and even — dare we suggest — lying to bolster their points — and Kenny is no exception.

Among his most infamous tale is that of the still unidentified “two pints man”.

At the height of the Irish Water charges controversy on February 17 last year, Kenny said a man approached him in a pub complaining about the fee, only to perform a U-turn on his views when the Taoiseach noted they still cost less than the alcohol he was carrying.

Instead of proving his point, rival politicians gained support by repeatedly lampooning the remark.

MONEY TALKS (EVEN WHEN IT DOESN’T):

In January 2014, the Taoiseach was forced into another embarrassing U-turn after claiming people contacted him in shock at how much their wages had increased in the budget.

“It was great to see some people contacting us,” Kenny told the Dáil.

What was not so great, however, is that it didn’t happen — a situation officials conceded days later.

SOLDIERS AT THE (BANK) GATES:

On a visit to Madrid last October, Kenny surprised many by claiming the economic crisis was so apparent in 2011 that he had to consider putting soldiers on bank doors.

“We were over the edge. The governor of the Central Bank in Ireland said to me: ‘It looks like this weekend... you’ll have to put army around the banks,” according to Kenny.

Taoiseach’s week to forget amid career of gaffes

The then Central Bank governor, Patrick Honohan, could not remember any such conversation taking place.

BLAME... YOURSELVES?:

For the leader of a party which came to power in part due to Fianna Fáil’s disastrous handling of the financial crash, Kenny has always been keen to stress his political rivals — not the public — were responsible for what happened.

During a live televised speech in winter 2012, the Taoiseach specifically told the public: “You are not responsible for the crisis.”

However, on a visit to the World Economic Summit in Davos just two years later, he caused controversy by adding: “What happened in our country was that people simply went mad borrowing.”

VOTE FOR ME, WHINGERS:

Oddly, for someone who is often personally affable, the 2014 Davos remarks are not the only time Kenny has raised an apparent fist to the public.

Just days out from the February 26 general election this year, during a speech in his hometown of Castlebar, the Mayo TD labelled some locals “All-Ireland champion whingers”.

Officials later tried to insist Kenny was referring to local politicians, but the image of a Taoiseach criticising “whingers” who have yet to see the end of austerity hardly helped his party’s vote.

STUMBLING OVER THE BORDER:

On Monday, Kenny suffered another knock to his reputation when he announced a cross-border economic forum to help the economies of both the Republic and the North stave off any threat from the Brexit referendum — a move rubbished before his very eyes by DUP leader and Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster.

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

The words “humiliating climbdown” were mentioned more than once in a Dáil debate 24 hours later.

GLORY DAYS, THEY’LL PASS YOU BY:

It has never reached the depths of ex-Conservatives leader William Hague awkwardly wearing a designer baseball cap to connect with voters, but Kenny has at times struggled to show his relaxed side when in public view.

While he has had some successes in hanging out with U2 and posing for selfies with passers-by, at the end of May his common touch appeared to flag as he was lampooned for seemingly attempting to air-guitar at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Croke Park.

More than a few politicians from all parties were there too, but they had the good sense to merge into the crowd.

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS:

Ultimately, of course, it all comes back to political records. Like any politician who has been in power for a considerable length of time, Kenny has a number of successes to highlight.

But while he may not want to admit it, there are more than a few failures too.

Among the two most high-profile are the 2013 Seanad referendum and last year’s bank inquiry, both of which were championed by Fine Gael but ultimately boomeranged back to cause the party more problems than it solved.


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