ALISON O'CONNOR: Opinion: Come on Enda, the Irish public knows a stroke when it sees one

I spotted former taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the launch of the book on the late Brian Lenihan in Dublin during the week.

It must have been nice for the Lenihan family to see such a huge turnout. Bertie got in early but I suspect he does that on most occasions now though, apart from matches in Croke Park – in and out fast so as not to allow anyone time to launch any sort of an attack.

I wondered as I saw him walking out though, was he looking in at Leinster House (the National Library shares railings with our parliament building) and thinking that whatever else may have gone wrong for him, he excelled at party politics. Did he think that maybe Enda Kenny could do with some lessons in being taught how to suck a few political eggs? God knows the Taoiseach could do with the help.

What a smugly patrician note Agricultural Minister Simon Coveney struck on this cronyism controversy when he said Fine Gael people were truly appalled because the biggest insult you can give to a Fine Gael person is to accuse them of being like Fianna Fáil “in terms of standards in public office, and that has been essentially what’s been happening now”.

The Corkman managed to strike this superior note as his party leader continued to give a masterclass in political inepitude, which the Fianna Fáilers were sniggeringly dismissing as amateur night in Leinster House.

Simon was earnest in his defence of Enda Kenny saying it was “typical of the man” for “taking responsibility” for what had happened in the controversy surrounding the appointment of Donegal businessman John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

The minister, continuing this paean of praise to his leader, said the Taoiseach was not the type of man who would “finger an official” to take the blame and was “sick to his stomach” over what happened.

Is it mean of me to remember that Simon was one of the most senior spokespeople to declare that he would be voting against Enda Kenny in the 2010 Fine Gael leadership heave?

Those old questions about Enda Kenny’s IQ, that were commonplace when he was opposition leader but had disappeared during the first few years of his tenure in office, are popping back up.

It seems if a controversy begins to take hold of the government in any way it becomes like a contagion; it is allowed to continue to rage for far longer than it should; various victims are claimed along the way; and at the end of it Enda Kenny emerges as having handled it poorly.

This one, just like the Shatter/GSOC/whistleblowers/Garda Commissioner resignation controversies, has lots of confusing detail, information gaps, a lack of common sense, and an apparent assumption that the people observing and seeking answers will not try and join all these confusing dots together, and ultimately recognise they are being sold a pup.

You would not need to be a political scientist to have realised pretty quickly that this one quacks like a duck, and is indeed a duck. The Irish people, having lived for so long with Fianna Fáil inGovernment, know a stroke when they see one.

They must have felt a certain familiarity at Enda Kenny dipping into the Fianna Fáil songbook in how he communicated last Friday, in how he said he was responsible for what had gone on.

“I take responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is,” is the exact quote.

What a FF-like wordplay. Yes, his side did point out the unusualness of a Taoiseach coming out and saying he was responsible for something that had gone wrong. But wasn’t that sentence just a touch Jesuitical? Finally this Wednesday he said sorry, and took “the rap”. Returning to his Roscommon visit for the party’s by election campaign there, I must say that from my point of view the Taoiseach’s wordplay was not the most significant event to have occurred last Friday.

It was eclipsed by that footage, shown on the RTÉ 9 o’clock news of FG TD Frank Feighan behaving like a thug when he launched a physical attack on independent by election candidate John McDermott. The unseemly incident occured just as the Taoiseach was getting out of a car.

Afterwards Deputy Feighan said he had overreacted in a tense situation but had formed the opinion that his leader was going to be confronted in an aggressive and physical manner.

Then another killer FF-like line in the statement where he regretted “if any of actions of mine caused hurt to anybody especially the Hospital Action Committee candidate and former Roscommon senior county goalkeeper, John McDermott.”

Anyone watching the footage could see that hurt had certainly been caused. Mr McDermott, a hospital candidate, recognised the TD’s words as not being a “genuine” apology and said that he would only withdraw his complaint to Gardaí if he received a genuine apology.

I can’t help but think that if someone had acted like that on my behalf I would be expressing my own regret and inquiring after the health of the individual affected. It just seems like good manners.

It’s another one of those things that make me wonder about Enda Kenny. There is an illogicality here though.

After all, this man did see us through the recession, and was the leader who said goodbye to the Troika, regaining us our economic sovereignty.

But he has done himself very significant damage since the beginning of this year. He has left such an open goal that it makes last week’s over-the-top criticism from Waterford TD John Deasy seem increasingly valid.

He has created a whole pile of FG people around the country who, as Simon Coveney says, feel the party has been needlessly besmirched by this affair.

There are also the malcontents in the ranks who have been nursing their hurt over not being promoted in the pre-summer reshuffle. I was struck by one TD telling me during the holidays of a deputy friend, so annoyed not to be chosen for the ministerial ranks, they had taken the Taoiseach’s mobile number off their own directory because they feared they might send him an abusive text after a few drinks!

Who would imagine that we are going to have a budget in less than two weeks, and that there are so many positive economic figures it’s hard to keep track of them.

We don’t know from where Enda Kenny solicits advice or who now serves as his sounding board. We do know that he has lost those to whom he was said to be politically close, or were seen to be his biggest allies – Phil Hogan, Alan Shatter and Frank Flannery. I’m not sure how close he and James Reilly are at the moment.

He has done himself considerable political damage, so much of it needless. Bertie could certainly run him through a few of the basics.


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