Kenny has sent a signal that he is not going anywhere soon, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell
ONE vote. That is all that is keeping us from another general election.
The smallest possible margin for a majority in the Dáil is what we have waited 70 days for.
The shakiest of coalitions is what Enda Kenny now leads, with the support of nine Independents and the tacit support of a reluctant Fianna Fáil.
It is a recipe for disaster.
After its lengthy gestation period, the birth yesterday of this Government was a most difficult and murky affair.
The bells signalling for a Dáil vote had begun to ring.
Three members of the Independent Alliance were scurrying around the Dáil chamber on their phones, looking on edge.
Amid talk that Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice’s difficulties over turfcutting was holding matters up, the man himself still found time to go on his local radio station, Shannonside, to air his views. Pure politics at its best.
The vote shortly after 2pm was to whether Kenny had done enough to become taoiseach at the fourth time of asking.
The vote had been due to take place at midday but was delayed because the Independent Alliance was not ready to deal. Nor were the rural group who felt like they were being messed around by an arrogant Kenny.
It was all reminiscent of the day of Brian Cowen’s botched reshuffle in early 2011, which led to several of his ministers, including Micheál Martin and the late Brian Lenihan, talking of a heave outside the chamber, in full view of the national media.
Yesterday, even moments before the votes were cast, John Halligan and Sean Canney were claiming not to know what was going on, when asked by hungry reporters.
According to sources, a firm request from a senior Fine Gael minister earlier on, at 11.50am, for them to go to the Dáil to vote, was met with an equally firm “Fuck off, we are not done here yet”.
The alliance’s anger was raised further when Kenny’s wife, Fionnuala, entered the building and photographs were being taken before final agreement was reached.
“We haven’t done a deal yet and they are taking photos, it was madness,” said a source.
There was trouble, too, with the rural TDs.
By mid-morning, as expected, they began to topple one by one.
Mattie McGrath was gone, then went Cork South West TD Michael Collins.
Noel Grealish was agitating, as was Denis Naughten who had told Fine Gael he did not want the rural affairs ministry several times, only to be offered it again.
But at 2.22pm it was official: Kenny was re-elected by a margin of 59 votes to 49.
A minimum of 58 votes were needed for Fianna Fáil to abstain, so this Government will be reliant on a majority of just one vote.
Once Kenny’s position was secure, there was no great sense of elation or celebration. Rather, the overriding feeling was one of relief.
Now, with his Cabinet in place, focus shifts to how this Jerry-built catastrophe will work.
How will Kenny and his ministers be able to work with the likes of Shane Ross, who likened Kenny to a political corpse a mere few weeks ago?
How can this work when the truculent Leo Varadkar holds views that the deal to suspend water charges is not in the national interest?
Given how tight the numbers are, trust will be key between Fine Gael and the Independents if this is going to work.
But things already are looking strained.
The bouncing of the Independents into yesterday’s had caused fury the previous day, which was only aggravated as the vote drew closer.
Having built up positive relations with the likes of Simon Coveney, Simon Harris, and Paschal Donohoe, the Independents were given little love by Kenny in their meetings yesterday.
They asked for Seanad seats — they were told where to go.
They asked for a government press secretary — they were told where to go.
On a multitude of additional requests, Kenny budged not one inch, saying this is the deal, take it or leave it.
“Kenny was a fucker. We went well with the other guys, but he was outrageous,” said one alliance source.
But such animosity runs both ways. A lot of Fine Gaelers are not so keen on Ross and will find it hard to stomach his particular brand of self-promotional politics.
He confirmed that he will take charge of the Department of Transport. But he announced said news before it had been stated in the Dáil. It caused fury among the Kenny camp.
Within minutes of it emerging, Google was inundated with search requests of every nasty thing Ross has written about Irish Rail, Luas drivers, the public sector, and trade union leaders with beards. There is no shortage of ammunition there.
But Kenny’s decision to promote the ones lucky enough to be in Cabinet will obviously have left many more disappointed.
There will be hope for some that a junior ministry may still be in the offing come next week.
For others, they will have to question whether many years of being Kenny’s bootboy or girl has been worth it.
As this is Kenny’s last chance of offering advancement to his eager party members, if they are neglected again this time around, they could begin gunning for him sooner rather than later.
With the margin in the Dáil so tight, Kenny is vulnerable.
There was surprise with the appointment of Michael Creed and Mary Mitchell-O’Connor to Cabinet. Creed’s appointment may go a long way to healing many of the internal heartaches within Fine Gael.
Mitchell-O’Connor had been seen sitting near the corridor over to Government Buildings and was heard saying: “It’s too late, it’s too late” — a sign she felt she had missed out.
Kenny, despite being deeply unpopular, has again proven himself to be a great survivor. Through the past 10 weeks he has managed to navigate many difficulties and again stands as head of Government.
But it is a weak Government with a difficult road ahead.
Having shafted Varadkar, the big loser of this new team, Kenny has sent a signal that he is not going anywhere soon, contrary to earlier belief that he would be gone in months.
Varadkar looked sick in the chamber as the announcements were read out.
It was as big a two fingers as Kenny could have given to his heir apparent. Paschal Donohoe is now firmly in place as a genuine leadership contender given his elevation to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
By the end of the day, a sense of calm had descended over Leinster House but the chaos of earlier was a sign of the size of the task ahead of those now in high office.
There may be trouble ahead, as the old song goes.
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