SHAUN CONNOLLY: Kenny must realise leaders elected to lead, not follow

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and US President Barack Obama participate in the Shamrock Ceremony in the White House last year. Picture: Leslie E. Kossoff/LK Photos

ENDA Kenny is an irrelevance. Well, that is what he seems to believe anyway.

The only time he got rattled during the self-congratulatory press event to mark two years in office was when he was asked to say what he actually thought about something — namely finally telling people whether he was in favour of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples or not.

A fairly black-and-white issue one would think, well, black and pink, anyhow.

But not for Mr Kenny who stated, bizarrely: “My personal view is immaterial,” before waffling on about the Constitutional Convention.

Clearly, Mr Kenny is not in favour of marriage equality for gay couples, so he should just, ahem, come out, and say so as this would then enable the country to have an informed debate on a matter of national and social transition which Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has branded “the civil rights issue of this generation”.

Yet, even though his deputy head of Government thinks the matter so important, Mr Kenny is happy to farm it out to a random bunch of 66 citizens and 33 politicians who make up the convention that was formed to create a convenient dumping ground for any issues that require the Coalition to actually have to take a stance on something.

Mr Kenny seems not to have realised that leaders are elected to lead — not follow.

The refusal to take a stand, or even give a hint of his opinion, reflected the strange sense of drift that hung over the anniversary celebrations and this Government generally.

Maybe that is because, while they have been in office for two years, they have not really been in power.

Power lies with the troika and Mr Kenny and Co are left to implement the troika’s financial wishes — which they manage to do with the finesse of a one-legged bear roller-skating on an ice-rink.

The anniversary bash was a strange, subdued affair, but after taking households to the cleaners for the past two years, Mr Kenny brought us to the pictures instead and offered us a taste of his pick’n’mix leadership style.

Gay marriage? Don’t ask me, I just run the country. Fianna Fáil?: Everything is still all their fault. When will the promises like free GP care for all be delivered? Not sure, pal, ask me again next year.

The disabled would have had a good giggle at the section of the self-serving document dedicated to them though as it seems the Government has always put them first — well, first for easy cuts, anyway.

However, Mr Kenny did not seem to take the occasion that seriously and his main contribution was reading out what felt like most of the 55 pages of the back-slapping document listing the great achievements of the past two years.

This meant that all that was left for Mr Gilmore to talk about was the appendix, which was apt as, in many ways, Labour has become the appendix of this Government, as just like the appendix in a human body nobody really knows what it is for, but they do know that it can be removed without too many consequences.

There was not much talk of the “political revolution” boasted of in the first line of the programme for government, but the Government have certainly achieved that revolution — well, if you take the definition of the word revolution to be going full circle as the way the Coalition ram-raided the committee stages of the property tax through the Dáil in a matter of hours was a marked return to the executive arrogance that did so much damage to Fianna Fáil when they were in power.

The Coalition then topped this by announcing they were going to ease mortgage misery — by making it easier for banks to repossess family homes by legislating to erase a legal loophole that has put a break on such activity for almost two years.

The only mistake either Mr Gilmore or Mr Kenny would admit to at the anniversary event was when the Tánaiste acknowledged that progress had been slow on helping householders drowning in mortgage debt, so giving the banks yet more ability to force people out of their homes seems a tad misplaced.

Mr Kenny also insisted combating unemployment was his main aim, as if this was something that had only just occurred to him, but with the dole queues remaining stubbornly at record lengths, of course, it should be the main focus of attention, but what exactly has this Coalition done about accept set up a glorified work experience scheme?

The figures would be even worse if it was not for the return of mass emigration, but at least ministers are trying to feel the pain of that by going on taxpaying funded jaunts around the globe for St Patrick’s Day.

Chief whip, Paul Kehoe, is already en-route to sun-drenched Australia — which just shows how keen he is to fly the tricolour, and is in no way just some latter day reprise of then-health minister Mary Harney’s notorious 2010 two-week Paddy’s Day junket to New Zealand which a then permanently-outraged-in-opposition Mr Gilmore branded a Lord of the Rings trail with the only thing missing being “a dinner hosted by Bilbo Baggins”.

While the Taoiseach’s annual Washington DC shamrock-fest is more than worth every penny it costs given the way the US capital effectively shuts down to greet the leader of a country the size of Manchester, the junkets enjoyed by Mr Kehoe and his buddies are somewhat more dubious.

It is not really the “new politics” we were promised just two years ago when the Coalition was swept to power on a hope for change. Indeed, Fine Gael is more than ever addicted to government by focus group rather than conviction.

Bertie Ahern was another Taoiseach who followed rather than led — and look what happened to him, and the legacy he left us.

If Mr Kenny continues to play follow the leader for the next three years he will not be a leader worth following.


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