Coalition crisis - Seeking stability but at what cost?

IN the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, Irish voters got a chance to elect 15 MEPs. Some candidates were excellent. Others, not so much.

Among the latter variety was a candidate who gained notoriety, not for his policies or views, but for the reaction of a voter when his handler bellowed: “Send (Mr X) to Europe!” Quick as a flash, the voter responded: “To Europe? I wouldn’t send him down to the shop for a pound of sausages.”

It was a colourful and memorable assessment of the candidate’s competence.

Whether we like them personally or not, it is essential that those we elect to high office are competent in what they do. Former taoiseach Charles Haughey was not altogether likeable, but he was supremely competent. It meant that while he may not have been universally liked, either in Ireland or abroad, he was invariably respected.

Not so Taoiseach Enda Kenny, judging by his shambolic handling of the Garda whistleblower affair, managing to transform a difficulty into a full-blown Government crisis.

There is also his rambling and incoherent performance in the Dáil over the past two days in which he appeared to ‘remember’ a meeting with Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone that never took place while unable to recall details of a communication from her that did.

The Oireachtas TV channel is rarely fascinating but it was compelling to watch it become a La La Land dreamworld as Mr Kenny attempted to squirm his way out of trouble.

In recent weeks we have witnessed fanciful doublespeak from the US where American politicians have been convulsed by ‘false news’ and ‘alternative facts’. This time round, we were transported to an alternative universe where our head of government imagined things that didn’t happen while unable to grasp the reality of things that did.

In this context, it is worth considering whether Mr Kenny is still regarded as competent enough to remain as Taoiseach. Even his closest supporters seem to have deserted him. It is telling that it was not a Cabinet colleague but a political opponent who came to his defence yesterday on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland programme.

Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher said Fine Gael’s response to the whistleblower crisis has been “shambolic”, but he did not believe there was any “malicious intent” on Mr Kenny’s part. Neither Fine Gael nor Fianna Fáil want a general election. “We won’t be bringing down the Government,” said Mr Kelleher. “We have said consistently we will not just undermine this Government on a continual basis. We will try to ensure we have a stable Government. What we would be doing is plunging this country into instability in very uncertain times.”

Stability is all very well but the overriding consideration, with the challenges of Brexit, Trump, let alone the McCabe scandal, must be one of competence. Better a knave than a fool. Eventually it must be asked whether the Taoiseach can be trusted to come back from the shop with those sausages. If not, he has to go.

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