Enda Kenny’s departure: A dignified exit is still a possibility

Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. A vacuum facilitates change that may or may not be anticipated.

A vacuum generates uncertainty and encourages opportunism — as Steve Bannon proved so spectacularly last year. A vacuum is a blank sheet of paper that can defy even the most disciplined, best-prepared dancing master.

Events — “events, my dear boy, events” — have turned what was a laudatory period of transition into a vacuum. The gentlemen’s club idea that Taoiseach Enda Kenny might, in his own time, decide when to pass the baton has not withstood the seismic allegations or implications of the McCabe scandal.

Any possibility that indulgence might endure was undone by Mr Kenny’s ham-fisted recollection — later withdrawn as “inaccurate” — of a conversation he had or had not had with Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone about Tusla’s part in the vilification scandal.

That response may be the moment Mr Kenny’s hope to orchestrate his departure ended but the seeds of that near- inevitability were sown at last year’s general election. A feeble, misdirected campaign failed to communicate the very real achievements of economic recovery.

Mr Kenny’s party paid a heavy price. Fine Gael won 50 seats, 26 fewer than it got in 2011 and 16 fewer than just before the election. The dream of replacing Fianna Fáil as political cock-of-the-walk was gone.

It is sobering for those who want our parliamentary process to succeed, or even occasionally inspire, that two of Fine Gael’s four chief strategists during that cack-handed campaign — Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar — are the hotly tipped frontrunners to succeed Mr Kenny.

That humiliation was exacerbated when Fine Gael was outflanked in coalition negotiations. Talk of grand partnerships seemed inspiring but, in reality, Fianna Fáil were the puppet masters and corralled Mr Kenny in an arrangement that was not only “temporary and little” but dependent on their fleeting goodwill.

That Fine Gael had no real appetite for such a tottering compromise just rubs salt into that wound — as does the relentless rise of Fianna Fáil — and their relentless fall — in opinion polls.

That the Government would already have collapsed but for Fianna Fáil’s decision to abstain on this week’s no-confidence motion shows how the chips have actually fallen and where the worthwhile power resides.

It will be interesting to see, when he comes to write his autobiography, if Mr Kenny regrets the decision to enter Government last May or, if he could, would he do some things differently.

After all, the adage — “the worst day in power is better that the best day in opposition” — has been roundly disproved by Micheál Martin. Even though he was the first Fine Gael taoiseach to be re-elected, that achievement must have been diminished too by having to depend on a mixum-gatherum of high-maintenance independents.

One of Mr Kenny’s undoubted strengths is that he has contrived to be consistently underestimated. Despite this mischaracterisation, or in spite of it, his achievements deserve recognition.

Ireland today, despite so many pressing issues, is incomparable to the supine, broken-spirited, near bankrupt country he inherited from the Fianna Fáil administrations that preceded his — an irony that must make Fianna Fáil’s recovery at the very least galling for him and his party.

His political obituaries have been updated so often they are dog-eared but it is hard to see how he, and maybe Michael Noonan and Frances Fitzgerald, can survive the upheaval unnerving so many of his parliamentary colleagues. It seems certain that Mr Kenny’s leadership — 15 years as leader of Fine Gael, and six as Taoiseach — is over in all but name.

As ever Shakespeare offers valuable advice: “If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well It were done quickly ...” However, he also counters: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones ...”

Mr Kenny’s colleagues want and need change but they also want to afford him a dignified and honourable departure. Hopefully he will accept that and reach a conclusion that would avert a coup and a political assassination. His leadership should not end in a bloodletting.

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