THOUGH Taoiseach Enda Kenny has won the latest chapter of Ireland’s long-running abortion debate by defeating the Fatal Foetal Abnormalities Bill in the Dáil, any feeling of satisfaction he may have derived from the outcome of that pyrrhic victory has been short-lived.
By granting Cabinet members a free vote on this vexed question, despite the Attorney General’s advice that the bill was unconstitutional, he has effectively forged a sharp nail, a nail that his growing band of critics in Fine Gael will be only too happy to hammer in to what increasingly looks like being his political coffin.
The bill, brought by by Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace, was rejected by 95 TDs and supported by 45, including Transport Minister Shane Ross. There is no guarantee that he and other Independents will not break ranks when issues of conscience arise in the future.
As Enoch Powell once said : “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.” Mr Kenny, it seems, is no exception.
The names of potential successors are already being bandied about. So preoccupied are TDs with the leadership issue they stand accused of putting it before their duty to attend the Dáil in time for business to begin. The start of yesterday’s session was delayed amid complaints that because Fine Gael chief whip Regina Doherty was busy discussing the leadership question on local radio, the required quorum of 20 TDs was not present at 11.15am to enable debate on legislation regarding the IBRC to begin.
This prompted Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl to describe the situation as “unprecedented”. He then remarked that “some people need to be aware of the responsibilities they have in order to be here in the chamber when legislation is to be discussed and debated”. Notwithstanding the fact Mr Kenny led Fine Gael to its biggest ever majority in the Dáil, he now leads a fragile minority government. Moreover, he has just come through what was undoubtedly the worst week of his prime ministerial career. Indeed, the way things are going, he may yet suffer the fate of many a Fine Gael taoiseach before him who found themselves ignominiously dumped from office.
In that respect, we can be sure of only one thing: Mr Kenny will not lead the party into the next election; he is already on record as stating that. It would be in his own interest to set a timeline, spelling out when he wants to go. If, for instance, he were to announce a deadline for stepping down after the next budget, it would at least clear the way for him to go in an orderly manner and at a time of his own choosing. Otherwise he is virtually certain to suffer the embarrassment and humiliation of being forced out by the inevitable heave.
After 40 years in the Dáil, he knows when it comes down to a matter of committing regicide, Fine Gael politicians seldom hesitate to act. If anything, they tend to be more ruthless than their parliamentary peers about wielding the knife.
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