SOME time ago, well before this year’s election, when the leadership of Fianna Fáil was questioned in a way it might not be today, party venerable Willie O’Dea admitted that when he looked around the table at a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting he did not see a messiah.
He admitted too, that when he looked in the mirror he did not see one either. This morning, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny looks in a hotel mirror in Newbridge, Co Kildare, where Fine Gael are holding a two-day parliamentary party gathering, it is hard to imagine that he sees a messiah of any kind. In the unlikely event that he does it is hard to imagine that even his most steadfast supporters might share that epiphany.
The mirror-mirror-on-the-wall comparison is not entirely valid though. Mr O’Dea opened his heart as one of the survivors of Fianna Fáil’s most traumatic — and justified — dismissal by an outraged electorate. He was reflecting on the fate of the rump of a once — and possibly again — dominant party. His conclusions were not of immediate importance to the wellbeing of the nation. He was indulging in chit-chat, not policy making. Mr Kenny makes that self-appraisal as leader of a government that promised a new kind of politics but is spancelled by disunity and the kind of one-size-fits-all compromise needed to sustain such reluctant, ill-matched bedfellows. He may be the nominal leader but he does not have a free hand or anything like one. Rather than discipline dissenters, he must, as the Halligan farce showed, placate them or risk the election that seems ever more imminent.
Mr Kenny is also obliged to daily swallow what must be an always bitter pill — trying to keep a resurgent Fianna Fáil onside in an effort to sustain his rickety administration — one Fianna Fáil is determined to replace at the very first opportunity. Rather than being a messiah he seems ever more like the boy with his thumb in the dyke — though his story, or this government’s, is very unlikely to end as happily as the uplifting Dutch parable.
Mr Kenny has, however, made a career of confounding his critics. He has repeatedly achieved objectives that seemed far beyond his reach or sometimes even his imagination. He has become if not the Teflon Taoiseach then maybe the Underestimated One. He should not, however, underestimate the risks he runs for his own legacy, his party’s prospects of another term in office or, most of all, the country he did so much to restore to some sort of equilibrium after the economic collapse and subsequent pillaging by European authorities by imagining he is an indispensable leader.
Mr Kenny, who is 65, assured the country yesterday that he had “recovered his mojo” after an election he “did not enjoy”. Age is not an issue — Hillary Clinton is 68, Donald Trump is 70 — but the capacity to inspire, to make an electorate believe that big things might be achieved is essential. Mr Kenny struggles to articulate that possibility today. Unless he and his party accept that they may face an insurmountable challenge in the not too distant future — a general election while they are trying to settle on a new leader. Hardly a roadmap for stability or success. Time and tide indeed.
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