Political marathon man: Enda Kenny steps down

IF ENDA KENNY and Arsene Wenger ever decide to have a friendly kickabout they will surely have lots in common to talk about. 

Both the Arsenal manager and the Taoiseach have been leading their respective teams since God was a boy; Wenger is Arsenal’s longest serving manager and Kenny was Fine Gael’s longest serving leader. Both are are in their mid-60s and still look fit and fresh. Both can be engaging, with a wry sense of humour but they can also make cringe-worthy comments and put their foot in it in spectacular fashion.

But the subject matter they may wish to avoid is how they both overstayed their welcome, mostly as a result of a chequered career path in the twilight of their respective reigns.

Under Wenger, Arsenal has had no Premier League title since 2004 but 20 consecutive top-four finishes. They have had six FA Cup wins but haven’t won a Champions League knockout tie since 2010. The club is now being deserted by thousands of its own supporters who don’t even bother to attend games any more.

Ditto the demise of Fine Gael support under Kenny in recent years. The party’s heavy defeat in the 2014 local and European elections was a sign of things to come and last year’s general election was an unmitigated disaster for both the Taoiseach and his party.

And yet he clung on by his bootstraps, determined to see off any fresh challenges to his leadership, hinting and teasing all along that he would make clear his intentions and pave the way for his successor.

At last Kenny has finally decided to call it a day and his departure was swifter than expected. The question now is whether his time as party leader and Taoiseach can be objectively viewed as having been a success.

He can lay claim to some solid economic achievements: the end of the worst aspects of austerity, a recovering economy, a growing monthly trade surplus, and unemployment below 7%. Social advances, too, such as the marriage referendum, were made on his watch.

But the recovery is patchy at best, confined by-and-large to major cities and the east coast while austerity and want continue in the countryside. It is strange that, coming from a small village in Co Mayo, Enda Kenny displayed so little empathy with the people of rural Ireland and their concerns. He has also seen health, housing and policing defeats.

He has, though, shown steel and personal courage both as party leader and Taoiseach. In 2010 he saw off a challenge by Richard Bruton and the following year launched a scathing attack on the Vatican for its attitude to clerical child abuse. As a practising Catholic, that cannot have been easy.

According to the late political maverick Enoch Powell: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure.”

That is, perhaps, too pessimistic a view to take of Enda Kenny’s legacy, yet his tenure is more noteworthy for its longevity than its brilliance or innovation.

The Taoiseach was never a dynamic or bright, shining sprinter, but a steady, measured marathon man.

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