“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.”
The words of the late British politician Enoch Powell certainly applied to his boss, Margaret Thatcher, and to many other political leaders.
Whether they apply to Enda Kenny remains to be seen. He has enjoyed much success both as leader of Fine Gael and as Taoiseach. He brought stability to his party and, as Taoiseach, to the nation’s finances, presiding over the biggest economic comeback in modern Irish history.
That makes all the more surprising the unseemly haste with which elements of the Fine Gael parliamentary party appear determined to get him to sign his own political death warrant and give a definitive date for his departure from office.
There is little doubt that calls for an Enda exit have been propelled in recent days by his cringe-inducing performance in the Dáil last week in the wake of the scandalous treatment of Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe. That was not, by any stretch, his finest hour.
Last night, he told a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party that he will deal with his future effectively and conclusively after St Patrick’s Day.
So why the rush to push? The Taoiseach had already indicated that he will not lead the party into the next general election and, considering the extent to which Fine Gael appears to be tearing itself apart on the issue of its leadership, that may well be sooner rather than later.
Mr Kenny’s obfuscation on the matter may be frustrating but it is also understandable — and he has seen off challenges to his leadership before. What his detractors fail to understand is this latest putsch is not just about selecting a new party leader; it is about selecting a new government leader.
Mr Kenny is one of the longest-serving prime ministers in Europe. He has built up huge contacts with other government leaders, both in the EU and beyond. At a time when we need someone at the coalface to negotiate our pathway through the maze of Brexit and the fallout from Donald Trump’s presidency, it is essential that we retain, for as long at necessary, someone who not only wants the job but can do the job.
The upshot of all this is that the Government is in a state of paralysis, like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a passing car. It is not as if there is no work to be done. Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar are not only the main contenders for leadership of Fine Gael, they also oversee two of the busiest departments of government.
This is the time for all members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party to put the country first. They must choose country over political kingdom, whatever that may entail. Mr Kenny knows his days are numbered, but it is in the interest of the country to ensure those days are filled with fidelity to the nation, not taken up with fractious infighting. That, above all, will ensure his political life does not end in failure.
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