THE EU-ECB-IMF Troika is barely gone. But Enda Kenny already has another Troika to worry him - called Phil Hogan, James Reilly and Alan Shatter.
Tonight and tomorrow the Taoiseach will try to galvanise the Fine Gael faithful at a pivotal Ard Fheis which sits midway between the economic bailout exit and tough mid-term elections.
The big picture looks reasonably hopeful: a fragile economy going slowly in the right direction; slow but marked job growth; positive opinion poll ratings for FG. But Enda Kenny’s almost 40 years at Leinster House tell him that people in middle Ireland are suffering. Voters will be very tempted to deliver his three-year-old government a wake-up jolt in the local and European elections on May 23.
The biggest political prize of all comes in 2016, when Kenny’s FG will bid to do something their party has never done before: win back-to-back Dail elections.
There are many challenges ahead to keep that dream within the realms of the achievable.
As delegates gather at the RDS this evening, talk will inevitably focus on ‘Kenny’s new Troika’. JOHN DOWNING sets out the problems and the options as a post-election re-shuffle increasingly concentrates minds.
WHO? Dr James Reilly
THE ROWS: Frequently under-fire for Health Department overspending. Poor relations with Labour, including the high-profile resignation of Junior Health Minister Roisin Shortall. Questioned on criteria for choosing health centre sites.
PARTY INFLUENCE: Mixed at best. Backbenchers avoid mentioning him at all at local meetings. Kenny re-paid him for 2010 anti-heave support with deputy leadership. Gets points for having the most thankless cabinet job. Supporters argue he can come good with health reform plans.
ENDA'S OPTIONS: Few. Reilly outside of Health is unthinkable. Dropping him altogether would be a big gamble for the risk-averse Taoiseach.
LIKELY OUTCOME: A doubtful future – but for now looks set to continue struggling on.
WHO? Alan Shatter
THE ROWS: Far too many to list in full. Currently his department is the centre of three outside examinations on surveillance, penalty points and crime investigations. Accused of weakening public confidence in Garda.
PARTY INFLUENCE: Difficult man to like, but capable of charm when he wants. Takes strength from being a pivotal Kenny supporter against July 2010 heave. Law and order is a core FG value. Delegates’ reaction to him this weekend will be keenly watched.
ENDA'S OPTIONS: He may be forced to sack Shatter. Moving him sideways would be a difficult compromise. Will try to keep him in Justice.
LIKELY OUTCOME: Depends heavily on upcoming investigation reports. Could well persist.
WHO? Phil Hogan
THE ROWS: Popularly seen as the unpopular man who gave us property tax and water meters. Critics reject his ‘I-don’t-micromanage’ explanation for Irish Water’s €85m spend on consultants.
PARTY INFLUENCE: Considerable. Kenny owes him hugely for support in 2010 failed leadership heave. For supporters he’s the Fianna Fail iron in the Fine Gael soul. A major reason they won their first general election in 30 years. But party critics see him as ‘far too culturally FF’.
ENDA'S OPTIONS: Promote him sideways to another government job. Export him to the lucrative and prestigious job of EU Commissioner.
LIKELY OUTCOME: Smart money is on Phil Hogan heading to Brussels this summer.