Thursday 23 October 2014

Eoghan Harris: Kenny will have to ensure rapid results from Croke Park

Published 13/02/2011 | 05:00

GOING into this General Election, the more pompous of the pundits pretend that it's about policies. Actually, it's about gut feeling. And Moby Dick's belly is moving him towards Fine Gael flying solo.

Many in the Dublin metropolitan media class dread this development -- particularly the RTE Labourites, who have been putting senator Alex White on every show except The Angelus.

Perhaps they hope the former RTE radio producer will be raised to the post of minister for RTE.

But while Senator White seems to sleep in Montrose, Senator Harris is never heard.

Why am I not allowed even five minutes on RTE radio to contribute to the debate on the General Election? Or indeed any other debate? This is a small country, so people wonder why I am never asked on Pat Kenny or Sean O'Rourke.

RTE can hardly believe that I would bore the audience. Actually the problem lies in the other direction.

And while I am flattered that RTE producers want to protect audiences from my mesmeric powers, I feel that a state broadcaster should make a small space for my special take on current affairs.

Last week, for example, RTE's radio audience might have liked to hear why I believed Enda Kenny's refusal to take part in Vincent Browne's debate was a superb tactical stroke -- because it showed up Gilmore's shakiness when deprived of his set-piece Dail scripts. Or to hear my three reasons for rejecting a lot of the rhetoric about Dail reform.

First, the only reform that really matters to the Irish people is a major cut in ministerial pay and pensions.

Second, the Irish people want to vote for a person, not a list.

Third, Dail reform, like public sector reform, will be blocked by all the parties on the turkeys and Christmas principle.

Also, I could have balanced Pat Kenny's panel discussion last Monday. Because while Paddy Duffy mellifluously minded Micheal Martin and Fergus Finlay ferociously promoted Eamon Gilmore, Terry Prone only spoke for Terry Prone.

So who was looking out for Enda?

Weird. But not as weird as RTE asking pundits from the defunct Sunday Tribune to appear on RTE programmes, but not being able to find a five-minute slot for someone like me, who writes a weekly political column for the Sunday Independent (still being published at a profit) to explain why Enda Kenny deserves a majority mandate.

At this point, I must pause to give the finger to my fulminating critics. How can you, they ask apoplectically, support Bertie Ahern at the last General Election and now turn around and support Enda Kenny?

My answer is two-fold: that was then, this is now, and practice makes perfect.

In sum, I don't support parties, I support Taoisigh. My acid test used to be their attitude to the national question.

During the 30 years of the armed struggle I supported Jack Lynch's line on Haughey, Garret Fitzgerald's constitutional crusade, John Bruton's pluralism and did my best for both Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, neither of whom were soft touches for Sinn Fein.

Now the public finances are the new national question. And it's the same story. I will support for Taoiseach whoever is best fitted to carry the national burden.

Right now, that's Enda Kenny -- although if the radiation works, I hope to find myself in the future supporting Marc MacSharry of Fianna Fail or Lucinda Creighton of Fine Gael for the same position.

I support people, not politics, for two reasons. First, given the ECB straitjacket, you could not put a playing card between the policies of the main parties in Dail Eireann.

Second, that leaves us only a choice between party leaders. In sum, we are voting for a person who fits our sense of what we want to be and do.

The old cliche says that politics is always local. For me, politics is always personal.

And the personal is always political. No matter how perfect their waist-to-hip ratio, I could not love a Trot, a Provo or a person prone to invective against Israel.

Politics are also personal because modern European democracy is a dance around the centre. Given the horrors of the last century, we should heartily welcome Europe's embrace of empiricism.

But as ideology recedes in importance, we look to leaders to mark the adjustments between centre-left and centre-right.

Accordingly, I make no apology for supporting different leaders at different times. It's like changing seats in a cinema so as to follow the same story on the screen.

And the story of this General Election is not who will become Taoiseach, but on what terms.

For the past few weeks, the public sector unions have been quiet as mice. But a strong Labour Party sharing power will soon see them strutting up and down the streets again. So the Irish people must take a hard look at Labour.

So must people who work in the public sector. They may think that Labour can protect them forever. In fact the best way to secure the future for both the private and public sector -- and indeed the best hope of Dail Reform -- is to put Enda Kenny's Fine Gael in power, alone, and let it do the heavy lifting.

Enda Kenny is not to be envied. The task facing him would make most of us weep. Let me give you a brief look at the basics, courtesy of my friend Tom Carew, a former trade union official and a man of sound political judgement.

According to Tom, Alan Dukes is looking for an extra €5,000 per head for every registered voter. That's on top of the €27,400 per head cost of the ECB bail-out. Apart from that, Tom believes that Enda Kenny's main task is to roll back public spending to 2005 levels.

That being so, Enda Kenny will have to ensure rapid results from the Croke Park deal. But at least he comes with clean hands. He was the first politician to take a voluntary pay cut and he has surrendered his ministerial pension.

Essentially, I believe Enda Kenny should be backed to govern alone or with the assistance of centrist independents.

Here, I come up against the lazy media consensus which claims that: "Only for Kenny, Fine Gael would be flying."

The truth is that only for Kenny Fine Gael would barely exist. Any politician who can raise a mass party from the ruins has the right stuff to raise a country from the ruins. Recognising this, I publicly supported him during the run-in with George Lee, in the recent heave, and I am rooting for him now.

Kenny's CV as leader of Fine Gael proves that he is tough and tenacious. But it is hard to be heard above the noise of the media mob. They prove the truth of Dr Johnson's dictum that once the world has begun to use you badly it will go on doing so.

So we must assume the media will moan about the "Kenny factor" until he kills it stone dead. He will do that in 12 days' time. Then he will take up the heavy burden of being Taoiseach. For the sake of this country, we must wish him well.

Sunday Independent

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