Thursday 27 October 2016

The Kenny Conundrum: after losing two battles, he's trying to salvage the war

Published 13/04/2016 | 02:30

'Kenny is showing no sign of being put out to pasture. The Acting Taoiseach is now regarded as the biggest obstacle to Fine Gael leading the government'
'Kenny is showing no sign of being put out to pasture. The Acting Taoiseach is now regarded as the biggest obstacle to Fine Gael leading the government'

Enda Kenny reaches pension age on April 24. It's also the 100th anniversary to the day of the start of the Rising on Easter Monday 1916. If he had not become a TD 40 years ago, he'd be retiring as a teacher and being presented with his carriage clock as colleagues reminisced on his career.

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Instead, Kenny is showing no sign of being put out to pasture.

The Acting Taoiseach is now regarded as the biggest obstacle to Fine Gael leading the government.

Following a calamitous General Election campaign, where Kenny managed to clutch defeat from the jaws of victory, he is now losing the government formation race.

Every day that goes by, Kenny seems to leak authority and credibility. His missteps in the campaign haven't improved dramatically in the aftermath.

Independent TDs have questioned the stability of his leadership to his face.

Within Fine Gael, there are reports their Seanad candidates are suffering a backlash by association with him. Independent TDs are privately saying they are "getting it in the neck" in their constituencies at the prospect of them putting him back into office.

Kenny's leadership is, in effect, threatening to prevent Fine Gael from forming a government. He's managing to drive the Independents into the arms of Micheál Martin, even though they have doubts over Fianna Fáil's seriousness about forming a government. If Martin is so serious about government formation, why are his closest lieutenants, Timmy Dooley and Billy Kelleher, not involved in the talks? And why is he sticking with all the elements of a manifesto that was obviously designed for appeasement of various sectors - not forming a minority government?

Even those Independents who put on a united front going into Government Buildings seem to be riven by division over Kenny. In the so-called Rural Five, Mattie McGrath, Noel Grealish and Michael Collins are regarded as anti-Kenny. Denis Naughten and Dr Michael Harty are still in play, but only barely. The Independent Alliance is split down the middle. Shane Ross and Finian McGrath won't vote for Kenny. John Halligan most likely the same, but there was a doubt over the likelihood of him going for either leader. Michael Fitzmaurice is considered most likely to vote for Kenny, without being a dead cert, and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran and Sean Canney are of a similar, while also unenthusiastic mindset. The Healy-Raes will strike when they see a deal in the offing, yet Danny is more negative about Kenny than Michael.

Michael Lowry is the only guaranteed Lowry supporter, while Katherine Zappone can ultimately be relied on.

The nervousness around his leadership is a factor in the Independents demands for a deal that will last a full three years. Knowing the economic climate will be difficult in the first two years, none of them want to go back to the people being blamed for putting Enda Kenny back in office before they've had a chance to show any largesse in Budget 2019. Chances are Kenny won't be sticking around anyway come the local elections that same year.

Due to the Dáil arithmetic, Fine Gael needs to secure seven Independents and the abstention or backing of Fianna Fáil.

"It would be all over 10 days ago, if it wasn't for Enda Kenny. The blame and the vitriol out there is all towards Enda Kenny. People are saying Enda Kenny - not so much Fine Gael - lost the election," a participant in the government formation talks said.

Fine Gael's ability to attract transfers in the General Election was a contradiction. Although voters turned against the party, the brand wasn't entirely toxic. The interpretation of this outcome as a vote against Kenny is simplistic yet still gaining traction.

The prevailing wisdom in Leinster House is without Kenny in place, Fine Gael would have pressed home their advantage at this stage.

Of course, this notion ignores Simon Coveney's patrician attitude, Leo Varadkar's seeming lack of interest and Frances Fitzgerald's indecision affliction.

Kenny's hail fellow, well met demeanour would seem best suited to the dealmaking now required, except his brand is so badly damaged it's impossible to look beyond. And yet, and yet, and yet he remains the most likely to the next Taoiseach.

During his 40 years in the Dáil, Kenny will have seen plenty of party leaders who ended up in the Taoiseach's office by digging in nad stubborning it out.

Charlie Haughey defied numerous heaves and failures to achieve overall majorities, until the ghosts of the past caught up with him. Albert Reynolds somehow managed to retain power, despite an electoral disaster. John Bruton managed to go even better.

After an electoral calamity, he failed to get into office, survived and a heave against and became Taoiseach in a government which he was unable to put together previously..

Kenny himself appeared to be blowing his chance of getting into power, had a heave inflicted on him by half his frontbench, but overcame it and managed to become Taoiseach with the largest majority in the history of the State.

Kenny is around long enough to know, he just needs to get over what Sean McBride coined as 'That day's struggle'.

Live to fight another day and you've a better chance when that other day comes.

Put the government together and then worry about keeping it together.

Time and again, for over a decade now, Kenny's leadership has come under negative scrutiny. Beware of writing him off.

Irish Independent

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