News Fionnan Sheahan

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Trouble ahead for Enda as his 'autocratic' image grows

Published 07/10/2013 | 05:00

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An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the media about the failure of the referendum to abolish the Seanad at Dublin Castle, yesterday.
Photo: Tony Gavin 5/10/2013
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the media about the failure of the referendum to abolish the Seanad at Dublin Castle, yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin 5/10/2013

ENDA Kenny will have to wonder if it was worth the hassle. He isn't going to lose much sleep over the Seanad being retained and it's not exactly going to rock the Government.

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Losing an EU treaty referendum would have serious consequences for the Coalition, but this result is not in that league.

However, the fallout from the campaign poses problems for him as it turns an unflattering spotlight on his leadership style with the public.

It has also stoked tensions in his party.

Given the narrow margin, Mr Kenny's failure to adequately engage in the campaign, either through debate or flagship interview, can certainly be considered a factor in the defeat.

More worryingly, though, the idea that he has developed a dictatorial leadership style may be gaining traction with the voters.

From the treatment of the abortion legislation rebels to the conduct of Seanad campaigns, a damaging narrative has built up of the Taoiseach being autocratic, unwieldy and bullying.

The perception of a leader growing out of touch and protected behind his Praetorian guard has taken hold.

It is a corrosive image that he needs to address.

Fine Gael senators are bitter over their treatment and the derogatory tone of the party campaign towards them and the Upper House.

Richard Bruton was left stranded with little back-up from the Taoiseach or senior ministers, some of whom seemed to have an eye on future leadership ambitions and didn't want to irk the party's senators.

When the leadership issue eventually arises, the senators are a powerful block with differing priorities to TDs, who just tend to have an eye on the next general election.

Even close allies of Mr Kenny admit the Taoiseach is bruised from the events of the past six months.

"He could well be in trouble. If you look at the polls, Fine Gael would be down nearly 30 seats.

"The gloss could go off him quickly. There could be trouble ahead. He'll have to tread carefully," a Kenny loyalist told the Irish Independent yesterday.

So what happens to the Seanad now?

The divisions between Fine Gael and the Labour Party over the required pace of change may well result in some minor tweaking after an examination by the Convention on the Constitution.

The separate bills by Independent senators Katherine Zappone and Feargal Quinn, and John Crown, will be looked at.

However, there is no consensus on the shape of reform.

Any more substantial change will turn into an issue for pre-election pledges in party manifestos, kicking the can down the road again.

To date, 12 separate reports have been published on the reform of the Seanad.

The first report was published in 1928 and the most recent was published by the Seanad committee on procedure and privileges in 2004.

The argument isn't new and won't be resolved any time soon.

Irish Independent

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