Wednesday 28 September 2016

All changed, changed utterly for the odd couple of Irish politics

Gerard O’Regan

Published 23/04/2016 | 02:30

It is more than reasonable to presume that Enda Kenny and Joan Burton, have had some private conversations – if only to see how the land lies. Picture credit: Damien Eagers
It is more than reasonable to presume that Enda Kenny and Joan Burton, have had some private conversations – if only to see how the land lies. Picture credit: Damien Eagers

Oh to have been a fly on the wall if the odd couple of politics got to have a chinwag - in the highest of secrecy - as they wondered if the companionship of their very recent past could be repeated just one more time.

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Theirs was always a relationship based on the powerful bonding of mutual need. He needed her. She needed him. And they both knew it. He was the more powerful of the two - but circumstances ensured she was usually able to craft a position of near equality.

Still, he was the one who would get his way much of the time. But he was always aware that if he pushed things too far, then it would end for both of them.

They had to try and stick together through thick and thin. He had to make sure to sometimes ease up, so she and the others on her side of the equation would have to be allowed to savour their victories, big and small.

The partnership survived. The squalls came and there were some tense, turbulent days. But despite everything, the sense of unity forged between them did not break. However, as is the way of the world, their time together was suddenly over. They would have to go their separate ways. But they would always have that bond of sorts, forged by those who have faced down adversity together.

So it is more than reasonable to presume that Enda Kenny and Joan Burton, pictured below, have had some private conversations - if only to see how the land lies. Maybe they had a secret rendezvous very few knew about. The backdrop for them both is a lingering temptation. Could they get their old double-act back on track?

The binding glue of mutual need is as powerful as ever. Each could help save the other. He had even pleaded publicly for her support. For her part, there was a studied silence for a while. It was clear she was tempted by the offer to maybe return and resurrect some form of the old relationship.

But we are now in a changed landscape. The search for a scapegoat - so often unfair - by those who feel they have lost out has left a sense of simmering rage in the Labour hinterlands. Burton's former TDs want, and need, somebody to blame for casting them into the political wilderness. Politically speaking, the General Election result has surely left her near mortally wounded. She can no longer be master of her own destiny; the choice of a putative political partner for her party is no longer in her gift.

Going into government with Fine Gael would provide her with a certain protection - at least for a time. But tempting as this may have been both for her and some of her remaining TDs, the forces ranged against such a choice are overwhelming. Opposition against any kind of hook-up with the fortunes of Fine Gael is all the more potent because it is so fuelled by emotion. The sense of loss felt by all those former Dáil deputies must find an outlet. Raging against the party leadership is the norm in such circumstances. So we are assured Labour will not enter any kind of coalition deal.

As the talks continued between the two big beasts of the Dáil over the past week, they reminded us that the Labour Party now seems like one of the lost tribes of ancient Israel. Some distant horizons surely beckon. But it is impossible to see what they offer, with only seven TDs among 158. This is a startling statistic for a political force traditionally ranked as one of the big three in Irish politics.

It must have been so tempting for Enda and Joan to try and reboot the old unity pact, which proved enduring throughout the last Dáil. An uncertain future lies ahead for them both. From Kenny's viewpoint, a tried-and-trusted partner is surely a better bet going forward than pandering to the ingrained self-indulgence of assorted Independent TDs.

And so it seems Labour's immediate destiny will be found on the Opposition benches. It is there that the party's TDs will be charged with attacking and taking to task their former partners. Yet if only things had worked out differently, they could have been in government with them one more time.

Even some personal relationships will now be put to the test. Enda and Joan may never have been personally close, but the body language between Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin suggested a rapport forged through tough times, such as facing down the Troika engineers when they were in town. Yet if Noonan is back as Finance Minister in a new government, and he is being 'marked' from the Opposition by Howlin, it will surely seem to both that the world has been turned on its head.

Many TDs in the new Dáil will find themselves on a zig-zag route. It will be an especially watchful and suspicious place. None more so than for Joan Burton and, indeed, all of the Labour seven. Sometimes, staring across the chamber, they will hear a distant echo from all-too recent days as they remember the way things used to be.

Irish Independent

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