Tuesday 21 October 2014

In a game of two halves, Kenny conceded an own goal at the worst time

Gerard O'Regan

Published 13/03/2014 | 02:30

An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD
An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD

THERE just might have been a lesson or two for Enda Kenny in that mud-splattered football match between Kerry and Tyrone last Sunday. It was a fairly nondescript National League game played in conditions where Gaelic football can be more plodding than charm-filled. But at the same time, the respective teams and their managers were anxious to make it a "learning experience''.

However, when it was all over, a disgruntled and very put-out Tyrone manager, Mickey Harte, could scarcely contain his anger. He just couldn't explain the near collapse of his team in the second half, given that at the interval they seemed very much on track and even looked good for a win. What happened to their mindset during the break? Maybe they had forgotten the hard-worn old cliche – a football match is always a game of two halves. In any case, for Mickey it's a case of back to the drawing board big time, if his team are to survive sterner challenges ahead.

It's becoming a bit like that for Enda Kenny. His political team is also suffering mid-match blues, and unless he gets a grip on things, matters could go from bad to worse.

In sporting parlance it could be said the early years of his Government were spent playing against a stiff wind. The Troika Boys were around, and almost everything he and his ministers did was overseen by a Big Brother apparatus in Brussels and Frankfurt. But the upside of that constrained game plan is that Kenny and his team really did have to keep their eye on the ball. Essentially they were in a battle for survival. They had to stay focused and, above all else, play for time.

Well the Troika Boys no longer call round as often, and by "exiting the bailout'' the Government, as reflected in opinion polls, came out definite winners for the first half of their likely period in power. But of late the whole team is a bit more jittery. Sometimes the old surety of purpose and direction – manifest when the wind was very much against them – seems to have disappeared.

No wonder the Taoiseach's face was a mixture of anger and uncertainty, as he tried to explain the Frank Flannery affair on the main evening news.

He certainly gave the impression of a man who knew a critical own goal had been conceded at the worst possible time. And that is indeed the case. The local elections and the battle for European seats is just around the corner and a feeling voters might be about "to teach the Government a mid-term lesson'' is palpable.

The worst part of the Flannery affair for Kenny and Fine Gael is that it has the whiff of "Fianna Failititis'' about it. Was it not these situations the Opposition railed against, when allegations of an FF insiders' circle swamped many a Leinster House Dail debate? Was this not what Kenny and his cohorts were talking about when they promised a "new style of politics''?

The central issue involving Frank Flannery – and indeed the whole Rehab debacle – is that in the public mind the spirit of the law, as well as the letter of the law, should apply on matters like salaries and pensions when an organisation receives millions from the taxpayer. Rehab management has caused itself untold damage as a result of its stop-go performances at the Public Accounts Committee. Pointless obfuscation was certain to only heighten public – and political pressure – for some straight answers to some obvious questions.

Frank Flannery, as a man who has spent much of his adult life wading through the political long grass, will know better than most the reason for his current hassles. It's not that he necessarily did anything wrong – it's just that what he did doesn't seem to be right. That's enough for the brutal court of public opinion to condemn anybody. It's why Enda Kenny – despite their personal friendship and Flannery's huge achievements as Fine Gael's Svengali – cut him off at source.

Political lobbying is something akin to death and taxes. It will always be with us. But those who practise the dark art should tread carefully. There are unsaid rules to be adhered to. Otherwise the lobbyist's strengths become his weakness. This is what has happened in Flannery's case.

For Kenny it's another own goal; it's time to shore up his defences. He must make sure his is not a government of two halves – where things go downhill once the mid-point is reached. As is the case with Mickey Harte there's an urgent need to review the game plan.

Only this time, the Taoiseach won't have the consolation of having his old mate, Frank Flannery, standing steadfastly in his corner, having a timely word in his ear and telling him what his next move should be.

Irish Independent

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