Friday 26 December 2014

Enda needs to get his house in order before crisis hits election prospects

Published 29/03/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

ENDA Kenny likes lists. At Government Buildings all the big themes, and some of the smaller ones, are put on lists with notes on the progress made to date in addressing the various issues.

Now, stay with me for a few minutes here, because there is a direct link between that liking of lists and the extraordinary carry-on of the past six days.

Many of us have worked with people who like lists and Post-its and such like. It's a trait that conveys a definite impression of organisation and focus in the workplace.

Then one day, the big one happens at work and that 'list-person' might come up trumps to contribute something meaningful to the team in their hour of need. Or, you might find out that your colleague was just somebody who liked lists.

Enda Kenny, our list man, is in just such a tricky corner right now. Over the coming six to eight weeks he has to show the drive and leadership to take his Government out of their first ever full-blown crisis. Otherwise, he'll just be the Taoiseach who liked those lists, now being written to delineate our current situation.

This day last week, I would have predicted the following four things for the upcoming seven days:

1. Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan will probably come up with something like an apology/clarification in regard to the two garda whistleblowers.

2. Justice Minister Alan Shatter will get over himself enough to grudgingly do something similar.

3. Labour will get guarantees of a new garda monitoring authority, enough to keep them on board.

4. The battered Government will limp out of the gap of danger and pull themselves together ahead of local and European elections on May 23.

To be honest, it is not my fault that the middle two of those four predictions are right, because a week later many things are completely different. Number one is totally wrong. Commissioner Callinan is gone but very far from being forgotten.

There's one other huge change: we are landed with a big and unexpected problem arising from the taping of garda station phone conversations over 30 years. Number four is also wrong – the Government has not managed to even limp out the gate of this crisis which will be with us way beyond Easter.

In fact, things are much worse, because on this day in eight weeks they will be counting the local council election votes, and there is every chance that this crisis will be the backdrop for the Fine Gael and Labour campaigns.

The threat, strangely stoked mainly by this Government rather than the opposition, of heavy-duty criminals walking free from jails, will not help beleaguered government party candidates fighting a rearguard action.

Number two has been proved right, though it did scrape the bar as it went over. Justice Minister Alan Shatter managed what for him looked like an apology to the whistleblowers. But he did insist on spreading the blame to senior gardai and also tried to gouge ground back from the whistleblowers by saying some of the terrible consequences to penalty point quashing did not happen.

Number three has also saved this writer's blushes. Labour did get a strong guarantee on a new system of garda supervision. Labour hurled hard to get it and they are entitled to some real political kudos.

But the price for Labour is that they are also now linked strongly to Mr Shatter who is far from being a popular public figure. Fianna Fail's motion of no-confidence in Mr Shatter, which goes before the Dail next week, is partly about walloping Labour by driving this reality into the public mind.

We have lived variously with controversy about garda penalty points and associated claims of malpractices for 16 months, since late November 2012.

Politicians confided that, up to last week, the public has tuned in and out but not been overly-concerned. That changed last week. For those of us who love our politics, the past week has been unsatisfactory. Mr Shatter's answers have been partial and beg more and more questions. But, among the broader public, the 'who-knew-what-when game' will not be a major concern.

The prospect of vicious criminals walking the streets again because of this phone-call taping farrago is quite another thing. I take the view that it is an exaggerated prospect.

But the courts services, already under strain, is being confronted with more problems. The Taoiseach says this is precisely why he signalled a statutory inquiry, probably headed by a Supreme Court judge.

Getting that inquiry up and running and untangling all the associated garda problems are now very urgent priorities. It is time to start ticking things off those Enda lists.

Irish Independent

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