Sunday 28 December 2014

Autocratic Enda is now a sphinx without a riddle

The Taoiseach's credibility is on the rack as friends and foe are equally puzzled by his erratic performances, writes John Drennan

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

24/07/14 The Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD pictured at the press conference to publish the Action Plan for Jobs Tenth Quarterly Progress Report at the Italian Room, Government Buildings, Merrion Street, Dublin this afternoon.. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
24/07/14 The Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD pictured at the press conference to publish the Action Plan for Jobs Tenth Quarterly Progress Report at the Italian Room, Government Buildings, Merrion Street, Dublin this afternoon.. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

When Bismarck coined his fabulously dismissive 'sphinx without a riddle' comment about the grandiose but fatally unfocused French Emperor Napoleon III, he would not have known the phrase would last so long that it would later be applied to David Cameron.

The bad news for Enda Kenny, who would normally be delighted to be compared with the youthful Mr Cameron, is that our 'Dear Leader' appears to be acquiring many of the same attributes.

If you are wondering, the origin of the phrase comes from the myth where the sphinx derived its power from its riddle which passers-by had to solve on pain of immediate death if they failed.

However, while this meant the inscrutable sphinx was the most feared of creatures, a sphinx without a riddle could also be safely mocked, for it was just a big old mausoleum.

In political life, the sphinx minus a riddle is a hollow man who uses an impressive façade to disguise their real selves from the ever-feared voters.

Kenny certainly arrived into office bearing the not unimpressive frontage of the biggest majority in the history of the State.

For a time he also maintained a mysterious front which left many reaching for Churchill's description of Russia resembling 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'.

As pundits mused about the impossibility of 'knowing Enda' the rise of the myth of 'autocratic' Kenny meant he also acquired the useful reputation of being as cold and ruthless as the sphinx.

There certainly has also been no shortage of riddles surrounding Kenny's curious leadership style.

No one yet, for example, has solved the conundrum where a Taoiseach who has invested so much energy into being perceived to be an ordinary citizen is as consistently unloved by the public as Biffo.

Kenny, of course, still tries, with the modern equivalent of winking and nodding known as the 'selfie'.

However, too often his outwardly harmless, but disconcertingly cold, relationship with the voters resembles the "ghostly man upon a stair who wasn't there", who "no matter how much we wish he'd go away" insists on staying, "waiting there".

Puzzlement also surrounds the series of debacles, where a Taoiseach who has attached so much importance to being seen to be sympathetic to the whole women issue, has alienated the sisters in a manner no Irish politician has achieved since Padraig Flynn.

Quite the riddle also attaches itself to the astonishing political evolution of a Taoiseach who defined himself so vehemently as the anti-Bertie.

Now 'Dear Leader' Enda has become Ahern's doppelgänger to such an extent his own TDs talk about how, "just like Bertie, Enda promotes friends, allies and people he is afraid not to promote".

We will not tarry long over how the Taoiseach fared in his promise to end the tribal school of Fianna Fail-centred politics.

His colleagues are also intrigued by how the conundrum of the Taoiseach's determination to create an image of 'Enda the friend of youth and vitality' is faring.

The puzzlement here is not simply caused by the cruel truth that, no matter how hard he works, Mr Kenny is derided as being the equivalent of one of those priests at a wedding trying too hard to be cool with the young.

This contradiction was epitomized by that re-shuffle. All the attention might have been focused on Enda's difficulties 'among women'. But his mysterious moves on the political chessboard did little to suggest that he is a genuine friend of the young either.

Nothing epitomized this more than his failure to promote Eoghan Murphy which, outside of the minor issue of talent, would have had the not inconsiderable virtue of decapitating the five-a-sides.

This is just one in an astonishing range of key political objectives that is now being discarded. One of the Taoiseach's long-term priorities has been to avoid a reprise of the bad old days of Fine Gael factionalism.

Now, after Enda's reshuffle, ministers openly admit we are "a family at war" who are "bursted up into five factions".

Puzzlement is growing over the Taoiseach's strategy of taking on his Sinn Fein sworn enemies.

This was epitomized by the dismissal of Fergus O'Dowd, one of the temporarily forgiven bad sheep of 2010, which was described within the party as representing a case of Kenny allowing "personal spleen to open the door to the Provos".

The confusion that this move caused was typified by one comment: "A second seat in Louth was Sinn Fein's top ambition. Gerry will be under pressure to bring in a running mate. Now Enda has opened the door to him. O'Dowd was in the way. Not anymore."

The confusion wasn't confined to Louth either, as TDs claimed "the reshuffle has shattered the idea that we are taking on the Shinners. He is going to cost us seats. Half of Dublin has been left open to Sinn Fein after this mess."

Though Enda continues to be as inscrutable as the sphinx, the increasing number of unanswerable riddles surrounding his actions has, belatedly, begun to facilitate the rise of old, hotly contested claims about the essentially Lite nature of Kenny. Those who have never been Enda's friend are once again noting that, like the sphinx without a riddle, Kenny's motives are inscrutable because he doesn't actually have any.

The riddle of Enda, and why he does what he does, they say, is one of confusion rather than some deeper enigma.

In short, Enda, they say, is difficult to understand because there is nothing to understand.

A kinder explanation for the riddle of Enda's increasingly erratic performance, is the belief of those who are close to him, that he is most content being of service to strong masters.

This is not necessarily the worst of traits, particularly when a flint-eyed Troika is squinting suspiciously at the latest occupant rolling into the top job in the Irish mad-house.

The problem is that the departure of the Troika means he must now lead.

The confusion this is creating in Enda's inner psyche may be the source of the irritation, anxiety and increasingly erratic nature of his decision-making.

Enda has become a riddle because he has found himself in a place he is not comfortable with and he doesn't appear to quite know what to do about it.

And if Enda himself doesn't know where he is going, what chance do the rest of us have of solving the riddle of the Castlebar sphinx.

Whatever the truth is, the summer priority of Kenny must be to remove himself from his palace of confusion as quickly as he can.

The unknowable nature of Enda may for a while have been mildly intriguing, but, eventually the citizen becomes bored by a sphinx without a riddle, starts to mock it and simply passes on by.

'Dear Leader' Enda, if he is not careful, may be close to that point.

And if he isn't, the voters certainly are.

Sunday Independent

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