Saturday 1 October 2016

Enda Kenny the 'Father Trendy' of Fine Gael

The Taoiseach's popularity is an anxious construct that is beginning to crumble

Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30

Enda Kenny and Dermot Morgan as Fr Trendy. Photos: Tom Burke/RTE Stills Library
Enda Kenny and Dermot Morgan as Fr Trendy. Photos: Tom Burke/RTE Stills Library

It might have been the week where Labour's Grumpy Old Men quivered like rabbits that have just heard the sleek rustle of the ferret in the burrow.

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But, as Labour's lost Mrs Doubtfire exited stage left, a new question as to whether once Mr Gilmore and the rest of the Grumpy Old Men depart, 'Dear Leader' Enda might be next, has entered the political ether.

It is perhaps all too symptomatic of the problems Enda is facing that a Seventies' comedic character provides us with the best indication of his woes.

Unless you have been living on a desert island for two decades, everyone knows about Dermot Morgan's Father Ted. What might not be so well-known is that Father Ted was an evolution of Morgan's initial comedic character, Father Trendy.

Father Trendy was also a priest, but the similarities ended there for whilst Ted was an imperfect but basically decent man doing his best in a mad world, Father Trendy was somewhat different.

His template came from a school of suave priests in the Seventies that were outwardly media friendly and who, in an attempt to appear liberal, avoided wearing the cassocks as much as possible.

At the end of the day, however, whilst our sandals-wearing Father Trendys pretended to be hip and 'down with the kids', they were actually as conservative as the fellows who used to brandish black-thorn sticks.

All of the homilies, charismatic choir stuff and pretend respect for women were actually a grinning front for the fastest route to the bishop's

palace where, once ensconced, they would then espouse precisely the same ideas as their more intellectually honest predecessors.

Sadly, there is more than a small degree of the Father Trendys surrounding 'Dear Leader' Enda at the moment.

The Taoiseach and his handlers have worked assiduously at cultivating the image of a man who intimately understands the concerns of the ordinary citizen such as mum taking the kids out of the creche.

For some, it was always difficult to see how this four-decade-long occupant of the lay equivalent of a bishop's palace, Leinster House, could have any idea about the lives of the citizens.

The myth did manage to last for a while but as the strain of being a party leader for 12 years – for though Enda is still a relatively new Taoiseach, he is old in terms of party leadership – appears to take an increasing toll, the carefully put together Kenny construct is beginning to rattle and shake.

And, sadly as the layers of spin are being peeled away in the eyes of the voters, a new vision of Enda the hollow Taoiseach is emerging.

Increasingly, the voters are noting that in the absence of the Troika stabilisers, Enda Kenny is a smile without a centre crossed with a wink without a policy and a nod without an ideology.

The growing recognition of these flaws by the public means the great myth into which Fine Gael has sedulously bought of Enda the popular Taoiseach is now fraying.

It is bad enough that the voters suspect 'Dear Leader' Enda is a hollow man in the intellectual sense. However, the Taoiseach's relative indifference to the impact of austerity means they now also believe that behind the hopping, the skipping and the crinkled eyes, Kenny is a chilly individual who lives in a very separate world to that inhabited by the voters.

Like Father Trendy, they suspect that a dissonance exists between what Kenny says and actually feels.

On one level, the enthusiasm with which our glazed-eyed Fine Gael TDs continue to voice the myth of Enda's popularity is entirely understandable. After the standards set by John Bruton, Michael Noonan and Alan Dukes the party needed, for its self-belief alone, to acquire a leader who wasn't greeted by the public in the same way as the dog snarls at a nervous postman.

So Fine Gael prayed that Enda really was the most popular one of all. But, when one takes a detached view, it is difficult to see how a Taoiseach who consistently polls below 33 per cent in the satisfaction ratings was ever loved.

Kenny's popularity is an anxious construct, for whilst he is not hated, Enda is at best merely indulged by an indifferent citizenry. Increasingly, though, the limits of that toleration are being reached and the Taoiseach is being looked at with a new level of chill by more than the mere citizenry.

Within his mostly young political party, the recent rout of the Taoiseach's choice for chairperson, Paudie Coffey, was just the latest example of how Enda is becoming isolated from the real world by a Last Emperor of China-style court of mandarins and spindoctors.

Enda will always have the nodding and the winking, but, if that is no longer working with the public, or worse still, is seen by his own TDs, Frappuccino Kids and ministers to no longer be working, what else does he have?

Increasingly, rather like Gilmore, the Taoiseach resembles an old and complacent leader of a young and angry country. Such a perception suggests it is time for the 'Dear Leader' to tread very carefully for a lot of people within Fine Gael are watching you, Enda, and their eyes are not warm.

Sunday Independent

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