Monday 22 December 2014

John Drennan: Enda fails to make grade after 'Forest Gump gaffe'

Having been forthright in Davos, the Taoiseach needs to abandon his usual caution, writes John Drennan

Published 29/01/2012 | 05:00

NOTHING epitomises the Government's obsession with trivia more than the Taoiseach's compilation of a report card on his embattled ministers.



Mind you, after last week's dissertation on collective guilt, Enda has more concerns than holding a quivering pen over Joan Burton, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, as he wonders, having given Alan Shatter an F, if a B+ or B- would be appropriate.

Of course, the one elephant in the Taoiseach's office that has not been confronted is what grade Enda would get if he was to turn his school-teacher's eye upon himself. After Davos, most onlookers would be looking for that ignoble cap with the big D.

That might be a tad cruel if Mr Kenny's Swiss roll with a new politics of confronting our own weaknesses was a planned affair. Sadly, it is rather more likely the 'you're to blame' moment was another classic case of the dangers of letting Mr Kenny out on his own without a ringmaster to curb his weakness for the occasional Forest Gump-style stream of consciousness.

In fairness to Mr Kenny, any analysis of his reign does have to begin with the admission that the country is in a slightly better place than it was a year ago. The astonishing pace of change that has been such a feature of our Great Disruption means it is easy to forget that this is the anniversary of the final implosion of Mr Cowen's addled administration where the Taoiseach was left with less than half a cabinet after his infamous reshuffle.

How mobs did not head for Government Buildings is a cause for national embarrassment. Indeed it was a close-run thing, for in that strange period a Sinn Fein-linked demonstration broke through into Government Buildings only to -- apparently un-nerved by their success -- race straight back out again.

In marking Enda, we can at least say that the country is no longer being run by a cabinet of dysfunctional, burnt-out, alcohol-loving, political lunatics with a death wish.

Any accurate report card on Kenny's stewardship also has to factor in his inheritance of a bankrupt state that, courtesy of the bitter fruits of the quasi-fascist social partnership model of governance which Bertie built, would have fallen off the fiscal ledge without the help of our banking 'partners'.

The Grumpy Old Men have been confronted by the EU school of deceit where our Troika 'partners' use us as the canary in the coalmine of the re-invented Malthusian economics of austerity.

Despite these circumstances, in the wake of the Gatsby-style implosion of Mr Cowen, we had dared to hope -- or to put it more accurately, we had no option but to hope -- there might be something different about Enda.

Initially, Enda, with his claim that Ireland had experienced "a democratic revolution", appeared to understand the scale of the task he faced. Like the half-living, mostly despairing Ireland Sean Lemass took over in 1959, this failed State needs a transformational school of politics centred on revolution and re-invention rather than rhetoric and timorous opportunism.

Sadly, it appears that the pre-election bear market was correct and there may be nothing much to Enda after all.

Less than a year has passed, and already the signs of fatigue are stark. Even before Davos, or Eamon Gilmore's astonishing "pull on the green jersey" show, the suspicion that we are experiencing our own special variant of Animal Farm has been escalating.

It should be said Enda's Government is well-meaning and energetic in a fitful sort of fashion. However, its political template of 'careful now' crossed with modesty in all things, particularly reform is not what is required in the current circumstances.

Instead this attitude has facilitated the current scenario where we are wondering what, outside of degree, is the difference between the Government and its predecessor.

Already we are seeing the trade-union wing of the social partners, courtesy of the mists and fog of Croke Park, insinuating its feet back in the familiar, cosy old parlour of Government Buildings.

In fairness, there is merit in the Croke Park 'reform by stealth' approach -- for cutting the public sector is a rough form of political trade that will always be imperfect.

But while it is a policy that

may get the job done without the burning streets, 'reform by stealth' does not send out the clear moral message about the transformation this failed political entity needs.

Meanwhile, as with Fianna Fail, Ireland continues, under the threat of immediate and terrible war from the ECB, to burn its citizens in order to pay for the banking bonuses of foreign gamblers.

In fairness, again, there is merit, though scant courage or glory, in the Government's adoption of the philosophy that Ireland should resemble that good child that is never seen nor heard.

We are, like Czechoslovakia in 1938, being betrayed to appease the Satanic mills of bankers, bondholders and the ECB. But, just as the Czechs would have been destroyed had they fought in 1938, if we pressed the nuclear button on our Anglo Irish Sudetenland the fate this EU outcrop would suffer if Angela turned on us 'pour encourager les autres' would not be pretty.

However, while there may be merit in a policy of appeasement, the failure of the Government to communicate the rationale for such a stance, or to clearly tell Europe its imposed reparations are an amoral deal that is selling us into slavery, is debasing the Rainbow's political credit.

The transformation from the high sentiments of Enda's first days does not end there, for after promising to clear out our top mandarins, the bright new Rainbow now despatches failed mandarins to fancy jobs in Europe.

In fairness to Enda, any report card should recognise one of the Taoiseach's main handicaps is the nature of the party he leads, for Fine Gael has never been entirely at ease with radicalism.

An instinctive deference to powerful vested interests is built too deeply into the DNA of the Fine Gael social club for dynasts, solicitors, hospital consultants and barristers.

Innately, they crave the approbation of the powerful to such an extent, even Michael Noonan is happiest when playing the clever pet who can kiss both of Christine Lagarde's cheeks.

The difficulty for Enda, however, is that, as Mr Cowen's administration vividly displayed, the Taoiseach sets the template for the collective performance of the Government.

The reason a Taoiseach's job is a lonely one is that he, ultimately, is the general who must lead, embody and be responsible for the strengths and failures of both party and government.

This is a country that needs focused, honest talking and clear, strategic thinking, as distinct from sentiment, undirected benevolence and hopeful mixed metaphors.

But, increasingly the inaction of this Government is best summarised by Yeats: "things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" whenever "the best lack all conviction".

Some ministers still dream of heroic stands but when faced with the semi-state sector, the banks the EU and Nama, they are led by a general whose instinct has always been to tip-toe away from whatever corpse is fouling up his political hairdo.

In the Fianna Fail of Haughey (and Bertie too) which played such a key role in moulding Enda Kenny, this was clever politics.

Sadly, in the new dispensation Enda's failure to recognise we need a new politics, incorporating the accidental straight-talking he engaged in at Davos, means any honest report must warn this diligent, neat, energetic C- student, to abandon his innate intellectual laziness and realise, if he wants to be an honours candidate that the cautious old ways will no longer work.

Sunday Independent

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