Monday 24 October 2016

John Drennan: Understanding the inscrutable nature of Mr Kenny

Published 01/07/2012 | 05:00

It is doubtful too many European diplomats, even of Irish extraction, have ever heard of a small midlands village called Cloneygowan. Yet a pre-2007 election function at the village provided a vignette that comes closest to defining the strange, and still inscrutable, nature of Enda Kenny.

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Few Irish politicians oscillate quite so violently when it comes to the great rooster/ feather duster debate that accompanies all politicians.

Mr Kenny is certainly one of life's roosters after this week, but it is as inevitable as rain in an Irish summer that before the year is out he will be hanging around with the feather dusters, as even his own party casts desiring eyes at Leo the unmanageable, that nice Simon Coveney or even young Master Hayes.

Of course Mr Kenny now spends his nights in far grander locations than Cloneygowan. But it was the training provided by nights in such hamlets that have supplied him with and unveiled the character traits that serve him so well in Washington or Europe.

Watching Mr Kenny in Cloneygowan that night the most intriguing feature of the then FG leader was not his speech, or the glad-handing as he sipped from a pint in the manner of a priest behaving himself at a wedding.

Instead what stood out was the utter determination that lay behind a man who spent six nights a week up until three at a variety of similar locations as the leader of a still broken party, engaged in what appeared to be a fruitless pursuit of the most popular Irish politician since Daniel O'Connell.

Though we did not cop it at the time it represented a level of will and a capacity for adversity in pursuit of an impossible goal that, outside of Bertie, had not been seen in Irish politics since Mr Haughey took to the chicken and chips circuit in the wake of his post-arms trial defenestration.

In the end success in politics and life is often, though not always, down to issues of character. Mr Kenny is no intellectual but what he does have is a huge level of will and a determination to continue the fight (should he choose to fight and often he doesn't) even when every other sane person concludes that the war is lost.

Of course, the stamina that the apprenticeship of Cloneygowan developed and the charm do not hurt. Politics is a human business and one's chances of success, even in the great game of international diplomacy is not harmed if, at the witching hour of 3am when deals are done and Biffo was sleeping, you are still on your toes and have a twinkle in your eye for Chancellor Merkel.

Ultimately though, a capacity to wink, nod and play the broth of a Mayo Playboy, or even the huge reserves of stamina Mr Kenny possesses will only get you so far.

It may help, but top-level politics and diplomacy is a contest of wills and often it is an ugly one.

Ironically, in that regard some of Mr Kenny's less well-known characteristics may on this occasion have also played a critical role.

The Taoiseach may be a politician who likes to cultivate a public persona of pastel colours. However, his own party in particular know he has traits that are less pretty, the smiling Taoiseach is a man who is as unforgiving as he can afford to be with those he believes to be his enemies and does not forgive lightly.

But whilst such characteristics are not always agreeable, or wise, Mr Kenny's suppressed Haughey gene if you like (and he certainly doesn't like to have it raised) also reveals that, unlike his Fine Gael predecessors such as Michael Noonan and John Bruton, the Taoiseach has a certain ruthlessness in his character.

Sometimes this is not applied to its best effect and he is far too fond of prioritising the interests of the FG tribe over those of abstract reformist dreams for his own long-term good.

Last week, however, for all of Vincent Browne's mockery or the hair-ruffling Mr Sarkozy engaged in (remember, short guy, Angela's poodle, Sarkozy not Vincent) those characteristics meant that when Kenny and Lucinda stood up for the country and said enough they were listened to.

Europe knew, in the instinctive way politicians process character, that Mr Kenny was not for turning on this occasion.

The political weaknesses of the Taoiseach and the ongoing desperate straits we are in means there are still as many bad days as good ones to come. This week though is a good week and anyone who was in Cloneygowan all those years ago would have seen it coming.

Mind you, it could also be said that when it comes to the secret political life of Enda, those who did see the character behind his lite-persona only saw the half of it.

Sunday Independent

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