John Drennan

Friday 1 August 2014

Shark alert as Enda looks further out of his depth

It increasingly appears that all the Taoiseach has to offer is a nod, a wink, an unfunny quip, and very little else

John Drennan

Published 11/05/2014|02:30

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Mark Condren

The knives may not yet be out for Enda. But as ministers nip at the Taoiseach's previously virgin political posterior over the Shatter 'bother', fellows are beginning to pat their pockets to see if they have a dagger.

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Of course, ministers are not planning anything bad ... yet. However, it is always best to know you're armed should a FG Family at War-style stab-fest break out.

Meanwhile, as worried government TDs increasingly murmur about how Enda really is out of his depth, often the little things tell the tale of the tape.

The Coalition may have experienced four months of chaos mingled with calamity but nothing epitomised the deteriorating leadership qualities of Enda Kenny more than his infamous Leader's Questions' encounter with Luke 'Ming' Flanagan .

That the two greatest political dangers faced by Enda Kenny are Independent thinkers like Flanagan and truth-telling whistleblowers tells us much about the state of the 'democratic revolution'.

Whatever Kenny's views, when Flanagan raised the issue of a fearful whistleblower, political cunning alone should have prompted the Taoiseach to adopt a public guise of sympathy. Instead he engaged in a self-indulgent display of inept smirking, tasteless arrogance and bad jokes about 'dealing' that ensured wall-to-wall positive coverage of his political enemy.

Though Kenny subsequently managed to spit out a subdued apology for his unbecoming behaviour, it was far too late. The electorate had gotten another glimpse into the well-guarded mindset of the Taoiseach and, as with all other occasions, they didn't like what they saw.

It hasn't gotten any better for Kenny since for even by the standards set by Brian Cowen, the Taoiseach has experienced a wretched time. To lose a Secretary General of the Department of Finance is unfortunate but to top this with the political execution of a Minister for Justice just after he secured the fulsome support of Enda's nodding political dog of a Tanaiste was worse than careless.

On Wednesday, it briefly looked as though reality was starting to finally bite into the previously brash and smirking veneer of the increasingly unpleasant Kenny.

A whey-faced Kenny looked as if he too was wondering if he was really out of his depth.

Significantly, it is a question that an increasing number of his TDs are asking as the Government enters its fourth month of what appears to be a rolling crisis.

The nightmare for elements of Fine Gael has always been that becoming Taoiseach would be a step too far for Enda. When he arrived, all appeared to be well at first as the Taoiseach charmed Washington and the Queen with his fey persona. A country in freefall gained some self-respect courtesy of the silky political skills of Noonan whilst Ireland dealt so successfully with the troika the latter couldn't get out fast enough.

In retrospect, there seemed to be something odd surrounding the speed with which our rescuers bailed out, but, this was a story Paddy politely declined to find out more about.

But while the departure of the troika was a high point, under the surface, the old nightmare from history was hiding Everyone was wondering, given Enda's less than stellar past, how the 'Dear Leader' might fare when the troika stabilisers were taken away. The answer to the query as to whether Kenny was a closet genius or an over-promoted school teacher is becoming clearer.

The job of a Taoiseach in a Coalition administration is not excessively complex. He must maintain positive relations with his partners, ensure his ministers perform up to expectations whilst it is always nice if he has a small vision about where he wants the country to go. The reality instead is that a Taoiseach, who in Opposition spoke of report cards, has let his ministers run riot.

Meanwhile, a Labour party that has been belatedly gripped by the fear of annihilation has already become semi-detached from government. And if Enda is not careful, it may become fully detached before the first frosts of autumn.

It does not help that the essence of Enda is that he is a good servant who is always at his happiest obeying detailed instructions from clever mandarins, Angela or the finance minister.

Whilst the troika required him to be a polite, non-offensive broth of a boy, Enda managed that quite well, but, now that he has been given the compass for the ship of state, all we have been doing is sailing in a directionless circle.

When it comes to this vast sense of drift, a Government that is far too fond of the politics of cherchez le scapegoat has started to blame the mandarins who are allegedly running the Taoiseach.

But is this merely the symptom of a far greater problem whereby the bureaucrats have had to step in to fill a vacuum?

In a country that needs to chart new directions as urgently as the Ireland of 1959, he is increasingly seen as neither a conservative nor a socialist and who stands for nothing except checking none too accurately what way the wind is blowing.

The other great problem is that the Taoiseach's 'liberation' has allowed more of the lesser seen Enda to emerge. Kenny's attack on Ming Flanagan revealed the less-than-pretty snobbery that Enda likes to keep hidden whilst his chilly initial response to the Magdalene Report was not a thing of beauty either. The Taoiseach may have engaged in some fitful rodomontade in the initial stages of his reign about the 'democratic revolution'. But he increasingly resembles a fatally dated patron saint of that school of politician who sees the voters as being strictly for patronising and whose idea of heaven is a Saturday round of golf with the bishop and the bank manager.

Those politically fatal suspicions that Enda is a closet Fianna Fail Lite man can only have been accentuated by that recent private dinner in the St Stephen's Green Hibernian Club with the bankers and the vulture capitalists and the developers and Enda grinning in the middle of them in a manner that was all too redolent of Animal Farm.

The Taoiseach, though slightly sad in one regard, will be relieved that at least, amidst the current festival of negativity, the Shatter cuckoo in the nest has finally left.

Kenny's woes though are far from over. When that whole 'Shatter bother' began, we warned that the 'shark theory of crisis management' whereby, in times of trouble, you toss over a body, such as a Confidential Recipient, in the hope that it will persuade the sharks to go away might not go so well.

The problem in this regard is that far from dissuading the sharks, quite often a procession of bodies only encourages more to gather on the not-too-foolish basis that the pickings are good here.

The bad news for Enda is that a lot of sharks are likely to start casting a beady eye up at him.

The Shatter files, far from being over, may just have begun whilst the Moby Dick of Irish Water has still not fully bared its teeth.

Like ministers, all Taoisigh start with a political line of credit.

And the question now being asked of Enda is, after the last four months, just how much does the Taoiseach have left in the bank?

Sunday Independent

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