Saturday 22 October 2016

Battle stations - Enda ready to go over the top in a war to win hearts and minds

Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30

Enda Kenny will be preparing to take the flak and may have to consider defensive manoeuvres ahead of the election
Enda Kenny will be preparing to take the flak and may have to consider defensive manoeuvres ahead of the election

Taoiseach Enda Kenny may not have enjoyed Christmas as much as usual, as the impending election lingers auspiciously in the background with all the inevitability of a half-cooked Brussels sprout. The controversy over his visibility during the flooding crisis will also have dampened his spirits. Today, Enda Kenny has been Taoiseach for four years and 10 months - give or take. As his term draws to a close, the substantive question is this; does he deserve to be returned to the top office for a second spin on the merry-go-round?

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Swept into power on a tidal wave of anger, adversity and raw public emotion on March 9, 2011, he took the reins. Since then, he has attempted to chaperone us through austerity while keeping a weather eye permanently on his own re-election. Ever the political pragmatist, he has charted a cautious course. While at times difficult and monotonous, he has brought us closer to our ultimate destination - economic recovery.

Under his tutelage, the Irish economy is set to grow by over 6pc for 2015.

The pace of our national revival is confounding experts and cheerleaders alike. Delivering employment and growth rates that top the leader board across the EU was something Enda Kenny could have only dreamed of when he came in to office.

Now those figures are a reality.

However, a yet unfulfilled challenge is to convert macro-economic gains into household budgets.

A trickier endeavour which requires something more elusive than economic growth; it requires the political dexterity to deliver social reform. The ESRI says that our gains are still not filtering downwards, with families, on average, 10pc worse off due to the combined impacts of the austerity budgets since the recession began.

High arching objectives like the radical reform of the health service and a new way of doing political business have fallen by the wayside without much consequence so far. Fine Gael continues to rise in opinion polls.

For a party like Fine Gael, whose natural political persuasion lies right of centre, delivering a more equitable society is not their first priority. They are not exactly champions of the working classes. However, entering into a coalition Government with Labour should have provided a practical antidote to FG's preoccupation with the middle class, farmers and business. Their alliance could have helped deliver a lot more social reform, instead of just focusing on the economy. Here is where Enda has underperformed.

By focusing primarily on the fortunes of his own party, he has forgotten that Labour has an important role to play in providing a 'yin' to Fine Gael's 'yang'. Further compounded by allowing relations between the two parties to evolve rather than develop, he has failed to nurture a trusting and equitable partnership. Fine Gael won big. Labour won small. As a result, relations are fractured and suspicious. In failing to maximise the potential of that relationship, he has lost out on the most saleable commodity this Government have to offer - stability and cohesion.

Subtle nuances of political policies with softer edges may not seem important to the middle class worker who cares about take home pay, service charges and taxation. Nor will they affect those concerned with corporation tax where a lot of Fine Gael support lies.

But left leaning policies will be important when it comes to attracting transfers.

Ultimately, it will affect the amount of seats returned by Enda Kenny.

It will also dictate who the next coalition partnership will be and importantly, it may also affect who will be our next Taoiseach.

Assessing Enda Kenny's style is not that difficult.

He just doesn't have any. His high fives and "Paddy likes to know" grates on many. He has become a pastiche of sorts.

However, we didn't need a JFK figure, we just needed someone who would get the job done. This leaves us with a question - is there any substance to this Dorian Grey like, amiable 64-year-old?

There are indications that behind the scenes there is another side. Some of his actions in dealing with problematic political situations have appeared ruthless.

While it may not make for pretty PR, it leaves us with an impression that there is more to this ostensibly affable man than meets the eye.

The turnover of key personal and senior political figures during his tenure has been unparalleled in modern Irish politics.

A serving minister for justice, a garda commissioner, a secretary general, have all resigned or retired under his command.

His own deputy leader and biggest supporter James Reilly, a former general secretary and key strategist for the party were both cut loose in difficult controversies. Some of these casualties occurred by their own design, some at his direction, which is which we may never know.

There are enough casualties to maintain an illusion that there is a Machiavellian Mayo man lurking somewhere inside Government Buildings and we like it.

Enda Kenny reminds me of a life jacket on an aeroplane.

I am glad it is there; it is comforting and reassuring. But in the deepest darkest recesses of my mind, the thoughts I barely allow myself to have, I am not entirely convinced they would be of any real benefit at all if we got into serious trouble.

In truth, I would prefer a parachute.

However, there is no alternative. For now there are no political parachutes, only life jackets.

Whether considered a great chief or just a good chairman, Enda has kept us afloat, and we are bobbing along in warmer waters for sure.

Like his grandfather James the lighthouse keeper before him, he has kept us from the rocks and we look forward to better times.

Job done.

Irish Independent

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