Tuesday 25 October 2016

Enda's team are mixed bag of bland and blander

There's a distinct lack of vision and talent in top tier of politics

Published 07/06/2015 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Former Finance Minister Alan Dukes once boasted about his abilities for the job telling an audience that: "I am pure logic".

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He subsequently found to his and his party's cost that the fickle Irish electorate have little or no time for such things as logic, competence and ability.

To be a success in Irish politics, you can be as thick as two short planks, as long as you are accessible, one of the lads, well-connected, loyal to your dear leader and fond of a pint or two.

Intelligence and ability are often placed down the line of importance when a Taoiseach appoints the Cabinet after geography, loyalty and popularity are taken into account.

This long-standing anti-intellectualism within Irish politics remains strong and academic pedigree can be counter productive for a successful career.

Into this space in March, 2011, stepped Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who by any standard is no intellectual.

Kenny is a wooden performer, a poor orator who needs considerable propping up and managing by his highly paid advisors.

To his credit, Enda Kenny, against the odds rebuilt his party and has held together a coalition through some very challenging times, and has a work ethic and energy that belies his 64 years of age.

Kenny, of course, did survive the 2010 heave and has been Taoiseach for over four years now.

With less than a year to the election, and following last year's reshuffle, the time is right to assess the contributions of Enda Kenny's Cabinet.

Kenny has rid his Cabinet of the leading toxic elements.

The Cardinal Richelieu figure that was Phil Hogan was dispatched to Europe to the "plum job" of Commissioner, while the over-reforming Alan Shatter reformed himself out of a job.

The last part of that toxic triumvirate, Dr James Reilly, has been sidelined and now carries no weight in Government.

He was yanked out of Health by Kenny after threatening the "financial viability of the State" with his half-baked Universal Health Insurance plan. His war with big tobacco is the only chance of a legacy.

Kenny is of course on his second Tanaiste in Joan Burton, after the departure of Eamon Gilmore.

She has since tempered her outpourings but is not delivered any tangible "Burton Bounce" with Labour sensitivities remaining fragile. Kenny has come to rely more and more on the political wiliness and nous of Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

Noonan has brought over the four years in Government a calming effect to both parties given his vast experience and his near sainthood status. He has had to come to the rescue of his erstwhile leader on several occasions.

But, questions have been raised as to his handling of the Siteserv debacle and he nor his department are neither smelling of roses this weekend.

Noonan's relationship with his Labour opposite number Brendan Howlin, is the bedrock of the Coalition, and Howlin's contribution to its continuation has been considerable. His consistency and willingness to put country before party makes him one of the star performers in the Cabinet.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar repeatedly spoken out against the prevailing mood in his party on the Garda Whistleblower controversy and dragged his party to rethink its position.

He was in the truest sense a leader of men and has established himself as the prime candidate to replace Kenny as Fine Gael leader. The challenging Health portfolio is beginning to take some of the shine off his halo.

His main rival, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, found himself out manoeuvred by Varadkar during the Justice crises. However, he is a diligent minister if lacking in the x-factor appeal of his rival. He led the Fine Gael same-sex marriage referendum campaign. He is also a very solid ministerial performer and is in command of his brief.

This might surprise some, but another leading light has been Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe. A mid-season signing, he is a politician of real ability and intelligence, he is the exception to the rule as he enjoys wide appeal around the Dail.

He has successfully stared down the unions in Irish Rail and Bus Eireann and has handled the Aer Lingus sale with some skill.

Environment Minster Alan Kelly is an abrasive character but has taken to Cabinet with some gusto.

He provokes strong opinions in his colleagues and rivals. He met the challenges of homelessness and Irish Water head on, despite considerable political risk.

He too adds much-needed steel to Labour. However, relations with his own leader are not good, not good at all.

The next bunch of ministers falls into the category of solid performers.

Communications Minister Alex White and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald are safe hands in key ministries, with Fitzgerald being touted as a likely compromise candidate for next Fine Gael leader.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton is dogged and hard-working if utterly unremarkable. His much-mocked Action Plan for Jobs has turned out to be a success, even if his party leader Kenny regularly steals his thunder at such announcements.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, as a former chairman of Fine Gael, enjoyed a high profile before Cabinet.

He has had to invest many hours to try and salvage the crumbling power-sharing arrangement in Stormont, meaning he is often absent from the cut and thrust of Leinster House.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan is the epitome of the silent quiet type, but this belies a steely interior.

Bringing up the rear, along with Reilly, is Arts Minister Heather Humphreys.

"Poor Heather" is the most common refrain heard these days around the Dail, which reflects a widely-held view within Fine Gael that she is not up to the job.

Her shaky and unconvincing role in the John McNulty crony saga last year was evidence of that.

Sunday Independent

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