Thursday 29 September 2016

Kevin Doyle: Enda could end Labour's pain but is looking after his own party

Published 09/10/2015 | 02:30

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

The Taoiseach bolted out the back door of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, refusing to make eye contact with the baying journalists.

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"There's an obsession among ye about the election," he shouted back dismissively while racing towards his waiting car.

He's not wrong. The media and the public have become enthralled about calling the election date.

But the person who is really obsessed by November versus February debate is Tánaiste Joan Burton.

On her way into the same 1916 launch, the Labour Party leader said she wasn't a quitter and that the election will not be until 2016.

The only problem for Ms Burton is that right now the Taoiseach is coming under huge pressure from within Fine Gael to 'quit' in time for a November election.

There is some conflicting advice from his inner circle. The strategists are telling him to hold his nerve and stick to the February plan that two weeks ago he told the Irish Independent he saw no reason to change.

But ministers like Michael Noonan are keen to go to the electorate shortly after the Budget.

Then in the background, and now very much in the foreground, Joan Burton is warning him that he made a promise and should be - as Environment Minister Alan Kelly put it yesterday - an "honourable man".

Perhaps it's no wonder the Taoiseach is confused. The problem is that by changing his language around the election date in recent days, he has created a snowball that only he can stop.

With one sentence, one utterance of clarity, he could put Joan out of her misery - but instead he has decided to keep his options open.

Of course, ending the speculation might result in the focus switching back onto other and rather more serious matters, like the housing crisis, the controversies at Nama or the fact that Irish Water is cutting 1,200 jobs.

So the Taoiseach will let the country continue to guess while Joan Burton tries to shadow box a row that she can't win.

One of the greatest powers Enda Kenny has is to set an election date. Get it right and he will be a hero. Get it wrong and he'll be out of two jobs - as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

That's the call he has to make and he'll be looking to do the best that he can for Fine Gael, not for Labour.

Yes he would like to return a 'stable' Fine Gael-Labour coalition. But before he bolts for the Phoenix Park, the final consideration will be the state of his own party, not upsetting Joan Burton.

Irish Independent

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