News Comment

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Paddy still waiting to hear the story, Enda

Before finalising his reshuffle, Enda should remember what he said at his inaugural speech, says John Drennan

Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny, pictured at the launch of Fine Gael's local election campaign in May.
Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, pictured in May at the launch of Fine Gael's local election campaign. Photo: Steve Humphreys

All eyes continue to be on Labour in the wake of their election campaign and the eagerly awaited ministerial blood-letting that is to come after the apotheosis of Joan.

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However, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and his political muse, Fionnuala Kenny, face the longest of political weekends as this low-key but unique political partnership attempts to salvage their political dream of Enda, the first two-term Fine Gael Taoiseach.

For now, the focus is still off the almost malign set of difficulties being faced by Enda.

Instead, we are far more enthralled by the spectacle of a Labour Party who, having fallen through the Green Party meltdown threshold, is now stumbling nervously through the Valley of Annihilation. But, Fine Gael, too, are inching ever more perilously towards the feared territories of the never-forgotten 'Baldy' Noonan meltdown of 2002.

In a strange way, the respective situations of Fine Gael and Labour resemble Shakespeare's famous mousetrap scene in Hamlet where, in a play within a play, Hamlet simulates the poisoning of his father in an attempt to provoke a guilty Claudius into confessing his crime.

For now, Labour's smaller woes may be getting all the attention, but the larger drama may yet be provided by the accelerating fears of 30 Fine Gael TDs about their future.

And though Mr Kenny has escaped unscathed from the Fine Gael implosion, the political bacon-slicer is beginning to turn towards the Taoiseach's previously well apportioned political posterior.

If Mr Kenny is wondering why support is leaking away from his party and his good self, he and Fionnuala could, before finalising that infamous reshuffle, take some time to review Enda's response to becoming Taoiseach in 2011.

Mr Kenny is, of course, famous for his 'Paddy wants to know the story' dissertation.

At his inauguration, however, Enda spoke even more eloquently about how the old ways of governing had, "damaged us not alone financially, but emotionally, psychologically and spiritually" and how in the future "honesty is not alone our best policy but our only policy".

Three years have passed, and far from having a government whose chief characteristic is one of full disclosure, we now have a Taoiseach who, metaphorically stares at a spot in the wall when asked over issues such as the resignation of a Garda Commissioner.

Though Irish and, indeed, all politics is eternally about, 'the economy, stupid', ironically the greatest failure of the Taoiseach and the Coalition is a moral one.

Mr Kenny's inability to deliver the new school of politics we were promised means the Government has become mired in a permanent condition of cynicism that it far too often confuses with pragmatic realism.

The emotional empathy that was evident in Mr Kenny's acceptance speech - and which was subsequently broadened and deepened by Cloyne - has now, alas, been replaced by a distant and autocratic tribalism.

Lest it be thought the Irish electorate are naturally difficult, it should be noted we do not expect the Coalition to return us to the froth and bubble-style economics of the high Tiger era.

We understand, too, that the Coalition cannot end a world recession or the fiscal imperialism of the ECB, as these are factors that are beyond their control.

But the vast failure in empathy is a self-inflicted wound.

So too has been the autocratic cynicism, evidenced most floridly by the banking inquiry debacle where that which should have been the fiscal equivalent of a truth-and-reconciliation process has turned into a partisan witch-hunt.

And ultimately, whether he likes it or not, the responsibility for the failure of Irish politics to break out of old tribal ways of doing things is the Taoiseach's.

Up to Friday, Mr Kenny could shelter behind the skirts of Eamon Gilmore.

However, closer attention will now focus on what Enda does next when it comes to his cabinet reshuffle.

It represents a signal judgment on the evolution of that administration that, after three short years in office, already the ways they have chosen no longer work.

Instead we are already veering close to Cromwell's famous warning to the Rump parliament that "ye are a factious crew and an enemy to all good government ... ye were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance".

Mr Kenny has his vehicle, next week - courtesy of that most unwanted reshuffle - to show that lessons have been learnt and that politicians sometimes defer to the virtue of foresight rather than hindsight.

Mr Kenny must learn the politics of merely filling the boots of dead men with new nearly dead men is not an appropriate response.

As the Coalition nudges towards its last eighteen months in power, the Taoiseach's innate caution means he will be tempted to take the conservative route.

Should he do so, Mr Kenny would do well to understand he is leaving himself fatally open to a reprise of Cromwell's great warning to the Rump to, "Make haste! Ye venal slaves ... in the name of God, go".

Ironically, the ones who will be shouting most loudly will be his currently loyal and adoring backbench TDs
 . . . particularly if they are still back-benchers after Tuesday.

John Drennan

Sunday Independent

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