Friday 30 September 2016

Philip Ryan: Kenny will be watching his back until he resigns

No one has been brave enough to challenge his leadership, but distrust is growing within Enda's party

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

'Many of the Fine Gaelers you hear on the airwaves talking about the Taoiseach's brave and noble attempt to form a government with Fianna Fail were the first to privately call for his head after the election.' Photo: Arthur Carron
'Many of the Fine Gaelers you hear on the airwaves talking about the Taoiseach's brave and noble attempt to form a government with Fianna Fail were the first to privately call for his head after the election.' Photo: Arthur Carron

Distrust and suspicion are slithering through Irish politics like venomous snakes poisoning everything they touch.

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Paranoia wafts through the corridors of Leinster House, infecting the minds of those who walk them. Those currently engulfed in the relentless negotiations on forming the next government are most vulnerable.

But it is to be expected. Careers are on the line and reputations will be destroyed or made in the coming weeks.

Last week, we watched Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin treat Taoiseach Enda Kenny with near Stasi-like suspicion when he proposed the pair form a government. The distrust is mutual as far as Fine Gael is concerned.

Independents, meanwhile, fear Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are trying to lump the blame for talks collapsing on their unwillingness to pick a side. It's all very messy.

And the distrust is not just breeding between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, but also within the two parties.

It is especially rampant in Fine Gael, where mutiny is on the minds of many but they are too sickened by the scurvy of the General Election to pull swords from scabbards. This has resulted in near-farcical levels of public support for Kenny from his outwardly loyal scribes.

The message from head office is that "Chairman Mayo has never enjoyed such loyal support in his 14 years at the helm of the Democratic People's Party of Fine Gael".

This is not the case.

Many of the Fine Gaelers you hear on the airwaves talking about the Taoiseach's brave and noble attempt to form a government with Fianna Fail were the first to privately call for his head after the election.

But Kenny dug his heels in and there was none brave enough or organised enough to oust the king.

Let's also not forget the Taoiseach does have a history of seeing off challenges.

Nevertheless, there is a group of around 15 or more TDs - possibly as many as 20 - who want him gone. Some are long-time agitators, others are sick of listening to constituents asking why Kenny is still in charge.

With government talks on a knife-edge, it is seen as unwise to move on him or even publicly criticise him. So, for now, they huddle in corners of the Dail's members' bar and discuss the party's future or reminisce over fallen comrades.

There are two reasons why they contain their dissent - the first is a belief that they do not have the numbers.

"There is a tight majority of TDs who would get rid of him but there is an overwhelming majority of senators who want to keep him," a source said.

The second is, as one seasoned TD put it, the prospect of a "few bob and a job".

Kenny is still odds on to be the next Taoiseach and once he takes the top seat at the Cabinet, he will have the power to hand out ministerial portfolios.

The Fine Gael leader has shown in the past that he favours the 'keep your friends close and enemies closer' method of political appointments. And the possibility of a title will soften the cough of even the most rebellious Dail deputy.

"No one has gone for the jugular because there is a possibility there will be some form of coalition and you will have 15 appointments to be made by the Taoiseach in the party and no one wants to lessen their chances," a FG source said.

Parliamentary party meetings have been sombre affairs since the election, despite an undercurrent of resentment after Fine Gael was butchered by the electorate.

"There has been no post-mortem. It hasn't been dealt with," a source said last week.

Fine Gael councillors have vented, however. At a side meeting during the Local Authority Management Association conference in Sligo two weeks ago, Fine Gael councillors exploded with anger.

During expletive-filled contributions, they called for heads - Fine Gael's general secretary Tom Curran was at the top of their list. As were the many unelected advisers seen as having too much influence over Kenny.

They complained of being ignored by the party hierarchy during and after the election.

There were also threats to quit the party, especially if Fine Gael bowed to Fianna Fail's pressure and abolished water charges.

It was the first opportunity for any Fine Gael politician to express their deep sense of hurt after the failed election campaign.

Unfortunately, there were no senior party figures there to listen to them - which was also a bone of contention.

Not being listened to is also an issue for Kenny's detractors in the Dail.

TDs are furious to see proposals which were rejected by party bosses over the past five year now suddenly appear as policy platforms in proposals aimed at luring Independent TDs.

Then there is the acute fear that Kenny will hold on to power as long as possible and the party could end up being faced with an election with the Mayo man still in charge.

One minister said there was an "awful danger" that Kenny could still be the party's leader ahead of the next election, especially if he is leading a Fine Gael minority government.

"That's the big danger that everyone is reading that and saying how we deal with it," the minister added.

Others believe Fianna Fail will not allow them change leader during a minority arrangement.

Last weekend's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll focused the minds of many of those believing Kenny's exit should be sooner rather than later.

One of the poll's finding showed just 54pc of Fine Gael voters want Kenny as Taoiseach. This compared to 84pc of Fianna Fail voters who want Martin to be Taoiseach. Not even Kenny's own people want him to lead the country.

"He's almost as unpopular as (Brian) Cowen, which is very unfair because at least he ran a stable government," a Fine Gael TD said last week.

For now, Kenny's leadership remains unchallenged and he has suggested he may step down in two years' time.

But he will spend those entire two years looking over his shoulder, waiting for the first move against him.

Sunday Independent

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