Wednesday 28 September 2016

We need to have a little talk about Enda and why it's just not working

The game is beginning to get away from the Taoiseach and critics in his own party are on the rise

Published 09/08/2015 | 02:30

NOT LOVED BY ALL: Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s personal popularity took a nosedive in a recent poll, dropping seven points to 25pc Photo by David Conachy
NOT LOVED BY ALL: Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s personal popularity took a nosedive in a recent poll, dropping seven points to 25pc Photo by David Conachy

We need to talk about Enda. How can the leader of a government in the fastest growing economy in Europe become less popular?

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How can the leader whose Government got rid of the Troika not be sky high in the polls?

How can the leader who has seen more than 100,000 full-time jobs created on his watch not be guaranteed re-election?

The leader who has just introduced free GP care for the under-sixes and over-70s and whose tax revenues are way ahead of target?

The leader who has overseen the lowest jobless figures in seven years?

Just how then is Enda Kenny the least popular leader in the country and why are his numbers in freefall? He shouldn't be but he is.

Last weekend, this newspaper published its latest MillwardBrown national opinion poll.

It showed that Fine Gael had dropped five points and were now neck-and-neck with both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail.

That poll has caused great concern with the lead party in Government and has many in it realising that returning to power is no sure thing.

But, as seismic a drop as it was for the party, Mr Kenny's personal popularity took a nosedive too, dropping seven points to 25pc.

A massive 66pc of people said they were dissatisfied with his leadership, the highest of any of the party leaders.

So given all the good news in the ether, why then is Mr Kenny so disliked?

More recent polls had shown that Fine Gael was beginning to pull away from the other parties, opening up a gap from its rivals.

However, our latest poll clearly shows that that momentum has been thrown away.

Fine Gael, according to our polls, is now at its lowest standing since last December.

The damning Eurostat judgement in relation to Irish Water, in particular, has taken the wind out of FG's sails.

The judgement, which concluded that any borrowings made by Irish Water must remain on the country's balance sheet, completely shattered the Government's argument for establishing the super quango in the first place.

It was also highly critical of the Government's plan to give everyone €100 to offset the cost of water charges, even if they were not Irish Water customers.

The persistent protestations from Fine Gael ministers, in particular, that this ruling is not a setback only compounded the public's ire.

The significance of Mr Kenny's personal poll drop shows that the Irish people blame him for the debacle, as he is the head of Government.

Voters realise that Irish Water is this Government's baby, its mistake, its cock-up and are taking their anger out on Mr Kenny.

His own performance on Irish Water has been less than optimal in recent weeks.

In short, he went missing and didn't front up and accept the responsibility that the public clearly want and deserve from its leader.

Leadership is not only about the good times, the high-five buffoonery that Kenny is so adept at.

It is also about accepting the responsibility when things go wrong.

Very clear deficiencies in Kenny's character came to the fore in recent weeks. "When it was left to Paudie Coffey to go out on TV to defend the line because no one else will, it says it all," says one Fine Gael minister.

We have been here before with Mr Kenny and his limitations as a leader. We all remember well the botched 2010 heave which was brought about by a widely held belief that Kenny was not up to the job of being leader and was unelectable as a Taoiseach.

Kenny won the day and has proven to be a successful Taoiseach in some ways, as reflected by the points above.

But those lingering doubts as to his limitations persist and the simple truth is that very few people love Mr Kenny.

They don't love him the way former Taoisigh in the past have been adored and revered.

They don't even fear him.

To the increasing numbers in Fine Gael like John Deasy, Eoghan Murphy and other first-time TDs, Kenny is seen as a man of straw who requires considerable propping up by intellectually superior people around him.

Even Lucinda Creighton, before she left Fine Gael, made no secret of her loathing for the cult of Enda.

They have no time for the brigade of Enda lackies who they see as trying to outdo themselves by blowing smoke up the leader's backside.

"Enda loves to be loved and that is his biggest weakness," one of his disloyal TDs said this weekend.

Many others in Fine Gael including Leo Varadkar - realising there is no scope at present to depose him - tolerate him. But they don't love him.

While he was, for a while on becoming Taoiseach, a welcome change to what went before in terms of his energy, Kenny's clear intellectual shortcomings and his tribal ruthlessness in how he runs his party are now wearing thin.

His critics among his own ranks are increasing and he is accused of being overly sensitive and in need of praise and propping up.

Into this space stepped his loyal chief whip Paul Kehoe last Wednesday morning.

In an interview with Shaun Connolly in the Irish Examiner, Kehoe went off the reservation and proclaimed that Kenny is planning to serve a full term as Taoiseach if re-elected and go on to fight another election.

Mr Kehoe is an unashamed member of the Kenny Ultras. He sided with Kenny in the heave attempt and has been by his master's side since then.

To the collective annoyance of every Fine Gael TD who is seeking re-election, Kehoe extolled the virtues of his 'Dear Leader' in overly gushing tones.

Kehoe said he had no doubt Mr Kenny would continue his leadership as "a very long-term Taoiseach", adding that he expected a vote transfer pact between Fine Gael and Labour at the next general election.

The chief whip described the Taoiseach as a man with an "abundance of energy and an appetite for leading this country" who he hoped would continue as Taoiseach "well after the next general election".

"I have no doubt that you'll see Enda Kenny being a very long-term Taoiseach because he's doing an extremely good job for this country and giving people opportunities that no other taoiseach would have given them over the last number of years," Mr Kehoe said in a cringe-fest on RTE Radio 1.

Asked whether Fine Gael should consider replacing the Taoiseach with Leo Varadkar given Mr Kenny's fall in popularity in recent polls, Mr Kehoe said he did not believe in polls.

Mr Kehoe's outburst has led some to recall rather cutting remarks made by Mr Deasy last year at the time of the John McNulty cronyism affair.

Mr Deasy criticised the credentials for appointment to some very senior positions.

"It's down to being a supporter of the Taoiseach or not," he said at the time.

That was seen to be a criticism of Heather Humphreys and Paschal Donohoe who is regarded by some as a "teacher's pet".

Both Ms Humphreys and Mr Donohoe were promoted to Cabinet a year ago as part of the reshuffle.

The condemnation of Mr Kehoe's fawning expressions of love for 'Dear Leader' from within Fine Gael has been near universal, with ministers like Simon Coveney saying Mr Kenny himself was not best pleased.

One definite thing that has emerged from Mr Kehoe's comments is that we are now in the arena of discussing Mr Kenny's legacy. By mistake, Mr Kehoe has started the clock on the Taoiseach's departure which is believed to be in 2018, if he is re-elected.

Those who defend him say that while he may not be loved in office, history will be kind to him.The public look to be making up its mind on Kenny and it isn't good.

While it has looked like a sure thing since 2011 that Kenny would be re-elected Taoiseach, that is no longer the case, and Mr Kenny only has himself to blame.

Sunday Independent

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