Former minister Ivan Yates has described Taoiseach Enda Kenny as a “Bertie-lite”, “old-school” leader who has achieved “way more than his talent would indicate”.
Speaking on the Irish Independent Talks stage at the National Ploughing Championships this morning, Mr Yates told Political Editor Kevin Doyle that the fun and games are about to start in Irish politics as the political playing field heats up towards a General Election.
In typical tongue-in-cheek style, Mr Yates said: “He is very much of the old style of politics. He wakes up every morning and the first thing he thinks of is ‘what’s the score in Castlebar?’ He thinks like that... he is very much like that, old school.”
“Enda Kenny has achieved way more than his talent would indicate and he deserves some credit for that. He’s to some extent Bertie-lite, he has a lot of Bertie’s people skills. He has enormous strength.”
Mr Yates credited the Taoiseach's success as a political leader with his wife Fionnuala.
“If I was to say what changed Enda Kenny, I would attribute it to his wife. He was happy-go-lucky, gregarious, social and not too pushy... but you must remember that Fionnuala his wife was the PR for Charlie Haughey, and she brought an edge and a discipline to him that transformed him literally,” he said.
“And I think she is very much the power behind Enda Kenny and I think that she very much wants him to be re-elected as Taoiseach because no Fine Gael leader has ever been re-elected as Taoiseach so that is a big issue for him.”
Mr Yates said the Taoiseach’s youthful looks are an asset, but he also earned praise form the fact that he “held his nerve” in the recession.
“He looks the same as he did 20 years ago. He still has his hair, he hasn’t gone grey.”
“He tends to get caught out sometimes in an impromptu situation when maybe he hasn’t read the brief. During the worst period of the austerity and depression, he very much held his nerve.”
“He has chaired Cabinet meetings in a very business-like manner, and he has maintained a Coalition... He hasn’t had the kind of fractious interpersonal relations that other Taoiseachs have had, like Albert Reynolds with Dick Spring.”
Mr Yates said when it comes to a change of leadership in Fine Gael, it’ll be a three-horse race.
“I think this is where the fun and games applies. I think such will be the angst among diehard members of both parties and such is the historical cathartic change that is coming about that it actually might result in a change of leader in either or both parties [Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil].”
“It’s a three-horse race between Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and France Fitzgerald. I think that if it was held after the general election some people may take the view that they want someone more mature, the caretaker leader to deal with the situation and that might favour Francis.”
“I think Enda Kenny would probably prefer if it was Francis.”
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