Friday 24 January 2020

Whatever Taoiseach does next, it will be with one eye on his legacy

Forget water charges, this is all about Enda Kenny now.
Forget water charges, this is all about Enda Kenny now.
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Forget water charges, this is all about Enda Kenny now. Over the past five years, the Fine Gael foot soldiers sacrificed their reputations, their good sense and thousands of votes while defending Irish Water.

At the 2014 local elections, 105 of them surrendered their council seats - but the captain stood firm, arguing they were fighting the long game and would win through in the end. Now it appears he is willing to throw in the towel - and sacrifice 'middle Ireland' yet again - in order to save himself.

The two scenarios facing Fine Gael are very clear.

Option one sees Kenny stand by the spirit of a motion his parliamentary party passed just a fortnight ago committing itself to Irish Water. It requires the party leader to stick to his principles and insist that water charges are here to stay. The fallout from this is potentially another election and Kenny's retirement from politics.

The second option is that he gives in to Fianna Fáil's demand that charges are suspended for up to five years and form a minority government with Independents.

This would result in Kenny becoming the first Fine Gael leader to be re-elected as Taoiseach.

On paper it would be a fine legacy for any politician.

While it will be a short-lived second term, when the history books are written they are likely to focus more on the fact that it happened than how it happened.

And that's why this is all about Enda Kenny now.

His backbenchers are up in arms at the idea that he might capitulate to Micheál Martin in order to retain power - but they know he can't be removed in the current climate.

Fianna Fáil realises that if a second election is the outcome of these talks there won't be time for an orderly handover of power in Fine Gael, giving FF the upper hand.

Back in 2012, Mr Kenny was asked by 'Time' magazine why there had been no large-scale demonstrations in Ireland against cutbacks as there had been in other European countries.

"People understand that you have to do difficult things to sort out our own public finances," he said at the time.

'Time's Europe editor, Catherine Mayer, whose story ran under the headline 'The Celtic Comeback', was rather taken by Mr Kenny, saying she wanted to try to see what was behind his "likeability".

She described him as "fluent and compelling" but asked what motivated him in his political career.

"I've no interest in looking for credit or thanks. Providing a prosperous future for all our people, that's what drives me," he said. But in truth, Kenny did want credit for getting the country out of the bailout and on the road to recovery. His prize was supposed to be re-election by a grateful nation.

But five years of power have badly affected Kenny's 'likeability' and his own ministers, TDs and grassroots blame him for a disastrous election campaign.

There are no easy choices but whatever Kenny does next is likely to have as much to do with his legacy as it does Irish Water.

Irish Independent

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