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Enda has one chance to take on Sinn Fein


Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny

There is a whole generation out there that feels betrayed. Young men and women in their late twenties, their thirties and even into their forties who see themselves not only as the ones who have had to sacrifice, but who have been sacrificed.

The water charges - the nominal cause of our present anger - weren't the worst thing done to us in the name of austerity. The USC is more savage. The property tax more inescapable - it's with you to the grave; it's with you long after your earning power has diminished; and it takes no account of your income.

But the water charges were the signal to the generation who are badly paid or unemployed, either living at home with their parents, unable to get on the property ladder or even afford rising rents, or else struggling in negative equity, to react.

The Government responded by practically abolishing water charges, but left enough to keep the anger going. This incompetent body can still be privatised, despite all the assurances, and whether it is or isn't, no one doubts the generous rates on offer at present will not last.

But even if they had done away with water charges, the anger would not have gone away. That anger in the hearts of those facing unemployment, poverty or emigration, and in the hearts of their parents, was stoked up by the political opportunists of Sinn Fein and other leftists, who will settle for nothing less than a change, not just of Government, but of the whole political system. They call it the new politics. That political struggle has been personalised to the point where there is just one target - Enda Kenny.

He can hardly complain.

He did nothing while Phil Hogan was hatching the water charges plot. He left it to Joan Burton and Alan Kelly to sort out the mess Hogan left behind, and allowed the political climate to decline to the point where anything is possible - including Sinn Fein and Independents taking power after the next election.

The sacrificed generation has little memory of the 30 years of mayhem and murder inflicted on this island by the Provisional IRA. When they look at Gerry Adams they do not see a monster with blood on his hands. They see a bearded gent who keeps accusing the Government of being "unfair." When they look at Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty and all the other Sinn Fein young guns, they see only articulate speakers, who are embedded in every local organisation, and appear to lace it into the Government in the Dail.

They don't see the hypocrites who refuse to acknowledge their party's murky, murderous recent past, or show an ounce of human decency towards Mairia Cahill who was raped and then, to protect "the cause," abused with kangaroo courts and a cover-up.

When Gerry Adams was recently incarcerated by the PSNI for questioning for a few days about the disappearance of Jean McConville, his adoring acolytes ran around in a blind panic until he was released. This probably explains why he is still their leader.

It is extraordinary the rise of Sinn Fein has happened without any credible challenge from the main political parties. Fianna Fail are the biggest member of the loyal opposition - and that loyalty being to the State, they are probably the only one, since Sinn Fein's ambition is to abolish this republic.

But Fianna Fail has stood back too often. Micheal Martin has tried his damnedest, but too often his front bench resemble a bunch of contenders keeping their powder dry for the day when Micheal falls on his sword. But a contrite and rejuvenated Fianna Fail must be a vital part of averting a growing and very unpalatable political vista.

Since Joan Burton took over Labour, and the departure of Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte, the Government junior partner has been doing better, even if it's not reflected in the polls. But they are only one wheel on the wagon, which can often put them on the defensive and makes them vulnerable to the rhetoric of Sinn Fein, who would only be too happy to see Labour go the way of the SDLP.

And Fine Gael spent so much time focusing on Fianna Fail they failed to notice Sinn Fein coming up on the outside. When Enda finally realised that the real challenge was coming from Sinn Fein, he had some notable successes. over the "Disappeared," Jean McConville, Mairia Cahill and Gerry Adams's continued denial of his IRA membership

But despite the fact that Sinn Fein responded with little more than bluster and diversionary stunts in the Dail, the polls show that while a knock-out blow should have been landed, hardly a glove has been laid on them.

It is incredible that a party so mired in such horrors, can seem to get a free pass from a sizeable proportion of the electorate.

These are extraordinary times. But will they last or are the disenchanted public indulging in a dalliance that will dissipate before the next election? Enda Kenny, Micheal Martin and Joan Burton, cannot take a chance on that.

Set piece debates about the North will not be enough. Nor will irrelevant (and frankly disrespectful to the victims) references to the "Disappeared" or Jean McConville, when dealing with matters as disparate as the economy, health, or social welfare, won't wash anymore. They have to take on Sinn Fein on the issues - each and every one of them, and expose the real policy weakness at the heart of this fanatical but ultimately pointless movement, which promises that everyone can have everything they ask for, but cannot give a clue as to how it would all be paid for except with some vague reference to making "the rich" pay.

Adams and Co make such a virtue of living on the average industrial income that if you are earning a euro above that, you should be fearful. You probably didn't know it, but you are now "the rich."

And as for our international reputation - and creditworthiness - the Sinn Fein policy seems to amount to little more than telling them all to f*** off!

Right now, Michael Noonan could be spelling out clearly the story of our reduced deficit, our improved credibility internationally, and reminding us that we still owe billions and shouldn't get carried away beyond the gradual improvement that is underway. Instead, he is threatening us with the permanent presence of the USC, and muttering about reviewing property tax… sometime, maybe. Richard Bruton has worked hard to create the conditions for 35,000 new jobs, but as the man who took on Enda, he can't get the credit for that, so it doesn't get through. Instead, the key message is about how appallingly this Government has treated the people while indulging in unashamed and ham-fisted cronyism and the kind of maladministration that bedevilled the Department of Justice and the Garda. The key now to gaining the kind of authority their achievements merit, is to first off, 'fess up to past mistakes. Take the U-turn on the water charges and write it large across the whole spectrum of Government. Admit that the austerity programme, although somewhat forced on us, was the worst possible model and harsher than it need have been.

And if they want to deprive Gerry Adams of the opportunity to allege almost on a daily basis that one government policy or another is "unfair" - there is a simple answer. Stop doing things that are clearly unfair and apply serious brain power to reversing past unfair decisions in taxation, in social welfare, in health, in housing, in disability, in education

Today Sinn Fein does not see it as impossible that it will be in government by 2016. They already have the Dublin Lord Mayor's position sewn up for the 1916 anniversary. Gerry Adams is determined to be at the GPO too taking the salute from Irish soldiers and gardai whose murder would not have fazed him too much not so long ago. A United Ireland will become the dominant issue and water charges, property tax and the USC will slip quickly down the agenda. Not that you'll be allowed notice, since by the then Mr Adams will have the power to "curb" those sections of the media who do not lionise him, while he simultaneously absolves SF of its entire criminal history.

Shane Ross, who rarely criticises his prospective government partners in Sinn Fein, has promised that he will unite the Independents to put an end to civil war politics. If Sinn Fein ever gets into power they will create a new kind of civil war politics of their own - the kind they have inflicted on the unfortunate people of Northern Ireland - that will make the Irish political landscape sterile for another couple of generations, as "The Peace Process" meanders on. It's been going for 20 years now and will probably continue as long as Sinn Fein thinks it is beneficial to the party. But they never tell us when we can expect to see "The Peace."

Countermanding all this and regaining the trust of the sacrificed generation and the elderly feeling vulnerable is a big challenge for Fine Gael, for Fianna Fail and for Labour. If there is a new party formed, it will have a role too. But right now Enda Kenny is the elected leader of this country, and there is a growing feeling he may not be up to it. That may be unfair to him. He could surprise us all. But he has to ask himself some hard questions. And if he is found wanting, there may be only one last service Enda Kenny can render the Irish people. He might have to accept he has reached the point where it is actually his patriotic duty to forget the temptation to go for an early election and instead, stand down as Taoiseach and allow in someone more fitting for this historic challenge.

Sunday Independent