Saturday 24 March 2018

Analysis: The worst heave ever as silence prevails in 'gutless carry-on'

Alan Farrell TD Picture: Tom Burke
Alan Farrell TD Picture: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

It's a harsh judgment - but one that is hard to avoid: this week's Fine Gael carry-on looked rather gutless. To paraphrase the late Limerick Labour giant Jim Kemmy, the Fine Gael rebels were "Mighty Mouse" on the radio airwaves - and "Minnie Mouse" in the party meeting room when they came face-to-face with the leader Enda Kenny.

Try this one from Alan Farrell, Fine Gael TD for Dublin Fingal since 2011.

"Unfortunately, I no longer have confidence in the ability of Enda Kenny TD to lead Fine Gael and I believe his position is now untenable," he said last Friday.

Then there was Dáil newcomer from Dublin North-West Noel Rock, who had spoken a few days earlier following an opinion poll that put Fianna Fáil streets ahead. He said the leadership question was part of Fine Gael's struggles.

"There is a bit of a vacuum whenever people are asked in a poll who they will be voting for," he said.

"The timing of An Taoiseach Enda Kenny's departure as leader of the party is a matter for himself, but he does need to clearly set out that timeline," Mr Rock added.

And then there was the case of Pat Deering, TD for Carlow-Kilkenny since 2011. He had withdrawn his threat to table a no-confidence motion in Mr Kenny in advance of Wednesday's meeting - but the threat had been clear and explicit: Mr Kenny had to say how and when he was leaving.

In essence, all the Taoiseach had told his TDs, senators and MEPs was that he would tell them of his intentions in one month's time. There was an assumption of an alliterative "Enda Easter exit".

But assumptions about Enda Kenny have so far proved rather off target. What if he is thinking about a much longer withdrawal period?

On Wednesday's showing there would not be a whole pile they could do.

The rebels said absolutely nothing - they sat in complete silence. We have had many botched heaves in Irish politics, across all the parties.

Many of them have been characterised by calamities rather than clinical execution. But this one broke new ground.

It was very probably the worst heave never to occur in Irish politics.

As the high winds abated yesterday evening, and the Fine Gael TDs and senators sloped back to their constituencies, we asked diffidently how there could be any less harsh judgment of their behaviour.

The responses showed just how hobbled they all were by Enda Kenny. To attack the man head-on would be to implicitly criticise his legacy - and by extension their own work. That would amount to an own-goal of considerable proportions at a time when, any way you look at things, an election cannot be far away.

"To publicly shaft him at this point would amount to shafting ourselves. It would be a big gift to the other parties," one TD said.

The two would-be successors, Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, remain seriously constrained, running a campaign that they cannot really publicly own up to. In a sense both are damaged by this week's events.

Of the pair, Leo Varadkar is the more impaired as residual "Kennyites" have been given grounds to do him down for his more strident conduct, and more especially the actions of his known supporters. Yet the received wisdom is that it is still "Varadkar's to lose".

But the longer time frame may help Simon Coveney make up some ground. It may yet be a close contest.

Before all that, there is the little matter of Enda's exit.

Irish Independent

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