Friday 15 December 2017

As the election nears, which Enda Kenny will we see?

Fine Gael's man of many faces is busy preparing for his final electoral challenge

Glass half full or half empty? Enda Kenny found last year that water can be bad for your political health
Glass half full or half empty? Enda Kenny found last year that water can be bad for your political health
John Drennan

John Drennan

No one, least of all Enda, can deny he has had the strangest old time of it since becoming Taoiseach.

As the Taoiseach returned to his hometown of Castlebar to kick off the election campaign, perhaps the most curious feature of the life of Enda, the Taoiseach with the biggest majority in the history of the State, is that his future is still so equivocal.

You might think that is bad, but in the odd world of Enda, it is actually good, for prior to Christmas, they were buying the embalming oils.

Though he has started a flickering recovery, everything is still terribly uncertain. Enda could go down in history as the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be re-elected to power. Or he might be sent down in flames as some kind of reverse phoenix who, having regenerated Fine Gael, reduced the rebuilding of his party to a whisper of smouldering ashes.

The uncertain state of Enda is all the more curious, given the scale of the journey Ireland has made under his stewardship.

When Mr Kenny came to power, the Irish middle classes were still contemplating a future of fighting with feral children to secure the right to check dustbins for food. But now that we have at least reached a point of thin respectability, the mood has comprehensively turned against our rescuers.

One measure of the change is that the only reason our Messiah from the West wasn't greeted by bonfires on his accession to power in 2011 was that Mr Kenny himself had to put a stop to it. On that special evening, the Taoiseach addressed 2,000 followers at a homecoming event.

The warmth and excitement was epitomised by the Dear Leader's long-term rival Jim Higgins, who proclaimed that Enda was a 'real messiah' for both Fine Gael and Ireland.

It has all changed a bit since then. Mind you, so too has Enda - and not for the first time either.

Initially, in opposition, Enda started out as the broth of a golden-haired boy, whose defining lightness of being was epitomised by one famous press conference where he issued the famous instruction of 'photographs, no questions please'.

It inspired some in Fine Gael, much to the unhappiness of the Dear Leader, to immediately typecast Enda as a form of Bertie Lite.

Ironically, what pulled Enda through was the invention of a new warrior-king version of Enda during that bit of internal party bother in 2010.

Then, in 2011, Mr Kenny changed again. Initially, he appeared in the guise of a philosopher king who could see deeply into the malaise of Irish governance and realise that what Paddy wanted more than anything else, after the long passages of 'Celtic night' under Fianna Fail, was psychological healing.

Thankfully, that did not last too long before Enda, or somebody else, re-invented Enda as a Ronald Reagan-style persona of folksy sayings about Paddy and how he liked to know the story. This version of Enda worked fairly well, particularly when it was also interspersed with elements of an iconoclastic reformer courtesy of Cloyne.

For a time, we even had Enda the international statesman, who rebuilt our reputation via a series of high-profile diplomatic successes.

This was the high tide of Enda - and like all high tides, it did not last.

The problem was that self- confidence has a similar bad effect on Enda as strong drink had on Paddy in the 19th Century.

Suddenly, a visibly more cantankerous Enda began to emerge via a truly miserable response to the Magdalene women and Norman-Tebbit-style snarls about the virtues of protesters getting themselves a job rather than a placard.

The age of King Enda did not, alas, trade too well for, when it comes to 'great dictators', Enda bears a far closer resemblance to the Charlie Chaplin than the Mr Putin variant.

John Drennan's Guide to Politics - Spring 2015

The next election will change your life. In a special supplement with the Sunday Independent, John Drennan presents his guide to Irish politics.

This was certainly the case when it came to the great list of catastrophes of 2014 that ended with Crony-gate.

Such was the extent of the wounds that by the close of the year, all of Enda's closest allies from the Fine Gael 2010 battle of the Alamo - Big Phil, Little Al and Doc Reilly - had disappeared or been reduced to political rubble.

Suddenly, Enda resembled the king who had lost a court.

Ironically, like so many other aspects of Mr Kenny's career, it evolved into a bit of an accidental benefit to Enda.

The bare-chested, Putin, man-of-steel thing never really suited - for Enda is more of a Father Ted type who, in spite of his foibles, survives more by accident than intent.

The space provided by the departure of the ministerial bad boys and the Christmas break appears to have facilitated the return of nice Enda, to such an extent, our hero was wandering around Panti Bar with James Reilly and Jerry Buttimer in tow.

Being Taoiseach certainly takes you to some strange places all right, and it is doubtful old Enda thought he would ever end up in that place.

In some regards, the strangest place of all is his current status as the recovering favourite for the Taoiseach's office.

We still suspect that Enda 'the comeback kid' is more of a man of hidden shallows than unplumbed depths.

Mr Kenny, though, must be doing something right.

Our problem, not that Enda will be worrying too much about that, is that we're damned if we know what it might be.

Mind you, they said very similar things about Ronald Reagan too... prior to his re-election.


NAME: Enda Kenny

AGE: 63

POSITION: Taoiseach

IN THE NEWS BECAUSE: Mr Kenny's party conference in Castlebar is the opening step in the Fine Gael election campaign.

Sunday Independent

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