Thursday 22 February 2018

This time there is no honeymoon as Kenny begins his new term at war

Enda Kenny is congratulated by a supporter after his election as Taoiseach on May 6. Photo: PA Wire
Enda Kenny is congratulated by a supporter after his election as Taoiseach on May 6. Photo: PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

For once, both politicians and the general public are pretty much on the same wavelength. More than half the nation believe the incoming Fine Gael-led minority Government cannot run the country. Almost half the nation believe it cannot last a full year.

The findings of the RedC poll for bookmakers Paddy Power, which dropped yesterday, accord closely with the view of politicians across all parties and none at Leinster House.

Ask even a true, believing Kenny loyalist how long this Government can last and how it will work, and you get admissions which are a mixture of "I hope - but I don't really know".

In many ways, it is hard to believe that Enda Kenny's second coming to Government Buildings only began a bare week ago. This time there is no so-called 'honeymoon' or grace period - this Government begins its indeterminate term at war.

This unique hybrid administration begins work with so many inbuilt disadvantages that they have been utterly impossible to disguise.

We have seen super-junior minister for disabilities, Finian McGrath, ponder the will-he-won't-he pay his water charges dilemma.

To buy time he sought a legal answer, from the Attorney General, to an essentially political question. The Taoiseach and all his Fine Gael colleagues could only offer one word to Finian McGrath: "Pay!"

The Dublin Bay North maverick TD is learning that in Government there is a permanent risk of being done on the swings and then done on the roundabouts of politics. He can justify his decision to pay by saying his priority was improving the lot of the disabled.

But you can already hear the cries of "sell-out in just five days" from, not just Mr McGrath's opponents on his left flank, but also from his less politically attuned supporters. And we may well have a bigger repeat of that one next week if Waterford Independent and determined water charge refusenik, John Halligan, is, as expected, given a junior ministry.

Just hours after 'A Programme for a Partnership' was published on the internet, we had our first "misunderstanding".

Communications Minister Denis Naughten had wanted better counting of child absence from school, and the clause also alluded to a link with family allowance payments. Family welfare organisations sounded the alarm. The Government came swiftly back and insisted that it was about cutting fraud and promoting child welfare. There would be no making things worse for dysfunctional families by cutting child payments.

Everybody calmed down. But the overhanging question lingered: how many more of these bombs are in the new Government arrangements? And we also saw Fianna Fáil's first red flag on facilitating the Government raised via the party's redoubtable welfare spokesman, Willie O'Dea. At the same time, former Justice Minister Alan Shatter showed that he may be hard to shift from the political stage. Mr Shatter argues he was obliged to quit in May 2014 due to the findings of the preliminary investigation by senior counsel, Seán Guerin.

The former Fine Gael TD insists that Guerin is now utterly trumped by the O'Higgins report, which was finally published on Wednesday, and exonerated him. This, and intensifying challenges to Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, show this issue will not go quietly, more so now Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin waded in.

There are already noises within the Fine Gael parliamentary party about ministerial appointments. On Tuesday we will learn the names of the main crop of junior ministerial appointments. Eight days ago, the Taoiseach named three with Paul Kehoe at defence, Regina Doherty at chief whip and Independent Finian McGrath.

Two more Independent appointments are expected, leaving 10 for Fine Gael. Received wisdom is that Eoghan Murphy and Seán Coyne are already set fair, and the gender demands may help propel Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Helen McEntee home.

There is a large field of others with good claim, including: Martin Heydon, John Paul Phelan, John Deasy, Pat Breen, Jim Daly, David Stanton, Patrick O'Donovan, Pat Deering and Andrew Doyle.

But that is nothing compared with choosing the 'Taoiseach's XI' Senators expected the following week. There are 100 postulants for 11 seats. Tomorrow, Enda Kenny enters the lion's den at a members' conference in Athlone to explain how the election went so badly. He may well get savaged.

Irish Independent

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