Wednesday 20 February 2019

Enda's Fianna Fail streak could make him great

The Taoiseach's razor-sharp instinct and brilliance at pure politics lifts him above the mundanity of Fine Gael, writes Jody Corcoran

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

WHEN the noise from the Mardi Gras that is the local and European elections eventually subsides, we will finally get down to the only questions that matter – who will be the next Taoiseach, and who will form the next Government?

At Paddy Power, for those who care to know – about 60 per cent of voters – they are giving evens on a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail coalition Government, which is what the flipside of the opinion polls is also saying.

The local and European elections are relevant only insofar as they will reveal an insight into the membership of the next Seanad Eireann, the existence of which will turn out to be one of two thorns in the side of Enda Kenny, after he wins an historic second successive term for Fine Gael.

That will make him, arguably, the greatest ever leader of Fine Gael, and would also, like it or not, mark him out as one of the greatest ever taoisigh, which is no mean feat for a man many of us had written off some time ago, and some still like to ridicule, in their innocence.

For those who cannot help but admire the beauty of pure politics at work, you have to admit that Enda Kenny is one of the great practitioners, greater even than Charlie Haughey in the absolute form of the art, but maybe not yet as good as Bertie in his heyday.

There are those who credit the Fianna Fail streak in Enda Kenny, for that is what it is – which raises him above all other leaders of Fine Gael – to his wife, Haughey's former spin doctor. But integral though Fionnuala Kenny may be, the brilliance of Enda Kenny at pure politics is instinctive.

He will have shown himself to be better than Liam Cosgrave and John A Costello, whom, we discovered last week, were so charmed by the "youthful vivacity" of Miss Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, when she first breathlessly swept into Dublin all those years ago.

Among other things, her correspondence revealed the ease with which the future Mrs John F Kennedy – or Jackie O, after the Greek, if you prefer – moved into south Dublin society back in the Fifties, before the Sixties came along and ushered in the era of the mohair suit.

So much so, indeed, that Miss Bouvier was deemed suitable to be the future wife of Mr Justice Declan "sounds like absolute heaven" Costello, Attorney General, with whom she was some years later so "enchanted".

As well she might. The late Mr Justice Costello developed Fine Gael's 'Just Society' policy in the Sixties and was described at his funeral three years ago as "a great Christian" who was "moulded by the insights of the Second Vatican Council" who "offered us a new way of living".

The 'Just Society' document was the basic tenet of Garret FitzGerald's leadership of Fine Gael and of the country, but Garret 'the Good' wasn't a successive two-term Taoiseach – unlike Enda Kenny, who will be after the next General Election.

That he does not come from south Dublin society, or the cattle-fattening plains of Co Meath, has also helped to distill the purity of his style; although of course, he has also had a comfortable upbringing – the school teacher son of a minister of State, and a great footballer to boot in a county which has not had the nerve to win an All-Ireland since.

If Paddy Power is right, then Micheal Martin will, for the first time, take Fianna Fail into Government with Fine Gael, wherein Fianna Fail might finally hope to gain some respite from the noise and try to rinse the remnants of the stain it has left upon the country.

Enda Kenny is so approaching the height of his powers that he can, shall we say, cause a Minister for Justice and Garda Commissioner to resign and scarcely leave his fingerprints on the scene, and then, to top it all, turn a debacle into the promise of root-and-branch reform: in pure political terms, that took some doing.

Micheal Martin may be shown as not able to sort out a hen fight in Blackrock, but among all of the politicians in Dail Eireann, he has been the only one to get Kenny up on his toes and, for a split second, look vulnerable, though he remains centre ring and far from on the ropes.

In the end, it should be noted, Enda Kenny chose to give the head of Alan Shatter to Micheal Martin and not to Mick Wallace – no finer an admission that Kenny has to respect the judgement, and balls, of the Fianna Fail leader who waved a file of papers in his face.

When they come to assess the leadership of Fianna Fail after the Mardi Gras, Fianna Fail would do well to remember that Micheal Martin is its only hope and that a sanctuary to rebuild will be found in Government with Fine Gael.

You can expect the boxer from south central Cork to blood his knuckles just as Enda Kenny did back when south Dublin society believed he was a liability.

Not only did Kenny see off the Law Library, and the cattle ranchers, but he went on to expose the limits of their ambition. As a result, he may indeed be a three-term Taoiseach, at which point he will rival Bertie for pure political cunning, and perhaps even better him.

All of this will come to pass much sooner than expected, if Labour removes Eamon Gilmore as leader – which, truth be told, it might as well do, if it wants, for the spectacle, but which will make

little difference to the outcome of the next General Election either way.

The expectation in the heart of Government – this is a fact – is that should Joan Burton take over as leader of Labour, it is more likely than not that a General Election will take place before the end of the year or early next year; that is, in six to nine months.

Arising from that, according to the logic of the bookmakers, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will stand shoulder to shoulder when Prince Charles and Camilla come to commemorate 1916, an outcome some say would be more fitting, certainly more complete, than was the attendance at the State Banquet in Windsor Castle, to which Bertie was not invited.

Whatever Labour decides to do – relevant only to the timing of the next election – the Opposition after that election will be dominated by Sinn Fein and consist of a ramshackle Labour, a still disorganised Marxist left, a few others wasting time but who sound good, and, of course, a new party which will be led by Lucinda, in her youthful vivacity, a great Christian, a child of the Second Vatican Council.

When Enda announced the Government's new housing policy last week, it was Lucinda who pointed out what she perceived to be his weakness, but is, in fact, his strength – the pure political verve to roll the dice on the hopes and aspirations of Middle Ireland.

"It is no coincidence," Lucinda said, "that this policy proposal is coming just two months after the Taoiseach attended an exclusive dinner in Stephen's Green Hibernian Club with Bank of Ireland CEO Richie Boucher, and AIB CEO David Duffy, as well as several of Nama's biggest developer clients and US hedge funds."

In a reference to Kenny's Fianna Fail streak – that is, his razor-sharp instinct which lifts him above the mundanity of Fine Gael – Lucinda added: "The Galway tent may have disappeared, but it appears depressingly that the relationship between property and power in Ireland has not."

The Reform Alliance, for want of a more permanent name, will be that second thorn in Enda's side, a party alongside which, one imagines, the likes of the more sassy Jackie O would fit right in.

Sunday Independent

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