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Maybe we're creating a virtue out of necessity but Kenny might just make it as Taoiseach

It's not easy asking someone about their perceived lack of intellect and how people worry they don't have the smarts for the job of Taoiseach, but Enda Kenny doesn't appear to take umbrage.

During an on-the-canvass chat this week, the Mayoman makes the valid point that having someone with a remarkable intellect in charge of Ireland didn't do much for our fortunes in recent years. "I've seen it all come and go since Liam Cosgrave. I saw Brian Cowen come in and heard all the talk about a 'towering intellect' and then I saw him implode."

Anyway, he says, the way things are at the moment, the job of Taoiseach would be "beyond the capacity of one person" and his skills lie, he says, in putting a team together, giving people specific areas of responsibility and letting them get on with it.

"If the office of Taoiseach ever comes my way I will be the enforcer of government policy . . . I'm not one for jumping in front of every microphone. It's all about collective responsibility. Why would people bother with their responsibilities if you don't let them at it?"

He appears to be talking, I reply, as if he has no ego and doesn't feel the need to be top dog, or even to be seen as such. It's difficult to believe this of most people, let alone a politician. But Enda insists this is how he is. "The real thing about the job, if it was to come my way, is not to look for any credit . . . I don't want any glory." He just wants to change the direction of the country for the better "to see the joy in people's faces when they have a job".

Hmm. Listening to him say it he sounded hammy, but also somehow sincere. Who knows? The funny thing is that since the whistle was blown on this election campaign I've found myself a little bit more reconciled to the notion of him as Taoiseach.

Maybe it's because we have to make a virtue out of necessity that I'm beginning to think it just might work. Meeting him in person, you are reminded that he is a pleasant man to deal with, courteous and approachable. But I'm also reminded how hard it is to get to the bottom of Enda, to know what he really thinks. He promised a while ago to be more himself, but never really pulled it off.

I still think he's a bit of a wally, although a likeable one. I remain worried about that intellectual curiosity, which is not what it might be in someone about to take over an economy in such a state.

It's like he's been so long operating a "political persona" that the real him is lost. There is that slight social discomfort, especially with women, although he does like to hug them a lot. In other circumstances and with someone else, you might worry about how this would go down but he's wonderfully inoffensive.

At one point, two adoring Fine Gael women stand in beside him for a photograph and I see him ruffling their hair as if they were two spaniels. They seemed thrilled to bits.

In a coffee shop that evening he is genuinely keen that everyone has something to eat and drink, but his way of expressing this makes you wonder if he just feels awkward or is hamming up the rural persona bit. "If you're hungry, don't let your stomachs be empty leaving here," he announces.

It seems almost impossible to offend Enda. Some of those who have gone against him over the years, for instance on his leadership of the party, say he simply seems to brush it off. He merely laughs when asked about this in relation to last year's attempt to oust him by so many of his own frontbench. "Of course if you stimulate ambition it can rise up against you!"

I hear from colleagues attending the daily election press conferences that he will still pass on the "hard" questions to party spokesmen. But he is sounding, I think, a little bit more at ease in public.

I've found myself thinking that the idea of him heading the government as a sort of chairman, rather than a hands-on Taoiseach, just might work.

The conversation veers back to his approach to leading the country. He offers another hint of things to come in sharing a conversation he once had with former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton.

"He told me that in all the roles he had in politics, TD, junior minister, senior minister, leader of the Opposition, the one that gave him most time to do the job was as Taoiseach because of the way it is structured."

It takes a while to digest that last bit and you wonder just how much comfort there is in it, since you assume that being Taoiseach is, or should be, one of the busiest jobs in the country. But Enda's argument is that there is no need to make yourself the centre of attention or to be annoying your ministers by pushing in on their territory constantly.

"We will be serious about policies. If it comes my way I'll be a different person in charge. We had all the style without substance and look at where that brought us. We need substance and courage to get where we want to go."

Barring a catastrophe, we are about to discover whether the Enda Kenny way of government will actually work.

Irish Independent