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Promise of a brave new dawn dissipates over a broken land

'It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.' Aeschylus

We believed, didn't we? Though we were a broken people who'd lost homes and jobs, still we clung to a fragile hope. After being lied to for years, we'd found truth in Enda Kenny. A man who was a break from the dark past of twisted bullshit and lies. We dared to believe in the promise because, well, it was Enda who made it. The man, not the oath, hooked us. This would be a new political dawn.

And now we're not so sure. The Roscommon County Hospital affair paints him as someone who at best played a sly game with words, and at worst is as slippery a politician as Bertie Ahern -- or any of them.

It had all started so well. The minibus for the Cabinet as An Taoiseach walked into work. The photos looked great, didn't they? We moved into more meaningful territory when Enda broke with cronyism and appointed non-Fine Gael members to the Seanad. Ministers also began to tackle the bloated pay of semi-State CEOs.

But the slieveen-style politics were never gone. Like other parties, FG TDs continued to employ family members in Dail office jobs when thousands of unemployed couldn't even apply for the positions. Enda told us there was nothing he could do about this.

And then came Roscommon. February 8, just before the election, and Enda is in Roscommon town. In a speech, he calls on local people to vote for the two local FG TDs, Frank Feighan and Denis Naughten. Journalist Niamh Connolly is there too. She records Enda talking about the attempts to close the local hospital: "You know in the accident and emergency ... what can be done in your own local hospital here ... we will protect and defend that ... we are committed to maintaining the services at Roscommon General Hospital."

Subsequently, the Health Information and Quality Authority says the hospital must close. Enda denies he ever promised it would definitely be kept open. By the strict letter of the law Enda, is right. But you cannot hide behind a technical interpretation.

A simple question for Enda. When he made that speech, did he really believe that the services were sustainable? Because if he didn't and just wanted to ensure that two FG TDs were elected, then Enda's words were particularly injurious. They were given to a broken people and raised false hope.

I remember when I worked with kids from challenging backgrounds, my supervisor was at pains to point out that it was cruel to offer false hope when you knew you could not deliver.

Enda Kenny needs to be careful. While he is not the first politician to break an election promise, people do remember. They remember back to the aftermath of the 2007 election. Trevor Sargent of the Green Party claimed that Kenny had approached him to ask Sinn Fein to help form a Coalition. Kenny absolutely denies he ever asked Sargent to do this. Sargent has never moved from the truth of what he said. The other day I spoke with former Green leader John Gormley, who was again adamant that Kenny did approach his party. Whom do you believe?

Bertie Ahern was done as a politician because people stopped believing him. Trust is a precious political commodity. It is not limitless. That perhaps explains why Kenny had to fight and deny he had misled over the Roscommon promise. The public perception, though, is that he was caught out by a tape recording. And his handlers know that is damaging to brand Kenny.

Finally, last week also exposed to the Irish people the cosy media consensus that Kenny is surrounded by nothing but strategic genuises. The minute FG took office, it needed to prepare an exit strategy to cover the Roscommon promise. Send up an advance party to meet with local opposition and try to prepare the way for what was to come.

Instead, it was outflanked by both local protesters on one side and the HSE on the other.

(By the way, how did the wise men manage to let Gay Mitchell grab the presidential nomination from their chosen man, Pat Cox?)

Maybe as the promise of a new dawn dissipates over a broken land, we are seeing the real Enda. A calculating politician who echoes Machiavelli's belief in the manipulation of truth: 'The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.' It doesn't make Enda a bad man, but it does strip away the carefully cultivated PR and spin. And as each layer is peeled back, we have to ask: just who is the real Enda Kenny?

Sunday Independent