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Taoiseach needs to facilitate rebirth of both the church and Fianna Fail

SAY what you like about Enda Kenny -- and I have -- but there is no denying the evidence to date, which suggests that he may yet emerge as a leader worthy of our times.

I remain to be fully convinced.

The Taoiseach has, however, defied his critics; it is fair to say that he has surpassed expectation. For many, the expectation was quite low, which, admittedly, may say more about us than it does about him.

Collectively, his Government too has so far done a good job, some more than others on an individual basis: I have in mind Ruairi Quinn, Richard Bruton, Alan Shatter, Phil Hogan and, perhaps in due course, also Joan Burton.

But Enda Kenny, in particular, has shown himself to be a figurehead of unexpected substance, a Taoiseach who seems to have filled the role rather than simply allowing it to fill him.

This bank-holiday weekend, then, let us be grateful for the reasons around us which suggest that we may have cause to be more optimistic now than we have so far allowed ourselves to be.

Let us count some of those reasons, but before we do, we should also remind ourselves of what it is that does not allow us to be so fully convinced.

From experience, it is the underlying fear which remains that the Taoiseach and his Government will yet turn out to be more a triumph of style over substance.

What is called 'spin' will not be enough, by a long shot, to meet the greatest challenge of all which awaits Enda Kenny, daunting as it may sound, which is to forge a new Republic.

To date, for the rest of the year, for all of next and perhaps for much of the year after, the Government must only maintain the course which was, by and large, charted by its predecessor with the help of the troika.

The last government, and Fianna Fail and the PDs before that, was responsible for much of what went wrong and for various reasons -- call it politics -- was tardy in the task of putting it right. But eventually and belatedly, it did embark upon that process.

There is not a blind acceptance that the process will actually put things right, but it is what we are presented with and in the absence of something more radical and certain, we can only accept it for what it is, our fate.

To those reasons for some optimism then, with thanks to Nesc, the National Economic and Social Development Office, which, you should be aware, was formed to report to the Taoiseach.

Exports of goods and services have increased by up to 8.3 per cent in value terms; there has been a strong recovery in investment and job creation by IDA companies; between 2008 and 2010 there has been an eight per cent fall in costs on an economy-wide basis; the balance of payments deficit has largely been eliminated; employment decline was smallest in the first quarter of 2011 since the recession took hold; excluding housing assets, the net financial worth of households has increased by 70 per cent since 2009 and there

are signs that the public finances have stabilised, or may have improved a little.

The strength and sustainability of recovery will continue to depend upon developments in two areas, what Nesc calls "Ireland's debt dynamics and the unfolding European context".

I am conscious that in the real world, the use of terms such as the 'balance of payments deficit' or 'net financial worth' will mean not a lot to the many who are still struggling to come to terms with their altered existence or even to make ends meet.

We may not have turned a corner, the worst may be yet to come, but we seem to have taken a sharp bend on the road to recovery and look capable of taking other such bends, all going well elsewhere -- particularly in Europe and the US, which is by no means certain.

The outlook as presented by Nesc may be wildly optimistic, but that is not specifically the point I want to make.

For Enda Kenny to truly emerge as a leader worthy of our times, he must show himself to be capable, politically and intellectually, of --deep breath -- forging a new Republic.

To date, he has shown himself to be up to the challenge, which has been the most unexpected revelation of his leadership so far, forcing his critics to begin a process of their own, to re-evaluate the man.

Interestingly, he seems reliant not just upon his skills as a politician, which are evident, nor upon his capacity as an intellectual, not so certain, but upon his day-to-day activities, in this order: as a man, husband, father, friend and then politician.

It would be tempting to suggest that he has cynically come to use 'spin' to also contrive a certain image of himself and therefore of the country, but that might be unfair.

At some stage there comes a time when you must begin to accept a politician in the round; that is, when you must take account not just of his deeds as a politician, but also of a fuller context, which he cannot hope to hide.

In that fuller context, as a politician and a man, Enda Kenny has been a success.

He might be well advised not to think about it too much, but to continue to follow what seems to be his instinct, in all but one regard, that is, and it will be a huge ask.

It is good that he has emerged as a comfortable leader; that he has shown himself to be confident in his own abilities; that he has held his own on a European and worldwide stage; that he seems to have a grasp on the realities of life in all of its forms and evolving manifestations; that he has done nothing particularly stupid, but many things well; that he seems to be in tune with the country around him and, more importantly, that he seems to be in tune with himself.

It is, then, that as Enda Kenny has found himself, Ireland, as though by chance, may find itself too. To be a great leader, however, he must allow others to also find their place in this new Republic, by which I mean, for example, the Catholic Church -- a hard ask, I know.

And to that huge ask: he must also find occasion to step back from politics, to help create a space, as it were, to allow for the rebirth of Fianna Fail.

Because whether we like it or not, this new Ireland to which we aspire will still need a church, renewed in spirit, and a new Fianna Fail, or a version thereof, to also take their place in the times in which we live.

Sunday Independent