Saturday 23 November 2019

John Drennan: Kenny's war dogs have Labour by tail

Fine Gael may in bed with Gilmore et al, but it has secured single-party government by stealth, says John Drennan

Enda Kenny. Photo: Tom Burke
Enda Kenny. Photo: Tom Burke

I AM sorry if my response to the arrival of Mr Kenny's bright new Government of Stepford wives (and of course you too, Mr Gilmore!) has been somewhat chilly.

The problem, you see, lies in my personal selfishness. Over the last three years, we have been dealing with a government of political dysfunctionals who spent their time fighting, snarling and plotting against each other. And that was just the Fianna Fail members of the Cabinet.

Meanwhile outside of this cocktail of stupidity, excess, venality (and there appears to have been plenty of other cocktails flying around too) Mr Cowen was best known for being, in the words of Jay Leno, "a drunken moron".

This was no way to run a country but our dysfunctionals certainly provided good newspaper copy, and it is rather hard to adjust to the new Coalition's relatively normal school of politics.

Mind you, once personal selfishness is put aside, it must be admitted that Mr Kenny has hit the ground running rather than stumbling. From the very start, Brian Cowen, the man who never wanted to be and never really was a Taoiseach, was surrounded by a fugue of depression. On Wednesday, as Enda Kenny delivered a softly voiced speech that was laced with real emotional intensity, it was as though a cloud had been lifted from the Dail chamber.

You are generally going well if a Taoiseach's first speech manages to say one interesting thing. Enda provided three as he promised to place "public duty above personal entitlement" and build a State in which when "our children look into our eyes, I want them to see a future".

The Fine Gael leader saved the best for last, though, as he noted the template of his reign would be informed by Seamus Heaney's advice to "remember everything, and keep your head. . . we will".

Some dry souls commented about how while it was all right to campaign in poetry you should govern in prose, but after the brutal pragmatism of the Cowen interregnum perhaps we need a bit of poetry in government too.

In truth, it was strange to look at a Taoiseach and not feel knots of embarrassment crossed with pity building in the pit of your stomach.

The template of much of my analysis of Mr Kenny has been a reprise of Forrest Gump's line of "stupid is as stupid does". But if, rather like the ill-regarded Ronald Reagan, 'stupid' keeps on winning the game, then perhaps 'stupid' isn't as stupid as I thought.

Mr Gilmore, in contrast, hit the ground stumbling, and landed in a terribly big heap. It was bad enough that Labour's crimson Humpty Dumpty was as peripheral a presence at the Fine Gael feast as Fianna Fail. However, no one could have expected that Mr Gilmore would infuriate the sisterhood of the nation in a manner that has not been seen since Pee Flynn.

This was precisely what Mr Gilmore managed to do. Labour's spinners could dance on all the pins they liked, but it looked as though Brendan Howlin had become the accidental beneficiary of a plot to appoint Gilmore's old Democratic Left comrade Pat Rabbitte to the job Joan Burton had done so well for the last eight years.

The bad news for Labour is that this was not the only blunder Mr Gilmore was guilty of, for when the Cabinet was announced it was agonisingly clear that Enda had comprehensively wiped the political eye of Labour's Reverend Mother.

Fine Gael might have been forced to coalesce with Labour after the election, but it has managed to effectively secure single-party government by stealth, for while there are five Labour ministers the Fine Gael guys are the ones carrying the big sticks.

The Fine Gael wing of Enda's new Cabinet of all the talents (plus Simon Coveney) may not be a perfect creation. But while some of Fine Gael's disappointed ones may have been casting cold eyes at Jimmy Deenihan, we should remember that whilst he might never win Mastermind, the Kerry TD is a rugged soul who has no shortage of character. These are qualities a new Taoiseach will need.

And while there was some mockery of the decision to create a Ministry of Children, perhaps a country that has treated children as badly as this one needs a full ministry to resolve a scenario where the HSE was incapable of counting up the number of children that have died in its 'care'.

But if Fine Gael can govern the country with the effectiveness it displayed in banishing the Labour party to the margins of the Cabinet, there may yet be hope for us all.

That is not to say that Labour in government would be a bad thing, but any analysis of this cunningly designed cabinet, from a Fine Gael perspective at least, clearly shows that it is the big beast in this Government.

Labour, in contrast, may have secured a few scattered ministries but is in office rather than in power.

So far, political attention has focused on Mr Gilmore's demotion of Labour's twin-track Mothers of the Sorrows. But the fundamental errors were made far earlier, courtesy of Mr Gilmore's inability to secure more than five senior ministries.

One of Labour's biggest problems, of course, is that Mr Gilmore won't be there that often at all. Still, when Eamon is heading around the world on all these trade delegations we are sure Fine Gael will go to great lengths to keep its 'socialist friends' briefed.

Labour will claim it has secured parity of esteem in Finance. But, the more one looks at Brendan Howlin's public sector reform brief, the more it resembles a second super junior ministry.

Still, we are sure Mr Noonan will be more than prepared to leave Brendan in charge of delights such as reducing our hospital consultant's pay by 40 per cent.

And whilst Reverend Mother Gilmore may have secured the consolation prize of putting Pat Rabbitte in charge of RTE, giving Labour the keys to the RTE kingdom is somewhat like the decision of the couple who have been living in sin for 20 years to regularise the scenario with a non-denominational church blessing.

One of the great flaws most politicians suffer from is an uncertain relationship with history. After last week, though, it appears as though there is no danger of a reprise of the great error of Garret FitzGerald's 1983-7 Coalition government, where an irascible Labour tail wagged the Fine Gael mutt.

Instead, the more one looked at this Government the clearer it became that on this occasion Fine Gael's political dogs of war have docked the Labour tail before it even managed a first wag.

Sunday Independent

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