Tuesday 18 December 2018

Philip Ryan: Enda the enigma has severed ties with former Fine Gael colleagues


NOW A MAN WITH NO POLITICAL FRIENDS: Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny has become somewhat of a mystery to his former Fine Gael colleagues who no longer hear from him. Picture: Barry Cronin
NOW A MAN WITH NO POLITICAL FRIENDS: Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny has become somewhat of a mystery to his former Fine Gael colleagues who no longer hear from him. Picture: Barry Cronin
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

There are no friends in politics or, at least, very few. It's not a team sport. It's every man and woman for themselves. It doesn't matter if you're in a political party or part of some loose-knit alliance of like-minded politicians. Once the pistol is fired on an election campaign, every politician is on their own in the trenches. It's a matter of self-preservation.

With that background, it is interesting to look at the curious case of Enda Kenny post-life as Taoiseach. Once the country's most-powerful politician, he now lives an entirely different life. He has taken to the speaking engagement circuit, as world leaders of significance do upon leaving their day job. The Dail register of members' interests show trips to New York, London, Liverpool and Newcastle. A source close to Kenny said he spent last week in New Orleans. Those who know him personally say he is enjoying life after politics.

They say there's "not a chance in hell" he will run for the Irish Presidency. His name is regularly mentioned within the European People's Party as a possible successor to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. However, he is expected to lose out on a nomination for the top job in Brussels to EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

Closer to home, Kenny has become somewhat of a mystery to his former Fine Gael colleagues. He is often seen around Leinster House and trades pleasantries with those he meets in the corridors, but he generally keeps himself to himself. Politicians who were once considered die-hard Kenny loyalists don't speak to the former Taoiseach. Fine Gael soldiers, who fought on the front-line for Kenny, no longer hear from their general.

Throughout his tenure, political expediency necessitated that he cut ties with long-time political supporters.

Frank Flannery was one of the chief architects of the Fine Gael renaissance which led to Kenny being elected Taoiseach but he was cast aside when he became embroiled in the Rehab charity scandal. Similarly, former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was unceremoniously ousted after sustained and prolonged Garda scandals. Shatter claims he was wronged by Kenny's actions and has the legal judgments to prove it.

James Reilly, who Kenny appointed deputy leader of Fine Gael after the 2010 heave, was booted out of the Department of Health a couple of years into the job and replaced by Leo Varadkar. He was also sacked from that job at a press conference only to be reinstated a few weeks later at a parliamentary party meeting.

Three other politicians - Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe and Paddy Burke - who were central to Enda Kenny's campaign team during the 2010 heave have also been isolated by the former Taoiseach. EU Commissioner Phil Hogan was his director of elections during the failed coup.

Minister of State with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe was also a key player during the campaign as was Fine Gael senator Paddy Burke.

The trio also lent their support and political know-how to Leo Varadkar in his very successful campaign to become Fine Gael leader. And now Kenny doesn't call them and they don't call him.

"No one fell out with him and there was no big row but he just doesn't talk to them any more," one source said.

Another source said: "I think he thought they would defend him again, even though it would be detrimental to them."

Kenny knew they were secretly working with Varadkar before he stepped down or even announced when he would leave office. He was approached by colleagues and told of the insurgency in his own camp. The disloyalty cut deep. "Kenny owes them nothing and doesn't need friends like that," a well-placed source said.

The three former loyalists would argue they got involved with Varadkar to ensure there was no heave against Kenny and only promised their support on that condition. They also had to consider their political life beyond Kenny.

At Kenny's farewell dinner for Cabinet members in Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park, onlookers noted that he was particularly cold towards Kehoe. "He might as well have been dirt on his shoe," a source said. At the end of the dinner, Kenny invited all the remaining guests - apart from Kehoe - to have a few more drinks elsewhere. The snub did not go unnoticed.

"He had no friends left by the time he stepped down," a former friend said. The same person blamed "brutish individuals" who "manipulated power and isolated" Kenny.

Taking tough decisions never wins favour, as Kenny well knows from his time running the country.

He will also know political life is expendable and for a long-lasting TD picking the winning side is a basic survival instinct.

Sunday Independent

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