Tuesday 25 June 2019

Niall O'Connor: Enda has been irreparably damaged - FG TDs are just counting down to his final exit

Jerry Buttimer – who lost his Dáil seat but was elected on the Labour panel in the Seanad election – is pictured with his father Jerry at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Jerry Buttimer – who lost his Dáil seat but was elected on the Labour panel in the Seanad election – is pictured with his father Jerry at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor

Over the weekend, Enda Kenny received a text message from one of his most loyal supporters.

"Please don't budge on water charges, Enda," the message read.

The acting Taoiseach responded just minutes later.

He explained to his colleague that he was facing a stark set of choices: Budge on water charges or seek another General Election.

It's a message that has been sent out in various forms in recent days to a Fine Gael grassroots that have relied on the party leadership to respect their views in relation to water.

Minister after minister and TD after TD were inundated with messages from supporters pleading with them to stand firm.

'Don't bow to Fianna Fáil's demands', members said.

'Stick by the Fine Gael belief that a properly functioning infrastructure depends on a charging regime.' Their cries were heard, but alas, they weren't listened to.

That has been the hardest thing for Fine Gael TDs in recent days, who have been subjected to an unprecedented level of abuse from apprehensive supporters.

They are reeling at the decision by the party leadership to give Micheál Martin what he wants.

TDs are particularly concerned about the potential backlash from 950,000 law-abiding households, many of which settled their bills without question because they believed it to be the right thing to do.

But the move to suspend charges was not an easy one for Enda Kenny.

In fact, Fine Gael figures close to the Mayo TD say it was among the most difficult decisions of his political career.

The decision was made all the more difficult by Fianna Fáil's role in the government formation process.

Fianna Fáil has dusted off its infamous handbook, which has chapter after chapter on how to put the party before the country.

One of the clear lessons of the past eight weeks is that no one does politics better than Fianna Fáil.

But it is also clear that neither party is putting the interests of the country first.

Alan Kelly is by no means the voice of reason of Irish politics - but his claim in the Dáil that suspending water charges is a deeply irresponsible step has significant merit.

We now face the prospect of water shortages, EU fines and a desperately under-funded infrastructure because of populist politics.

Mr Kenny's move to suspend water charges, almost two years after a decision was taken on their introduction, will be rued by the new generation of TDs. And so, it is inevitable that the knives are out for the acting Taoiseach.

There will be no shock factor or surprise heave this time round, as was experienced in 2010.

Throughout the corridors and stairwells of Leinster House, Fine Gael deputies are very clear: They want their leader gone.

Even his own supporters now say the writing is on the wall.

This writer has experienced first hand the best and worst of Enda Kenny.

From his extraordinary ability to sell Ireland Inc abroad, to his spontaneity of leaving the environs of Leinster House to feed the homeless folk in Dublin city.

But sometimes, the mask slips.

By abandoning his principles, the Fine Gael leader has let down his TDs, as well as his supporters.

Enda Kenny will always be remembered as the politician who led, when leadership was scarce in Irish politics.

But he may well also be remembered as the man who abandoned his principles, when the cool scent of power overwhelmed.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss