Wednesday 19 June 2019

Retirement of Taoiseach now leaves Kennys' Mayo dynasty at a crossroads

Aoibhinn Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers/Maxwells
Aoibhinn Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers/Maxwells
Dervla Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers/Maxwells Newsdesk Newsdesk

There has been a Kenny representing Mayo in Dáil Éireann since May 1954. Many in Mayo politics expect that the "family firm" will continue through a new generation - but none of that is certain.

Succession speculation will focus on two young Kenny women - Enda Kenny's daughter, Aoibhinn, and his niece, Dervla. But political activists in Mayo are unsure whether either is especially interested in trying to follow in the outgoing Taoiseach's footsteps as TD in four-seat Mayo.

The Kennys' political story began unsurprisingly on the football field. Enda Kenny's father, Henry, was a schoolteacher and a gifted footballer who brought scarce All Ireland glory to his county in 1936. In the early 1950s the now forgotten rural campaigning party, Clann na Talmhan, had three out of five Dáil seats in Mayo South.

Henry Kenny was recruited to dent the "Clann's" appeal. Like his son, who succeeded him, there was no ideological baggage and minimal linkage to Fine Gael traditions.

As a rural political family, they could as easily have been members of Fianna Fáil. But they remained loyal to the brand, and showed a great ability to avoid enmities and ensure re-election across the decades.

Read more: Lucky general lacked courage - and conviction

By the time of Henry Kenny's premature death in 1975, aged 62, the family were top dogs in Mayo politics. Heading a coalition with a wafer-thin majority, Fine Gael leader Liam Cosgrave needed a Kenny on the ticket to win the by-election.

The only issue for Fine Gael was which of the Kenny sons would stand. The father's namesake, Henry junior, demurred in favour of his younger brother, Enda, who won and held the seat for the succeeding four decades. Henry Kenny gave a lifetime of support to his brother and continues to serve on Mayo County Council as part of the family operation.

Read more: Enda: the unlikely Taoiseach who rose without a trace

Having battered through the years to become Fine Gael's longest-serving Taoiseach, it is presumed that Enda Kenny will not tarry on the backbenches. His daughter, Aoibhinn, is aged 24, the age at which her father began his Dáil career in November 1975.

She is a law graduate of UCD, who also did work experience in the USA, before working as an events organiser with the Web Summit. She has recently taken up a new job in Dublin.

Read more: A man of the times who butchered a golden opportunity

Aoibhinn, who opted for the Gaelic form of her name in college, Ní Chionnaith, while in college was active in Young Fine Gael and on occasion seen on the canvass trail in Mayo. But doubt centres on whether she actually wants a career in politics or life in Mayo.

The other family name mentioned is Dervla Kenny, daughter of Cllr Henry Kenny, and Enda Kenny's god-daughter. A Mayo Rose of Tralee contestant in 2012, she is now aged in her early 30s and works as an occupational therapist at the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire. If a family member does not take up the mantle, the name of Castlebar-based Senator Paddy Burke will be mentioned. Former Fine Gael TDs and now Senators John O'Mahony and Michelle Mulherin will also be in the reckoning - but neither is Castlebar-based where the bulk of the vote is.

Irish Independent

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