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Andrew Lynch: Enda's nightmare before Christmas is set to continue

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Enda Kenny.

Enda Kenny.

Enda Kenny.

Enda Kenny has the look of a haunted man.

Just like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, he is due to receive visits from the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet to Come.

They will all give him the same message - thanks to his own mistakes, the Taoiseach has been left dangerously short of friends and possibly heading for an early political grave.

Three end-of-year opinion polls published yesterday revealed the full scale of Enda's nightmare.

Fine Gael and Labour are close to meltdown territory, barely able to scrape together 25pc of the vote between them.

Indeed, support for Labour has slipped to a new low, with the party at 5pc in two of the polls.

The Government's approval rating has collapsed to a miserable 19pc, while only 37pc say they will definitely pay their water charges in 2015.

What sort of coalition we might end up with after the next general election is still anyone's guess. The only safe-looking bet at this stage is that it won't be the current one.

Just like Brian Cowen before him, Kenny (below) has lost the dressing room so comprehensively that he is in danger of becoming a dead Taoiseach walking.

difference

As Ebenezer Kenny sips his mulled wine in Government Buildings this week, his thoughts will surely turn to the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Hard though it might be to believe, this time twelve months ago he was on a real political high.

After securing Ireland's exit from the Troika bailout, he celebrated with a televised state-of-the-nation address that claimed we would soon enter full recovery mode.

What a difference a year makes. The Ghost of Christmas Present can show Enda any number of horror stories, from the ongoing fiasco of Irish Water to the upcoming Fennelly Inquiry into just how and why Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan resigned.

Now that the McNultygate cronyism has shattered Kenny's straight-dealing image, young pretenders to the Fine Gael throne such as Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are laying out their leadership stalls.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is the most terrifying of all. Even assuming that Enda can hold his crumbling coalition together, in December 2015 he will be roughly 100 days away from a general election.

Unless his poll ratings have dramatically improved by then, he will come under huge pressure to "do a Biffo" ie stand aside and let Leo or Simon try to salvage something.

However, all is not yet lost. The message of A Christmas Carol is that if you recognise your faults, it is not too late to seek redemption. Kenny can still get back in the game if he makes a few New Year's resolutions and sticks to them.

First of all, the Taoiseach has got to stop making stupid mistakes. The most frustrating aspect of blunders such as McNultygate or failing to appoint any female junior ministers was that they were completely avoidable.

Secondly, Kenny's leadership needs to become a lot more hands-on. He loves to describe himself as "the captain of a team", but in practice this means that he gives gaffe-prone colleagues more leeway than is good for them.

plan

This year alone, the scandals of Irish Water and cancelled medical cards happened because ministers Phil Hogan and James Reilly took their eyes off the ball.

Finally, Kenny must offer voters some kind of long-term plan to persuade us that he deserves a second term.

For starters, he could set out a timetable of tax reforms up to 2020, provide a fixed date for universal health insurance and come off the fence on Ireland's abortion problem.

He has never pretended to be very good at what George Bush Snr called "the vision thing" - but the approaching centenary of 1916 means this is as good a time as any to try.

For now, the year's final opinion polls have ensured that the Taoiseach will end 2014 on an unseasonal low.

Enda Kenny might want to sleep with the lights on this Christmas. Ghosts are already gathering at the end of his bed.

Unlike A Christmas Carol, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.


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