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Andrew Lynch: If Enda keeps going the way he started we can have hope

Ever since the magic word 'Taoiseach' was officially placed in front of his name, the Fine Gael leader has been bouncing around like a child with a shiny new toy.

It won't last forever, of course, and it may not even last the weekend -- but, for now, we should appreciate the feeling of being led by a man who looks like he actually wants the job.

This is a Taoiseach who understands the importance of symbols.

At his first Cabinet meeting in Aras an Uachtarain, he announced that he was taking a pay cut and ordered every minister to do the same.


Instead of a fleet of Mercs purring along the quays up to the Phoenix Park, the new team quietly made their way there on a minibus.

Kenny's acceptance speech in the Dail was modest, sincere and surprisingly moving.

He then played it safe with his appointment of FG's Cabinet ministers, while Eamon Gilmore's snub to Joan Burton landed himself in hot water with Labour women.

The new Taoiseach has also shown plenty of generosity to the TDs who tried to shaft him last June, giving key roles to his leadership rival Richard Bruton as well as rebels Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

The key to Kenny's personality is simple. Almost uniquely among political leaders, he has very little ego. While you obviously don't get to be Taoiseach without having a high opinion of yourself, he projects himself as an ordinary guy -- and at a time when the public are fed up with the political classes, maybe that's exactly what we need.

The contrast with Brian Cowen could hardly be any greater. Before he landed the top job, Biffo was touted as a man of great intellect who would restore dignity to the Taoiseach's office after the bling of the Bertie Ahern years.

Instead, he turned out to be a boorish grouch who took on the job as if he was doing everyone a big favour -- and never apologised for the catastrophic mistakes made on his watch.

With his 60th birthday coming up next month, Kenny is the second oldest man to become Taoiseach (and just three weeks younger than the oldest, Sean Lemass).

While the 50-year-old Cowen slouched around the place, however, Enda's strict diet and love of cycling means that he has a permanent spring in his step. He may not be over- burdened with charisma, but he looks like a man who knows how to take care of himself -- and if he can bring that focus and discipline to his new role, he might end up doing a lot better than his critics expect.

The aura of power surrounding Kenny will soon be increased when he has the traditional St Patrick's Day photo-op with Barack Obama in the White House. He can also look forward to the positive PR that should be generated by the visit of Queen Elizabeth in May. As long as he continues to project an air of energy while keeping his dignity intact, he should see a dramatic increase in his approval ratings when the next opinion polls come out.


Of course, Kenny will need substance as well as style if he is to be a successful Taoiseach. The new Programme for Government kicks more balls into touch than Ronan O'Gara, which means that some really painful decisions need to be taken between now and next December's Budget. He may like to boast about his friendship with Angela Merkel, but it remains to be seen what his negotiating skills are like when they get down to the hard detail of Ireland's EU/IMF bailout.

At the start of the election campaign, Eamon Gilmore admitted that he didn't believe in God. The big question now is whether the people of Ireland can believe in Enda. If he carries on as well as he's begun, the answer might just be yes.