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The end of Kenny?

"It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both."

That was the cunning advice Niccolo Machiavelli passed on to princes who felt their position threatened in Renaissance Italy.

After last month's ministerial re-shuffle, Taoiseach Enda Kenny knows he is no longer loved. Now the question is, for how much longer will he be feared?

I am reliably informed that The Gingerman pub in Fenian Street is where disgruntled Fine Gaelers meet to moan and bitch about their boss - the evergreen, ever-cheerful Kenny.

These schemers pine for the day when the man from Mayo is toppled. Under him they see little prospect for their collective survival in Leinster House.

Afraid for now to strike, they seethe, searching for an issue that might bring about the downfall of the "father of the house".

Next year the Taoiseach will celebrate his 40th year in Dail Eireann. In 1975 he won a by-election caused by the death of his father, Henry. The young primary school teacher was carried shoulder-high through the gates of Leinster House and blandly promised "to do good for the greatest number".

apprenticeship

He has been there ever since. For most of that 40 years he was on the subs' bench in Fine Gael. A pleasant man with a winning smile. But not a player of any substance.

But after serving an apprenticeship for 30 years, Kenny suddenly got lucky in a perverse sort of way.

In 2002, he barely held the ancestral Kenny seat in Mayo. Suddenly by default, he found himself the leader of the opposition after Michael Noonan stepped down in the wake of a crushing defeat by Bertie Ahern.

There was simply no one else to turn to as seats tumbled and significant heads like Alan Dukes and Nora Owens rolled.

Then, in 2007, Kenny faced a vulnerable Bertie Ahern. Kenny was trounced and looked a beaten docket when the Drumcondra man won his hat-trick of election victories. But that proved to have been a stroke of good fortune too.

Kenny had gone to the country promising to keep the boom booming. We didn't believe him.

Then the roof caved in on Fianna Fail. First, Bertie was forced to quit. Soon after, Brian Cowen's government hit the rocks and sent an SOS to the IMF and Europe to come to our rescue.

With power at his mercy, Kenny still had to suppress an internal revolt among rogue elements in his party who doubted his capacity to win.

I remember filming the crime series, Badfellas, with Michael Noonan in Limerick in 2010 when Richard Bruton went public with his bid for the top job. A wary Noonan seemed to be in no hurry to make it to Dublin to aid or abet either man, but a robust praetorian guard did come out of the shadows to bat for Kenny and batter Bruton.

James Reilly, Alan Shatter, Jimmy Deenihan and big Phil Hogan put the wind up the waverers and Kenny prevailed. They were rewarded and some of the plotters forgiven when Kenny picked his Cabinet. Now his closest allies, including master tactician Frank Flannery, are no longer at his side.

Hogan will soon be in Brussels. The others have either been banished or demoted. Instead, Kenny looks around the Cabinet table and sees some faces that once had it in for him. Faces that are younger than his. Faces that might be more winning on an election poster than his. Faces like Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

By turning on those he owes most to, Kenny demonstrated a streak of ruthlessness that may curb the ambitions of those who want his job some day soon.

For now, Kenny wants to make history. He yearns to be the first leader of the party that claims Michael Collins as its founding father to retain power since WT Cosgrave won consecutive elections in the 1920s.

When he sailed into office in 2011 with the mightiest majority ever, Kenny asserted he would need two terms to fix a broken country. With Fianna Fail on the canvas and Sinn Fein not yet serious contenders, that looked a safe bet. Not any more.

From day one, the priority of Kenny's coalition was to balance the books. But too often it looked like some were unfairly cushioned from the recession.

Public servants in particular were protected. Services to the public were not. The man who said he would "do good for the greatest number" put the squeeze on the coping classes. At the local and European elections in May they got their own back.

The pasting the coalition parties suffered put paid to the careers of the big beasts of the Labour Party. Three former Labour leaders - Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte and Eamon Gilmore - now languish on the backbenches. The election results also petrified Fine Gael TDs.

Many are new to politics. Most were swept into Leinster House by the tornado that blew away Fianna Fail. Few had to work hard to make it into the Dail.

panic

Kenny doesn't really know these guys. Neither do his ministers. But one thing is sure: if the polls don't start looking good again for Fine Gael, many of these deputies face the prospect of getting their P45s. And if they start to panic, Kenny could face a coup without a phalanx of allies to fight for him.

The economy is picking up. Jobs are being created. A corner has been turned, but Kenny is getting little credit as time and again he fails to fight and win the propaganda battle against a media-savvy Sinn Fein.

Now the Taoiseach is facing more questions about his role in the events that led to the resignations of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

This saga won't fade away as long as Kenny refuses to explain what he did and why he did it.

The Gingerman gang in Fenian Street are fretting and frustrated.

Will the crisis at Justice provide the pretext for a purge if the polls provide no joy by Christmas? For now the party fears Kenny. But for how much longer?

Soon it will be a case of every man for himself.

hnews@herald.ie


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