On The Edge
I wonder how long it takes our Taoiseach to switch-off during his holidays? Bet Fionnuala has to ban the “P” word for the duration of the summer recess. Rent a chateau in the Alps or the Pyrenees where there is no internet coverage. Stay in a cottage down some long boreen in Kerry where the only early morning sounds are those of sheep baaing and cows mooing. Go undercover on his bicycle until his stress levels are more about his shins and thighs than how he will spin the latest challenge to the stability of the 32nd Dáil.
Sit on top of a mountain and meditate, maybe?
But even if he gets lost along the Wild Atlantic Way, he would need to turn off his mobile phone first. Tell his minders that unless Leo Varadkar is seen having mid-morning coffees with more than five young Fine Gael pups, he is not to be disturbed. Make sure that Mícheál Martin isn’t making mischief in the media. Or that young upstart, Brendan Griffin, stays on a Kerry beach making sandcastles with his bucket and spade instead of going on kamikaze solo-runs in the media.
For sure, the first term of this raggle-taggle coalition Government has been one hell of a challenge for the Father of the Dáil. He may be ‘the cute hoor’ from County Mayo who survived the cappuccino coup of 2010, but the odds were really against him when the votes were all counted this time round. Keeping the recovery going turned out not to quite resonate for 74.48 percent of the citizens of Ireland who exercised their franchise on February 26. The party’s loss of 25 seats had to be a bodyblow to the man who brought it back from the brink after the disastrous General Election of 2002.
IT was May 6 before Enda was able to form a Government. This followed three unsuccessful attempts amid charades and shadow-boxing with the old civil war enemy, which had culminated in the master-stroke of Kenny’s offer of ‘a grand coalition’ (clearly undigestible for the grassroots of both parties).
Right up until the end, he was skating on thin ice. As Deputy Noel Rock nominated Mr Kenny, Shane Ross and other Independent colleagues were being cajoled by the silver-tongued Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, beyond the glass bridge linking Leinster House and Government Buildings. In the end, Roscommon’s Michael Fitzmaurice declined to compromise on the cause of the turf-cutters and the new Government was formed with Enda receiving 59 votes, with Fianna Fáil’s abstention and just one more vote than needed for a bare majority.
Thus began the most challenging weeks of his leadership and, possibly, political life. However, as The Irish Times’s Pat Leahy observed over the weekend: “Yet Kenny manoeuvred Fine Gael back into government with a greater number of cabinet seats than the party previously held, and occupying the commanding heights of the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure.”
This did not mean though that the biggest party in Government would rule the roost and call the shots as it had done with an iron fist during the previous Dáil. Fianna Fáil’s support was conditional and strategic. The Soldiers of Destiny were quickly out of the traps and had –with Fine Gael’s agreement not to challenge it – pushing through a Private Member’s Bill to order the banks to lower their interest rates. The scene was set for a new type of politics.
Soon, another Private Member’s Bill, by Independent TD, Mick Wallace, was threatening to destabilise the Government. Mr Kenny capitulated and said the Government did not need to act as a single authority on the issue. Despite advice by the Attorney General that it was unconstitutional, the Bill which was defeated in the end, had sought to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. The establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly has simply pushed the problem down the road.
Brexit and the border question had also come thundering down the tracks with Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, dismissing a proposal by Kenny to convene an all-Ireland forum. But, as the much-needed summer recess approached, it was Kenny’s bizarre reappointment of James Reilly – the former Minister for Health who had lost his seat in the General Election – as the party’s deputy leader, that left his most loyal supporters scratching their heads.
Finally, in early July, with his leadership credentials firmly in focus courtesy of that young pup from Kerry, Brendan Griffin, it was clearly past time for the Taoiseach to head for the hills. Fly below the radar for a while. Dodge the media bullets. The knives in his back.
Bet you he will return in September all buoyed up and ready for battle. Grateful that the story of the silly season is more about the church than the State.