Wednesday, May 09, 2007
INSIDE POLITICS - ENDA KENNY
I was looking at Enda Kenny waltzing around the midlands this evening and I thought to myself - in a fortnight's time this man could be Taoiseach.
One of the party pieces of the great Tyrone novelist, journalist and broadcaster Benedict Kiely was 'The Man from God Knows Where'.
It could have been written for Enda. Or to employ some other cliches that have been hacked around about him - 'the man who rose without trace' or 'the overnight success after almost 30 years'.
Somebody was interviewing him over the last couple of days (so much is happening that you lose track of everything - I think it was Sean O'Rourke) who described the Department of Tourism and Trade during his time as a 'happy' place (see how strong we political hacks are on detail). Ok, I know I'm hanging on a thread here but the gist of the interview was that Enda was a great motivator and that he energised those around him.
I'm sure that's true. He's got a fantastic personal touch. He's friendly, tactile, completely unaffected and very engaging.
A small diversion and then I'll make a point. Like checking out Blogorrah most days, I can't resist posting those satirical parodies like the Simon Cowell one two posts below this one. It's juvenile, cheap and usually very unfair. But it's good clean fun, as the man says. And the point? Well the X Factor satire kind of suits Enda. Because he has that hard-to-describe quality that Bertie has and that Bill Clinton had in spades. The presence of people, the thought of working a room, seems to electrify him.
But - and this is the question - does he have the mettle, the grist, and the granite to become Taoiseach. I remember an interview David Nally of PrimeTime did with him when he contested the leadership with Michael Noonan in 2001. Nally filleted him on the specifics of economic and tax policies.
He has improved over the past couple of years and tends to be very well briefed. But his grasp of detail can still let him down (unlike Bertie who can slew out statistics from morning to night) and he can get caught bang-to-rights when asked tricky supplemental questions.
In the past week, he has kicked to touch on the nurses dispute by saying that an imaginative solution is needed and talking in general terms about benchmarking. Is he in favour of the 10% increase or the reduction of hours to 35 per week? We just don't know.
He also tends to defer to Richard Bruton when the likes of George Lee and Brendan Keenan start asking tough and specific questions. And he has also done a bit of a Pontius Pilate act on the BertieGate saga by, well, not really making a judgement other than the sterile one that the Government is 100% souped.
The reason that Labour and Fine Gael have whistled and looked the other way is that they all got roasted in the polls last autumn. I personally think there was something very strange about the timing of this Quarryvale module, and the Tribunal's insistence on circulating Bertie Ahern's statement on the last Thursday of May (they were very naive if they believed that they wouldn't be leaked).
But once the statements were made public and open to scrutiny (irrespective of the fact they left Ahern playing against a stacked hand) they did raise genuine questions that go to the credibility of the politician who holds the first office. It was inevitable, cut also wholly legitimate, cruel as it is for him
I'm sure that Enda Kenny is well able to deal with all the issues above. But if Ahern's credibility is in question, the big puzzler that has always surrounded Enda Kenny is that of competence - does he have what it takes to become Taoiseach?
I thought of it tonight as I watched him waltzing around a hall in the midlands. I'm sure he has all the qualities (he's been very impressive this year; and he has a formidable presence like Rabbitte riding shotgun for him) but if BertieGate rumbles on for another week, that mettle might not be tested until he drives for the first time into Government Buildings in Merrion Street.