Voting for a new Irish government takes place on Friday. At this point, the Irish papers are predicting a hung Dail with the FG/Labour coalition failing to gain a majority while the British are likewise forecasting a chastisement by the people for their mealy-mouthed version of austerity. Looking back over the past few years no one can contest that Fine Gael came into government with the worst fiscal legacy since the formation of the State and that they have largely remedied the situation in the meantime. Ireland exited sanctions from the European banks a few months back and in 2018, on the present trajectory, it will exit debt – and all of this without a word spoken about exiting from the European Union. Considering that they exited from the British Union one hundred years ago with a good deal of cultural and political fuss, this piece of economic stability and fiscal engineering is no small achievement but it has come at a high cost – and the best that can be said about this government is that its housekeeping routines were as necessary as they were grimly unpopular.
First there are the public cuts themselves and then a succession of social and political ructions: the homeless crisis, the Water Fracas, the “political strokes” style of non-government agency appointments. It seems at present that the debt of public gratitude to a clear-sighted government is distinctly lacking at the moment and all of this is working against the re-election of the FG-Labour Coalition. This is a kind of failure which casts the comparison with other Irish governments and parties in a special light. Much as FG likes to derogate the out-going Fianna Fail government as the villain of the piece and the author of the worst economic confusion in the history of the independent state, the irony is that Charlie Haughey could probably have executed the belt-tightening exercise with lordly panache while Sir Garret certainly would have put a better face on it than this lot. But face is not a word that one associates with Enda Kenny or Joan Burton in any agreeable sense.
Looking at the thing from afar, it doesn’t really seem to be about the actual measures involved since only the naivest voter can imagine you can have water and other services today without some form of payment ‘at the pump’. Water used to be paid for by the Rates, but all of that is ancient history. In the meantime, a lot of dirty water has been sloshed about – the Blue Shirts and all that. Nor has FF returned from the Sin-Bin yet. And, if the strongest voice of dissent is obviously Sinn Fein’s, their stance on rights and services is hardly enough to convince the thinking majority to forget their brutal record in Norn Iron.
And then there’s the year that’s in it. Hard as the government might try, the 1916 Commemorations remain snagged by the pervasive feeling that the physical force tradition of Irish independence is the wrong note to strike at the present political moment. Or perhaps the public really wants to hear that note – loud and long – but the government can’t bring itself to sound it. Meanwhile, in a comic wrinkle, that “tolo” Nigel Lawson has suggested that if Ireland wanted to rejoin the UK he would extend a warm welcome if he were in power. Clearly Lawson doesn’t get the popular feeling on the neighbouring island – though the fact remains that in terms of social provision and fiscal accountability over the last 10 decades, the UK might have been a safer berth for all concerned. Ah well, no need to dwell on that. A nation is a nation for all tha’. You might as well argue with a river or a mountain.
But why this leadership deficit in Ireland today – unless you are thinking of Mannix Flynn, who personally I would vote for Teashock, President,or even Pope if I had the power to – though he mightn’t appreciate the offer coming from this quarter. Anyway, I have a theory. Enda Kenny has elicited exactly the same reaction from the Irish people that Mr Neil Kinnock did in England when he went for PM back in 1992. Granted his leadership of the Labour Party, he just wasn’t much liked. Why not? It wasn’t just the Pratfall on the Beach – it was all about his Celticity. The fact is that the English never trust a freckled face and a red complexion. It’s just a given of their national character- and not such a bad one, come to think of it. That’s why Gerry Adams with his English good looks and his Armani shoulds can scoop the kind of democrat support that Joe Cahill failed to extort with all the Semtex in Libya. (I notice he had a bit part in the “Whitey” Bolger story as lately filmed with Johnny Depp as the Boston baddie.)
As for Enda, in spite of his covent-boy haircut and cardboard cuffs, he retains the air of a mincing, mean-minded school-master of the kind we never much like – the kind who knows what’s best for us and narrows his lips like a pair of scissor by way of logical demonstration. It is hardly surprising that sentences such as “The law must be obeyed” come so easily to those lips and it is not entirely out of the question that he has a pandy-bat up his arse. A 17 years’ sojourn on the back bench may have taken their toll. At any rate, this is certain: he’s a dry-cured politician of the most uninspiring kind and no voice has ever been raised to say, “Long Live Enda Kenny”!
The cult of personality is certainly not his strong suit – which may, in the long run, be his best claim to leadership. Still, that Mayo accent with its anaemic air of counting beans in a rural grocery hardly suggests the man of iron who climbed Kilimanjaro – or the footballing father who won a medal in Croke Park before taking a set in Dail Eireann. Maybe the lighthouse grand-pere is the secret to his circumspection – all that lookout out of high windows in a storm, but pundits seem to suggest that Enda is really the front-man for the iron will of his Kerry partner Fionnula from Kilcummin – a member of the august O’Kelly dynasty of FG politicians.
There’s also the question of international profile which is a show-case example of Euro-sycophancy. It is an appalling experience to hear him lay down the law of fiscal probity to the Greeks with Angela Merkel as his admired leader and his audience of choice. It would of course be grossly prejudicial to suggest that his resolutely lower-middle persona has anything to do with it. His lower-middle class persona has everything to do with it. Neither patrician nor plebian, he lacks both of the core forms of appeal that the Irish public desiderates – the aura of the chief or the aura of the rebel – and now the Troika seems to have lost its sting there is really nothing to compel the Irish electorate to vote for him.
Enda Kenny was a primary schoolteacher for four years before he was selected for his father’s seat by Fine Gael when Henry Kenny died of cancer in 1975 – thus becoming the youngest member of the Dail. It is a curiosity of his character that such a brief career of chalk-and-talk among Irish infants marked him so deeply that he has never ceased to look like a school-teacher both in features and in bearing. And it is as a school-teacher that he is now about to be dismissed in keeping with the old classroom rhyme, “No more German, no more French, / No more sitting on the hard ol’ bench / Kick up tables, kick up chairs, / Kick oul’ Enda down the stairs …’. And the doctrine of governmental prudence will not save him.
All things considered, Enda is an right “enigma”, as the man said. How did he actually get there and is he the creep he really seems to be – or is he the batlike soul of Ireland waking to a consciousness of itself and grasping the reality of experience in the clear light of Fiscal Equalisation?
I watched the Davros YouTube and came up with the idea that his real name is Edna. The dainty way he finds his seat and places his bottom in it has so much Irish cultural meme in it that I nearly blessed myself. And then the words spill out – “red taype”, “farty years”, “reel opportunities”, “jung people”. It’s not that the accent is so bad – there’s lots of painful elocution going on there – but the sense of emotional constraint and striving earnestness in face of the challenges of European Recession has the crawsick aspect that Aileen mentioned. But at least his theory of government is perfectly clear: Good Housekeeping, cutting deficits, acting quickly to put the country right for the people – even if contrary to their wishes, perhaps even then most of all. In this sense FG is the house-keeping party and Enda is the Mammy.
So here he is divulging his practical wisdom amid a gaggle of European ministers at the World Economic Forum (2105). Again and again, he preaches the importance of ‘acting quickly’ in the knowledge that ‘you can’t tell what will happen at the next election’. In all of this he sees himself as arm-in-arm with Merkel and Hollande and all the rest, marching in a private demonstration against the Charlie Hebdo massacre – an event which reminded him of ‘not WHAT Europe is but WHY it is’ – presumably for ‘the people’ rather than the economic benefit of the core membership. Or maybe the people should know that what’s good for the core membership is good for the Union. The snag is that the people don’t really know what’s good for them at all – which is exactly where Enda comes in.
It’s worth noting the emphasis he puts on the ‘rise of populism’ and ‘populist parties’ with their false promises in modern-day Ireland. This is an unlikely theory for an Irish premier, but there you have it. Here is his actual language: “… in Ireland [we have seen] the rise of populism more than any other country … confusion … key is discipline, clarity … the frustration builds … populism of the right and left … what can be delivered effectively in the interests of the people … because ultimately they are the masters.”
Well, that brings us up to the present moment with a bang. One can’t say he doesn’t understand what’s going on but he understands it from the standpoint of a national schoolmarm and that is the point where I part company with him on the basis that we need schoolmarms but always part company with them. But that, of course, is an irresponsible opinion. You could even call me populist though that would be an error of a different kind.