John Waters on Enda

Enda Kenny could be best taoiseach for decades

Irish Times, 10/12/10

Utilisation of FG’s youth talent could signal the end of power-hogging by nation’s elder lemons, writes JOHN WATERS 

IT IS clear that in the coming election campaign no radical proposals will be on the table. There is no stomach in the Irish political system for standing up to bankers, loan sharks or Eurobullies.

If there exists a plucky little nation that will tell the emperor he is naked, it won’t be this one. We no longer do bottle, vision or core thinking.

Our best hope is either that the entire international debt pyramid collapses and we can roll clear or, conversely, that the whole thing is rebalanced to enable it to limp along for another few years, during which time we might be able to do some core thinking about ourselves.

Our political system offers no alternatives except at the rhetorical level. The best hope, bleak as it is, is for a government that will hold the line that has now been established and enable new energies to emerge from a largely moribund and hollowed-out society.

Strange to say, but the most profound crisis we face as a society is not an economic one, but the fact that our political system has gradually become atrophied, having ceased to absorb new talent and energies from the younger generations, which skulk behind keypads lobbing witticisms at politicians but refusing to become involved.

This has more to do with the hogging of power by the older generations than with any innate “apathy” among the young – a kind of constructive alienation that has suited the elder lemons until now.

It is obvious that Fianna Fáil will not have a sniff of government for an aeon. Yet, there is little confidence in any of the alternatives, which means that, more than likely, the next government will emerge more by default than for any reasons to do with inspiration or hope. The best chance, long term, is if we can find a way of fast-tracking the handover of power so as to replace the dead wood in the shortest possible time.

Rather bizarrely in some respects, Fine Gael is now the closest party in the Dáil to offering a representation of the overall national demographic. Whereas the Labour Party still offers essentially the same left-wing personnel as 20 years ago, Fine Gael has a number of interesting and smart young TDs.

In this the party is, theoretically at least, better placed than the others to lead a country in which more than 40 per cent of the population is under 30. Of the notional alternatives, a cabinet containing Leo Varadkar, Lucinda Creighton, Simon Coveney and Brian Hayes has the best hope of inspiring the nation with the idea of the torch at last being handed to a new generation.

Enda Kenny can claim a fair deal of the credit for the election of an eclectic and promising bunch of TDs in 2007. Unfortunately, right now, the defensiveness and paranoia that have built up around his leadership risk destroying this potential.

As leader, he must take the blame for the fact that, having brought these people in, he has failed to deploy them properly.

Fine Gael therefore also offers a reasonably accurate microcosm of the country in that the energies of its younger generation are being rendered frustrated by the reluctance of the elder lemons to move over in the bed. Olwyn Enright, once mentioned as a future leader, has ruled out contesting the coming election.

Varadkar, who has the potential to be a truly great politician, is in danger of running to seed, shooting his mouth off for cheap headlines.

Creighton, who on her election to the Dáil in 2007 displayed an ability and maturity far beyond her years, has recently been spending much of her energy gazing at her own political belly button and muttering about quitting politics altogether.

This is disastrous for Fine Gael but it presents Kenny with a challenge and an opportunity. He could do worse than reflect on the title of Brian Farrell’s book abut the role of the taoiseach in Irish government: Chairman or Chief ?

Kenny cannot be a credible chief. His focus should therefore be on managing the not inconsiderable talent available to him. Whatever personality shortcomings he may have, these can be more than overcome if he approaches correctly the task of ensuring that there occurs an effective and harmonious devolution of power over the lifetime of the next government – that at the end a new generation will have emerged in Fine Gael, leaving the other parties panting to catch up.

Kenny could obliterate most of his present image problems by simply declaring that his role as chairman in the next government would be to ensure that, at the end of it, a new generation of leaders will have emerged with the experience and moral authority to make decisions, radical or otherwise, in accordance with the true desires of those who will constitute Irish society. If he can dissolve the paranoia and defensiveness he has allowed to develop around himself, Enda Kenny might well become the greatest taoiseach for decades.