Enda’s 3am Question Is Still Unanswered


15/02/2016.Pictured (L to R) Leader of Fine Gael An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD with Fine Gael Minister for Health Leo Varadkar at the Centric Health & HSE Primary Care Centre in Dublin today, at the launch of Fine Gael Plan for Health, Investing in Our Health Services. Photo: RollingNews.ie


From left: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar launch the General Election 2016; Derek Mooney.

Replacing Enda without a major reappraisal of what Fine Gael stands for is to miss out on what the last election told us about the attitudes of the electorate and the state of politics in Ireland.

Derek Mooney writes:

“I have had to ask myself that key question, the 3 am. question, if we are in government and there is a national crisis, if there is a sovereign debt crisis for example and [then Governor of the Central Bank] Patrick Honohan rings the Taoiseach – who do I want to answer that phone, I want Richard Bruton to answer that… The people are saying to us they don’t have confidence in Enda Kenny.”

This excoriating quote comes from Leo Varadkar on RTÉ’s Primetime during the failed June 2010 heave against Enda Kenny.

He was not the only one questioning Enda Kenny’s capacity for leadership. On the day before the crucial parliamentary party vote Richard Bruton told RTE’s News at One that:

“I unfortunately no longer have confidence that Enda Kenny can provide the leadership that this country needs…”

While they, and many others, within Fine Gael, thought that was the time to dump Enda, the majority– slim or otherwise – of their parliamentary colleagues did not. The attempt to dump Enda failed.

The insurgents learned an important lesson six and a half years ago: do not underestimate Enda’s tenacity. While they were going on radio and TV in dribs and drabs to wound him, Enda and his supporters were working one-on-one with each individual TD, Senator and MEP to do, or offer, whatever was needed to secure the votes.

The mutineers learned that Enda is not an easy man to get rid of – not then and perhaps even not now. Back then they hoped that a series of bad polls for Fine Gael, even falling behind Labour in an Irish Times poll (them was the days!), might cause Enda to fall on his sword. They were wrong.

While he is now a lot closer to the end of his leadership than he was in 2010: Enda – and his team of loyal lieutenants – are still determined that they alone will decide when the end is nigh.

The understandable furore over Enda’s handling of the recent 3am Sinn Féin coalition question has hurt him. It has also hurt Fine Gael and has placed the issue of leadership firmly on the agenda.

Coming as it did just as another poll showed Fianna Fáil moving ahead of FG did not help the mood. But is this really enough to topple him right now? Or, to put it another way, if the mess that was the February 2016 Fine Gael election campaign was not sufficient grounds for changing leader, is this?

The problem for Fine Gael is not Enda Kenny, or at least it is not just Enda Kenny, it is bigger than that. The paradox that saw FG lose one third of the seats won in 2011 and still remain in office means it has not yet had come to terms with losing the 2016 general election. Consequently, it has not yet learned the lessons of that defeat.

Read the two post-election reports the party published in August 2016 and you will see what I mean. Both focused on communications and organisational minutiae while missing the bigger issue: what does Fine Gael stand for?

Recommendation 1 in the parliamentary party’s Pathways and Opportunities report states:
Briefing documents need to be one page, and they need to be brief…

While TDs focus on messaging problems may, perhaps, be code for Enda’s lack of communications skills, it is still misdirection.

FG did not see its number of seats drop from 76 to 50 and its vote share collapse from 36% to 25.5% because of the size of its briefing documents. It did so because of their content.

While it is probably unfair to expect reports, which were destined to be published, to gift their political opponents with any noteworthy critical analysis, it is not unreasonable to expect them to show some modicum of awareness of the core problem, even if only the usual platitudes.

Even outside the reports, we are not hearing any significant querying or questioning of Fine Gael’s purpose and vision beyond some whispering about who should be the face on the posters. According to a former Fine Gael TD. even this is not going to go anywhere until whoever wants the top job is willing to “put up”.

Switching Enda for Simon C or Leo or even for Frances, Paschal or Simon H – without a major reappraisal of what the party stands for is to miss out on what the last election told us about the attitudes of the electorate or the state of politics.

Rather than focusing on briefing notes and communications they should be deep diving into the serious analysis coming out from the last election.

This includes a recent report from Dr Deirdre Tinney and Dr Stephen Quinlan looking at populist influences in that result: particularly in terms of anti-elitism and distrust of politicians. This is the type of material that all political parties should be considering, not just Fine Gael.

As for the Sinn Féin comment that triggered this latest palace wobble: we will never know what An Taoiseach was thinking when he declined to resolutely rule out any coalition with Sinn Féin.

Perhaps he just misspoke? He wouldn’t be the first leader to have done it, though this explanation is unlikely considering how many times the question was put to him.

A more likely one is that he was trying to send out some subtle signal, but just forgot the subtle bit. Maybe he was trying to draw Mary Lou McDonald out on her comments that Sinn Féin would be open to have a “conversation” around a junior coalition role in the future.

Or, could it be that he and his advisers have concluded that their strategy of continually attacking SF is simply not having the desired effect and it is time to change tack and damage them more by pulling them in closer?

The fact that answer could be anywhere along a spectrum from wanting to consider SF as a future coalition option to wanting to cause them maximum damage indicates the scale of the problem Fine Gael faces about its lack of clarity, direction and identity.

While most of the pretenders could probably manage to appear less confused and confusing than the current leader, I am yet to be convinced that any of them possess his tenacity and steeliness or, more importantly, that the underlying reality would be that much different with someone else in charge.

Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His column appears here every Monday. Follow Derek on Twitter: @dsmooney


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20 thoughts on “Enda’s 3am Question Is Still Unanswered

  1. bisted

    …that sounds more like a job application than an analysis piece…what a shocking loss that would be to the FFers…

    1. Maybe needs less sorghum

      It’s amazing how you even had the pretense of reading it.
      I didn’t make it past the first paragraph

    2. Sheik Yahbouti

      As that eminently sensible journalist, Gene Kerrigan, has said: Why replace him? Replace him with what? No difference whatever will be made. The demand comes solely from the FG bucks who want their turn in “the big chair”. Nothing more. They are as bereft of ideas, of decency and of courage as Our Dear Leader.

      1. classter

        Some proportion of politics is about personality, like it or not.

        FG have a couple of relatively experienced younger ministers who would, in the eyes of many citizens, provide a welcome change in approach and tone whether you believe that policies/execution would be any different or not.

  2. Ferret McGruber

    To sum up, if I’m right, basically you’re saying FG don’t stand for anything and, should there be an election in the morning, they have nothing new to offer other than a different face on the poster. If there’s any lesson to be learnt from the US election it’s exactly that – Clinton offered nothing except more of the same. Trump offered World War lll but at least, in the (addled) minds of voters, it was an alternative.

    1. Kolmo

      FG do have an ideology, it’s based almost entirely on the demands of those holding all the cards in our society – they represent those currently commodifying and dismantling the entire State service mechanism under the pretense of improving efficiencies, Health, Universities, Public Transport, Utilities, child-care, elder-care, Social Welfare, licencing etc…
      The mentality of the FG puppetmasters can be concisely described as being like a Sociapathic Accountant, with an fetish for Anglo-American Hyper-individualism, or feudalism as it used to be called..
      A party of cut-throat careerists, they actually hate the concept of a society from what I can see.

        1. Steve

          Yeah it’s pretty much the only thing I think when I’m in the voting booth ticking FG boxes: how much I hate society.

      1. classter

        Except that if you actually look at policies implemented, FF (and their PD offshoots) have been much more responsible for ‘Anglo-American individual’ policies – privatisation, deregulation, etc.

  3. TheCitizen

    2 queries:

    Could the same not equally be said about FF?

    Who puts the sentences in bold? DM or BS?

  4. Cian

    I LOL-ed at this part “While most of the pretenders could probably manage to appear less confused and confusing than the current leader, I am yet to be convinced that any of them possess his tenacity and steeliness or, more importantly, that the underlying reality would be that much different with someone else in charge.”

    it reminded me so much of b-b-b-Bertie.

    1. msg

      As far as these media guys are concerned it doesn’t really matter who the titular holder of the office is as all are malleable and easily manipulated not to mention completely dependent on these “handlers”

  5. Truth in the News

    Kenny is there because FF are keeping him there, without up to now reaping
    the wrath of the people, but they soon will, what about Mickin Martin taking on
    the job, he is too cute and Kenny is on a ego trip trying to hang on, long that
    may hang on to each other, as they will decimated next time around….why don’t
    they do the honorable thing and consumate the relationship.

    1. classter

      ‘why don’t they do the honorable thing and consumate the relationship.’

      This, I presume, relies on the hope that once they combine, a sensible, effective left-wing force will then emerge?

  6. Brendan Cafferty

    What does Derek’s party FF stand for. Everything & nothing? I am amazed at the ex FF employees who have taken to writing for the time being. If they were back in Gov would the rats jump back on board ship?

Comments are closed.

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