Enda Kenny is fond of a few lines of poetry — if you could call it poetry.
He quoted Heaney on his nomination as Taoiseach and book-ended the 31st Dáil with the following folksy claptrap. In March 2011 he said
Together and for our country let us believe in our future. For Ireland and each other, let us lift up our heads, turn our faces to the sun and, as has been already said, hang out our brightest colours. This is the first day of a journey to a better future. That future will be achievable when Ireland can again take charge of its own destiny, when by the centenary of the 1916 Rising we can prove to be the best small country in the world in which to do business, to raise a family and to grow old with dignity and respect.
And when dissolving the Dáil last February.
St Brigid’s Day is past. The Spring has arrived. I must raise my sail.
He indulges in this sort of guff quite a bit. Not that it ever shows but you can imagine him practicing in front of the mirror, dramatic music swelling in his own head. However far from some titan of oratory his attempts at profundity have fallen flat and mostly relegated to cringe inducing trivia remembered only by unfortunates like myself.
Who knows what mawkish drivel his resignation has in store but one thing certain is that Enda Kenny survived the last five, if not forty years in Dáil Éireann without saying much of substance at all.
One moment in particular stands out as emblematic of Kenny’s shallow, badly choreographed public premiership. Below is an extract from a speech delivered in Drogheda some years ago.
Here…. mesmerised……hundreds of thousands took to the roads.
Too many of them….already mere hints of humans….. carrying their most precious possession: their children….. blue-black and bloated from hunger and fever. ….
With those children in their arms, they turned their backs on all they had known..
The already-skeleton dead….. of a famished Ireland.
By the time they arrived here on the North Quay who knows what they had witnessed, avoided, endured? Not just hunger, but typhus, fever, cholera.
And through it all, the best…..the worst of humanity.
Read the full thing here if you must but needless to say this demonstrates that ahead of the National Famine Commemoration, speechwriters had to include pauses so as to inject a bit of emotion into the Irish prime minister’s delivery.
His speech following publication of the sham McAleese Report will be referenced much in the coming week with few providing context of what happened before or since. Kenny’s now famous apology on February 19th only came after criticism for his refusal to admit liability earlier on February 5th. Writing on this site ahead of the last election, Claire McGettrick of Justice For Magdalenes told us that
Earlier this week a vulnerable Magdalene survivor phoned to say she had spent 17 hours on a drip in a chair in a crowded A&E. This same woman shed tears of happiness in the Dáil on the night of the apology. She phoned me the next day, concerned about the Taoiseach – ‘the poor man was very upset’ she said. Three years later however, she feels completely hoodwinked.
She read Appendix G of Judge Quirke’s report and signed away her right to sue the State based on the legitimate expectation that she would receive a comprehensive healthcare suite. She certainly expected better than 17 hours in A&E. This woman has lived a hard life and the pain she has endured seems like it’s almost too much for one person to bear. Her lump sum payment is gone – she had debts to clear and had family to look after. But this woman is a fighter; again and again she picks herself up and keeps going.
And yet she keeps asking me when it will be over. Her life has been a constant struggle, but the State apology represented hope. She thought the fight would be over on 19th February 2013 – I haven’t the heart to tell her that the fight is nowhere near over, and that the State itself will likely resist her every step of the way.
That is the truth not only of Enda Kenny’s apology but of the regime and treatment of these women he represents.
Likewise, the much applauded Cloyne Report speech contained both multiple acknowledgements of the mistreatment of children in this state and promises for the future. In practice, we know how this continues. From children in Direct Provision, those hungry going to school, those with households destroyed by austerity. The recent National Maternity Hospital decision only underlines the hollowness of the man’s words.
Back in 2012 Kenny got himself into a tangle trying to avoid admitting his department acted unconstitutionally by hiring a PR Firm during the Fiscal Treaty Referendum. An Taoiseach told the Dáil that pages of script “got stuck together” and fortunately for him no journalist bothered reporting the incident.
The “man with two pints” yarn has become cemented as part of his legacy with a long list of dishonesty on armies, ATMs, etc, not far behind. On one occasion I recall an irate member of Young Fine Gael writing to the Irish Times to complain that it was unfair of Fintan O’Toole to quote verbatim words Enda Kenny, in his capacity as Taoiseach and a grown adult, had publicly said.
Enda Kenny entered the Dáil in 1975, the year the Vietnam war ended. Prior to this he spent less than five years out of college working as a primary school teacher. Having spent over forty years then enclosed in the Leinster House bubble is it any wonder he is the way he is and so reluctant to leave. Never someone noted for his intellect, it is even truer to say he knows nothing of life outside politics.
However aside from rhetorical blunders there is very little Enda Kenny will look back on with regret. From his point of view, once the deflation settles he has a record to be proud of.
Let us imagine he sat down six years ago to write a list of goals as prime minister. How many do you think he has ticked off?
- To protect the privileges that seemed and were no doubt believed to be mortally threatened by events since 2008.
- To embed Fine Gael as a main organ of power and patronage in this state.
That’s about it, isn’t it?
You and I may believe the problems facing this country are legion but we must accept that these were none of his concern. All the ills and injustice deepened by his policies are not error or oversight but perfectly desirable features of how Enda Kenny believes the world should work. Foodbanks are not signs of failure.
You have to look very hard to find any measure imposed by the Troika that Fine Gael would disagree with. Every incarnation of the party dating back to independence and before has shown contempt for the vast majority of Irish people in the interest of the wealth and privilege they represent. Rather than some so heroic fight to bring the country back from the brink, the bailout provided perfect cover remake Ireland in their own warped image.
“The best small country in the world in which to do business” – that was the extent of his vision for Ireland. A modest ambition for a country that never had any issue in facilitating the needs of capital. If anything, it was already too easy to do business in Ireland provided your business was finance, property or farming exports.
Kenny’s very first outing as Taoiseach was a conference of the Irish Funds Industry Association where he gave the keynote address. The main takeaway from that speech as noted on the lobby group’s website was the prime minister assuring financial services that his “door is always open”.
Not so for those at the sharp end. You needn’t have me repeat here that list in full. Soaring house prices, rents, debts and suicides. Decimated public services, deliberate rural decline, etc. Nor need we run through every twist a turn of his six year premiership because we’ve each witnessed it.
There is little point raising these facts now as he prepares to step down. Long prepared newspaper supplements and well rehearsed media punditry will do the usual routine with no one remarking that Enda Kenny leaves politics having fulfilled exactly the job he had to do. A sycophant in Europe and puppet at home. All in a days work. Keep the show on the road. Housing crises, desperate lone parents and crooked cops have no baring on his record.
Commentary will instead commend him as a ‘canny operator’. Underestimated. He will be lauded for hanging on in spite of increasingly grotesque scandals exposing the dark heart of this country, whatever of the casualties.
Enda Kenny survived.
Just as the regime he led continues to exploit, demean and prosper for it. It may be cruel. It may be shambolic. But we cannot judge his role in it as anything other than a success.