Johnny Fallon

Irish Political Commentator

Fine Gael and Enda’s grand plan

Enda Kenny has a lot to think about right now. It’s not an easy time for the government and there are a lot of problems waiting to trip them up. Enda has been a TD since 1975. Just think about that. He is a TD before many of us were even born. Barry Sweeney first uncovered the Tuam babies grave way back in 1975. Now here Enda is as Taoiseach and the story is finally getting some attention. The high point of the Kenny leadership is usually suggested as his speeches on the Church, perhaps that was because he has been there watching this all unfold slowly and horrifically down through the years.

Enda has a government to run. The 2011 election was no tactical mastermind, it was more a case of shooting the FF fish in the barrel. Since then things have gotten a tad more difficult. The local elections were not good for Fine Gael. There are a lot of uneasy backbenchers who know that on current figures they are a long way off being able to hold their seat.

The troika leaving should have been great news but the government has struggled ever since. It would appear that real planning was always lacking. The only strategy went along the following lines: ‘Hit FF hard, wipe them out, leave no opposition. Take control, tied into troika plan there’s not much we can do, sit it out, troika leave and we are the heroes compared to the last shower, hang on a bit and things will turn and we will be there for the credit.’

In fairness it wasn’t the worst plan ever. It might even work. The problem is though that even such a simplistic plan requires a little bit of effort and drive. The government seemed stunned that people were not falling all over them the day the troika left. What they forget is that despite the rhetoric the people always knew the troika would eventually go. What they really wanted to know was if things were changing if there was real inspiration out there. That hasn’t been evident.

The Garda controversies and Alan Shatter were allowed rumble along for far too long. Enda should not have allowed this, but the age old political desire to not give in forced him to battle against the tide even when it was clear it was only damaging the party. Shatter had failed, he mucked up, he may not be a bad guy but Enda should not have kept stringing it out trying to save him.

Equally Enda has been far to loyal to James Reilly. As a minister he passed the point of no return a long time ago. I said from the outset in 2011 that Health would be one of the most important deciding factors of this government’s success. Reilly failed quickly. The government needs major reform of health, real leadership and a strong voice. Despite talking the talk, Reilly proved to be none of these things. His stock is so low now that it would be impossible for him to lead the kind of changes and battles that will be necessary in that Department for the government before the next election. Enda should have moved before, he has to move now
The biggest issue over the next 18 months is that Enda Kenny will feel pressure on both sides. A new Labour leader will be more assertive. Whatever happens Enda does not want this government to fall. He will do anything to keep it in place, He will give in to any Labour demand. This creates its own problem. FG backbenchers will start to demand Labour learn their place. The more Enda keeps Labour happy the more his own position in FG weakens.

Now, the hope is of course that the longer the government lasts the more chance the economic recovery can take hold and a few points can be recovered in the polls. In the meantime Enda needs some new faces. He doesn’t want to make the same error Brian Cowen made and waste a reshuffle appointing people heading to the end of their careers. He wants fresh voices, new impetus. Weirdly he will also be relying on former opponents in Bruton, Varadkar and Coveney to lead the charge too.

The next strategy will be to define the battleground. Now here is where Enda got a little lucky. The SF victory and narrative will suit him well. While backbenchers outside Dublin will be more worried by some of the FF performances, those in Dublin and in the national news are all talk of SF. That is the ideal point for Enda Kenny. He knows that the government is being attacked for a lack of fairness and he needs to throw a bone to Labour. That is going to upset those on the right of his party and in the business cantered media. However, he can afford to take this hit. Why? because he about to set the stage for the battle and the choice is SF or FG.

Now FF when they were pushing created a problem because they could eat at his centrist vote, but SF wont. If Enda can convince everyone that its FG against SF then no matter what bones he throws Labour or how he concedes policy, nobody on the right is going to want to vote for SF. The FG right flank is secure from SF and will indeed galvanise if he can polarise this debate. That was never possible if FF or PDs or even Labour were there but it is now. Enda will be happy to play the SF tune of Left/right politics. SF will be happy too it may shift voters away from independents and Socialist party and into their arms.

That’s the strategy. The problem is of course that Labour, FF, Socialists and Independents may not all be so asleep as to fall into this game. However, you often get lucky in politics and Enda would be happy enough to believe that that they are all so focussed fighting each other they can’t see the big picture like he can.

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