Enda Kenny: The Unlikely Taoiseach
By John Downing, Paperweight, 308pp, €18.99
Considering where he is now, one of only 13 men to be elected head of government, and the 12th taoiseach of the State, this book does no justice to Enda Kenny. If he were as boring, local and banal as he is portrayed in John Downing’s Enda Kenny: The Unlikely Taoiseach, he could not, and should not, have become Taoiseach.
Thirty-seven years in the Dáil on November 12th, he may have been, in fact, the cutest and most cunning of them all. He has played a longer game than any other taoiseach, including Charles J Haughey, who spent 10 years on the chicken-and-chips circuit before rising from the ashes. But the book fails to offer any analysis of this or any contrary theories.
“A book about Enda Kenny? A whole book? So, a political biography of Enda Kenny. A short volume, I shouldn’t wonder? Enda Kenny. A book? Why?” The author cites these as some of the immediate reactions to his decision to write a book about the Taoiseach. And, on the dust cover of the book, he asks: who is Enda Kenny? How much guile and steel lie behind the smiling face he presents to the world? What are the influences that forged him? How much influence has his wife, Fionnuala? Is he really a hopeless but lucky poser? Or has he been badly under-estimated by colleagues and disrespected by pundits for too long?
The Unlikely Taoiseach – a good title, by the way – claims to confront these and other crucial questions about Kenny. It does nothing of the sort. For the first quarter of the book Kenny hasn’t even stood in his first byelection, in 1975, to succeed his very popular and gentlemanly father; many pages are devoted to Mayo GAA and constituency politics; and more again are devoted to recounting his political fate under the rapid turnover of Fine Gael leaders. The constant in his fortunes over the past 22 years has been his popular, humane and politicised wife, Fionnuala O’Kelly.
The book raises a very valid question, of course, in asking who is Enda Kenny, the longest-serving member of the Dáil. Was he simply the only viable alternative to Fianna Fáil in the last general election? What will he do now that his time has come? What motivates him? Now he is Taoiseach, what does he hope to achieve in power? This book doesn’t tell us. And maybe it couldn’t. That awful old phrase “a work in progress” comes to mind.
Some critics may claim it is harsh and unfair to keep asking what the Taoiseach stands for, in a way that the question wasn’t posed of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen when they were less than two years in office. What is different about Kenny is that he has been around for a lifetime yet we don’t know him at all. He is Mr Nice Guy. He is honest. It is highly unlikely that he will be found to be engaging in political or financial irregularities. He looks well. He has rejuvenated Fine Gael. He seems to be a trustworthy chairman of his Coalition Cabinet.
What is also entirely different about Kenny is that he presides over the biggest Government majority in the history of the State, in the most unprecedented circumstances. Political confidence is at its lowest ebb, choices are few and the Coalition’s financial policies are prescribed largely by the external forces of the troika. Like him or not, he is the man of the moment.