Kenny plays a high-stakes game on bank debt deal
Kenny’s enduringly optimistic demeanour and down-to-earth approach have helped. While his speaking style is often vague and disjointed, Kenny has been relatively sure-footed and has avoided gaffes. On the international stage, both he and the country have been lavished with praise, most prominently on the front of Time magazine, for Ireland’s compliance with the bailout programme.
Domestically Kenny has avoided the inclination to be everywhere, opening anything, like some of his predecessors. He has also shown a wise tendency to stay out of the firing line when controversies or crises develop, most notably in the case of Minister for Health James Reilly. The Dáil plays a diminishing role in shaping the public perception of our leaders but there too Kenny’s performance has been at about par and largely uncontroversial.
Although his approval ratings, most recently measured at 33 per cent, are relatively low, that is attributable more to the angst of the times and indifference to his low-voltage political personality than any particular annoyance or irritation at Kenny himself.
More importantly, for Kenny and Fine Gael, it is Eamon Gilmore’s Labour Party rather than Kenny’s Fine Gael that seems to be taking most of the political flak for the austerity being imposed. Although Fine Gael’s vote is about three-quarters what it was at the 2011 election, support for the Labour Party has almost halved. At somewhere between 31 and 35 per cent, depending on which poll you choose, Kenny’s party is doing relatively well, allowing for the volatility associated with midterm polling and the scale of austerity the Government is engaged in implementing.
Anyone looking at the challenges facing the Government two months ago would have seen the budget, abortion legislation and negotiating a promissory note deal as the political pressure points. The Government has safely charted its most difficult budget. It even managed to introduce a residential property tax and, while there were some inter-party hiccups, there was no serious bust-up.
The tone around the abortion issue has eased in recent weeks and although he may still lose a handful of deputies, it may not be as politically difficult for Kenny as he might once have been feared.
That leaves the outcome of negotiations on the promissory notes and other aspects of the bank debt. Kenny’s backbenchers will be hoping his über-optimism on this is justified.