Kenny's optimism helps dispel the pall of gloom
Probably his important asset as Taoiseach is an unrelenting energy and optimism. Those qualities have played a significant part in helping to dispel the pall of gloom that hung over the country when he took office. While serious problems will remain there is a growing realisation that the country can recover.
When the Coalition took office few believed Kenny’s claim that the country would be able to exit the bailout and return to the financial markets in 2014. That is now a realistic prospect even if it is by no means as certain as the Taoiseach and his Ministers claim.
The handling of the abortion issue will be the big test for him in the months ahead. This is an emotive issue governments have dodged for the past 20 years but, through a conjunction of circumstances, it has fallen for Kenny to deal with.
So far he has shown a clear grasp of the issue. He has responded calmly to the crass claim of the Catholic bishops that the proposed legislation and regulation will amount to “a culture of death”. He has also shown political acumen by firmly rejecting politically naive calls from some of his TDs for a free vote on the matter.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore had a bumpy start to his period in Government and took some time to live down the “chapel gate rhetoric” of the election campaign. By choosing the Department of Foreign Affairs he also put himself at a disadvantage in his role as party leader.
However, he too has kept his nerve through two difficult budgets and enforced party discipline. Like Kenny he appreciates that the prize of turning the economy around is the critical one that will determine his party’s prospects at the next election.
Labour has dropped in the polls since the election but an outbreak of panic is the last thing it needs. The next election is not due for another three years and if the economic targets are met and the country is restored to economic sovereignty by 2016 that would give the party a platform on which to go to the electorate.
On the Opposition side of the House Fianna Fáil is beginning to show signs of recovery. It is still going to be a long haul back for the party but Micheál Martin has performed a crucial role in ensuring it did not implode after the trauma of the election meltdown. He also ensured the party took a nuanced approach to Opposition and did not fall into the trap of trying to match the consistently aggressive performance of Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin has maintained a highly vocal stance in Opposition and the polls indicate it is having some impact. Whether it can translate that poll support into votes is a question to which 2014 European and local elections will provide some answer.
As for the array of small parties and Independents, it appears they will be around for some time but the task of solving the country’s problems will remain with the big parties.