Kenny's optimism helps dispel the pall of gloom
INSIDE POLITICS:Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Ministers can relax over Christmas having got a second difficult budget through the Dáil without suffering any serious political damage, despite a lot of huffing and puffing from a handful of worried TDs and Senators.
While the Labour Party lost a TD and a Senator on the Social Welfare Bill, the defections were not as serious as expected and were counterbalanced by the application to return by former minister of state Willie Penrose, who left the parliamentary party over last year’s budget.
Labour faces a problem, however, in having a chairman, Colm Keaveney, who is now outside the parliamentary party. He will inevitably become a focal point for dissent among the membership but that is nothing new for Labour.
In the coming months the focus for dissent will shift to the Fine Gael parliamentary party. Its cohesion will be tested on the abortion issue but while it may also lose a TD or two overboard the signs are that discipline will also prevail in the bigger Coalition party.
Ultimately the fate of both parties in government will depend on the economy. While a bit of luck will be needed to meet the ambitious growth target set out in the budget for 2013 there are some tentative signs that the worst of the economic crisis may finally be passing.
If the euro continues to stabilise in the months ahead and a deal is done on Ireland’s bank debt the resulting boost to confidence could see the country attaining the 1.5 per cent growth target envisaged by the Government.
Of course the corollary is also true. Negative international developments could erode confidence, in turn undermining the budget targets, with serious knock-on effects.
For the moment, however, there are reasons to be mildly optimistic. Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton has pointed out that private sector employment grew by 12,000 in the third quarter of this year after a loss of 250,000 jobs in the sector since the start of the crisis.
Taoiseach widely admired abroad
Enda Kenny has been repeating ad nauseam, at home and abroad, the mantra about making Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business. While his domestic audience may be tired of hearing it, the message is having some impact.
A striking thing about the Taoiseach’s performance is that it is so widely admired outside Ireland. Both in the European Union and the United States Kenny is regarded at the highest levels as a serious politician who has performed extremely well in a very difficult job.
By contrast, at home he has been subject to a torrent of abuse from a coterie of commentators who themselves have made the wrong call at almost every turn of the economic crisis.
Kenny has sometimes displayed a lack of verbal agility in media interviews but the real test of leadership is performance and on that front he has done well. For a start he has run a unified Cabinet, containing a number of big egos, and has ensured the key economic targets have been met.