Pair at the helm of good ship Ireland have seen good, bad and inept moments over last two years


Kenny and Gilmore have a good relationship and have worked hard to ensure the Coalition remains cohesive

Enda Kenny, Taoiseach

Before he became Taoiseach Kenny was widely dismissed as not having the qualities necessary for the job but he has taken to office like a duck to water. His indefatigable energy and unremitting optimism have played a huge part in putting the country on the road to recovery.

The failed leadership heave against him in June 2010 was the making of Kenny. It showed the public that he had the steel necessary to govern and it gave him the confidence to lead Fine Gael to becoming the biggest party in the State.

Restoring Ireland’s international reputation has been one of his major achievements. His long involvement in the European People’s Party, where he rubbed shoulders with many of the leading figures in the EU including Angela Merkel, paid rich dividends.

He began that task badly with an unseemly spat at his first EU summit with former French president Nicholas Sarkozy. That row was greeted as a triumph in Ireland but could have done serious damage to relations with our EU partners if Kenny had not quickly clawed back the ground at later summits. Since then he has showed a sure touch in international relations that helped pave the way for a significant easing of the EU-IMF bailout terms.

His selection as European of the Year by a German judging panel reflects his performance on the EU stage, and he has also done well on his trips to the US where his frequent visits have helped to boost investment in Ireland.

Among the other high points of the two years have been the Dáil speeches on the Cloyne report in which he attacked the Vatican and his detailed response to the Magdalene report which compensated for his initial inept response.

On the negative side he can sometimes be glib in Dáil exchanges and the constant harping back to Fianna Fáil’s record is beginning to wear a bit thin.

He is still not comfortable in media interviews, and is much happier in the parliamentary forum where he feels at home.

Kenny clearly enjoys engaging with the public but his affability has never translated into the wide popularity achieved by his Fianna Fáil predecessors. That could be a problem in the years ahead as the Government struggles to retain its authority as it continues to implement spending cuts and tax increases.

Eamon Gilmore, Tánaiste

Some of his own TDs are dubious about his choice of Foreign Affairs as a ministry but his role on the Economic Management Committee gives the Tánaiste a direct input into the shape of the Government’s economic policy.

His predecessor Dick Spring also opted for Foreign Affairs but in the 1990s the Northern peace process was central to everything and that is no longer the case. EU issues are long longer in the Foreign Affairs remit since the Lisbon Treaty but have passed to the Taoiseach’s Department. It means that a lot of his focus is on international issues that have no direct bearing on the Irish political scene.

Gilmore is a better debater than Kenny. While that talent was more relevant when he was on the opposition benches it proved very important during the fiscal treaty referendum and will be vital when the next general election comes around.

He has a good relationship with the Taoiseach and has worked hard to ensure that the Coalition remains cohesive. That has ensured that relations at ministerial level have remained good and whatever tensions have emerged do not break along party lines.

Things have not gone as smoothly with the Labour parliamentary party and four of his TDs, party chairman Colm Keaveney, junior minister Róisín Shortall, veteran Dublin TD Tommy Broughan and newly elected Dublin West TD Patrick Nulty, have gone overboard.

His internal critics say the party is suffering from having its identity submerged in the Coalition. Labour didn’t help its cause by leaking its desire to increase the universal social charge for high earners in advance of the last budget which only highlighted its failure to achieve the objective.

That actually obscured the fact that Labour got a lot of what it wanted in that budget. It managed to have a 50:50 split between spending cuts and tax increases rather than the 2:1 ratio favoured by Fine Gael and that involved a range of tax increases for the self-employed sector.

Gilmore’s task is to find a way of claiming public credit for Labour’s achievements while not destabilising the Coalition. Ultimately his credibility will rest on whether the strategy of going into government to help rescue the economy is recognised by the public. Of particular importance is whether the party’s public sector support base decides to punish Labour for the latest round of reforms involving cuts in a range of allowances or whether it is prepared to give the party credit for protecting its core pay rates.

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