Oliver Callan: Why I won’t miss the accidental Taoiseach
Enda Kenny squandered majority and focused on trivia and spin
Departing Taoiseach Enda Kenny photographed in Dublin on Monday. “He bounds out of office with that cheese-wire cut grin of his, ever youthful and excited about the glow of three-pension heaven that awaits him.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Some of the journalists covering him over the last six years get so teary-eyed at moments like these that their vision is splintered into emotional memories and fond anecdotes for radio panels.
He was the man who became Taoiseach because he was literally the only candidate for the job. For years he avoided debates and interviews. He went missing for long periods of crises but was always there for the good news, job announcements, Mayo Mondays, State visits, concerts and bike races.
The truth is he had a majority so large he could have achieved anything, but chose to squander a chance that may not fall into the hands of one person quite so spectacularly ever again.
Kenny’s Ireland today is a haven for tax avoiders, vultures, the unaccountable and cronyism. He was a details dodger, someone who shrewdly outsourced failure to his Ministers but adopted and cuddled any success as his own.
His colleagues and too many journalists will shower him with praise for “saving the economy”. Oddly, Michael Noonan will be given credit by the same people for the same thing. A more sober appraisal would be how Kenny, tacitly accepting his ineffectual grasp of economics, delegated all such tasks to Noonan, who simply implemented the same plan imposed on Fianna Fáil by the troika.
Noonan’s only bit of improv was fire sales and write-downs of State-owned assets in the National Asset Management Agency and the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, which doubled the hurt of the crash. He allowed the sale of bailed-out assets at crazy prices and let vultures enjoy charity rates of tax on billions in profits. Several of the deals are mired in inquiries or criminal investigations.
If the political press and the public could grasp the gravity of the vulture fund era, Noonan would be regarded as the worst Minister for Finance in the history of the State. Ultimately, Kenny was the man who put him there.
Since he’s regarded as a lightweight, nobody would ever believe Kenny was capable of managing or controlling men such as Noonan or Phil Hogan or Alan Shatter. It has been the key to his PR success, that the public never really blamed Kenny for controversies as you could never believe he was actually in charge. He was always big on the trivial. Being the first Fine Gael leader to serve two terms as Taoiseach. Being the longest-serving Fine Gael Taoiseach. Being the first European leader Trump telephoned. It was all nonsense, but many in the political press who will confetti him with undeserved praise as he leaves office indulged the trivia.
In his early days as Taoiseach there was cause for hope. Kenny was jovial and optimistic, in stark contrast to the taciturn self-pity of his predecessor, Brian Cowen.
He stoutly endorsed the Moriarty tribunal report, detailing the nefarious corruption of Fine Gael’s last tenure in government, and vowed to act on it.
Like most of his promises, the pledges were flouted. After all the tears for victims, Ireland once again has an ambassador to the Vatican and Kenny’s Minister for Health tries in vain to rescue a maternity hospital from the clutches of Magdalene nuns .
This unpleasantness won’t be mentioned by Fine Gael luvvies and maudlin pundits bidding farewell to the accidental Taoiseach. In their world, having to depart office on lottery money into a life of irrelevance is the worst punishment of all. While scandals about real lives are destined for reports soon forgotten, Kenny’s tenure will be immortalised in acrylic and gilt-edge frames in the members’ lobby of Leinster House. He’s an emotional man and his mawkishness has rubbed off on those journalists who have unrequited regard for him. He bounds out of office with that cheese-wire cut grin of his, ever youthful and excited about the glow of three-pension heaven that awaits him.
He’ll scarcely glance back at the burning pits of public service crises and the scandals of his era, smouldering bleakly in his legacy.
The stenographers of spin in the media can hardly type their obits through the tears, sniffling about how he did the economy some service. This is dullard-speak for making multinational boardrooms smile and big business smirk.
Foremost on his mind should be the same words in the thoughts of the countless unaccountable who did the State and its citizens tremendous harm during the Kenny years. “Wow, I got away with it.” His greatest regret? Probably getting rid of the free Merc for former taoisigh..