Saturday 22 October 2016

Andrew Lynch: Why Enda Kenny must find new partner to push him over finishing line

Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured with Tanaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton
Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured with Tanaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton

Enda Kenny may need to start making some new friends.

With a little over six  months left before a general election must be held, it is now clear that the Fine Gael leader has a great chance of winning a second term as Taoiseach.

The only problem is, his Labour colleagues are not pulling their weight - which is why he could soon be scouring Leinster House in search of parties and individuals who are willing to prop him up in power.

A new Ipsos/MRBI opinion poll published yesterday made Enda's dilemma clear. Fine Gael (28pc, no change) have consolidated their position as Ireland's biggest party and look highly likely to lead the next Government.

Unfortunately for them, Labour (8pc, up one) are just not recovering fast enough to give the current Coalition another Dail majority.

So what should Kenny do? For a start, he can probably dismiss the handful of Fine Gael TDs who are urging him to hold a snap election in November.

If next month's budget is a smash hit, he might yet be tempted to take the plunge - but right now most of his deputies are working on the assumption that they have jobs until next March.

The bigger question still remains. Enda used to cut a dashing figure in the dance halls of Mayo during his youth, but in coalition politics it takes two to tango.

Which of his rivals on the opposition benches might be ready to give him a twirl? Here are the options.

1. Fianna Fail. At 13/8 with Paddy Power, this is the bookies' favourite. As the centenary of 1916 approaches, bringing Ireland's two civil war parties together for the first time would have great symbolic value.

At the Ploughing Championships last Tuesday, ex-Fine Gael minister Ivan Yates even said that this pairing was "inevitable".


However, there is still huge resistance to the idea within Fianna Fail. Some old-school Soldiers of Destiny would rather die than take orders from their Blueshirt enemies.

Others fear that just as they destroyed their coalition partners in the Progressive Democrats and Green Party, serving as a junior party to Fine Gael would be the kiss of death.

2. Sinn Fein. While the numbers for this option add up, it looks like a non-starter.

Gerry Adams knows that doing a deal with Fine Gael would shatter his party's anti-establishment image overnight, while Enda Kenny can hardly take the risk of more IRA skeletons falling from the Shinners' cupboard.

3. Lucinda Creighton's Renua. This is a possibility. Renua are marketing themselves as a purer version of Fine Gael, which means there should be no major difficulties in agreeing a policy platform. But since Lucinda recently accused the Taoiseach of lying to her, the clash of personalities could lead to some awkward conversations.

4. The Social Democrats. Again, a real runner as long - as the new party can elect a decent number of TDs.

If Fine Gael can live with Labour for five years, then the centre-left Soc Dems must be potential partners too - and it does not need a leap of imagination to picture Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy or Roisin Shortall sitting at the Cabinet table.

5. Shane Ross's Independent Alliance. Tempting, but risky. Ross's motley crew is not actually a party and he has denied any ambition to be a minister.

But Fine Gael hate the thought of him pulling Enda's strings and fear that the Independent Alliance would fall apart in a crisis.

6. Other Independent TDs. If Fine Gael are just a handful of seats away from the finishing line, then this is their safest bet. Parish-pumpers such as Michael Healy-Rae have always made it clear that their vote can be bought by any Taoiseach willing to throw some money at their own back yards.

It worked brilliantly for Bertie Ahern - and as the recent Fennelly Report showed, Enda has much more in common with Ahern than he likes to admit.

When the dust settles on this general election, Enda Kenny is still favourite to be standing on the winners' podium. The big question voters must start asking themselves now is who they want to see holding his arm aloft.

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