Sunday 16 December 2018

Andrew Lynch: Honeymoon's over. Now Enda has to avoid split with voters

Enda Kenny must be happy. This day last year, he was on the brink of being toppled by his party in what would have been a humiliating end to his political career.

He survived by a handful of votes -- and went on to lead Fine Gael to its biggest-ever election triumph.

During February's campaign, Kenny made repeated promises about the great things his government would achieve in its first 100 days. He must be wishing he'd said 75 instead.

Three weeks ago, the coalition was riding high in the aftermath of Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama's historic visits -- but since then, gaffes, U-turns and policy failures have brought them crashing down to earth.

The last 24 hours have shown just what a topsy-turvy government this is turning out to be. From New York, finance minister Michael Noonan triumphantly announced that he had won the IMF's support for burning senior bondholders.

Back home, colleague Brendan Howlin sounded like the grim reaper as he warned severe public sector cuts were back on the agenda for the next budget.

Kenny set the 100-day milestone himself, but in reality it's the first 1,000 days that will really determine his government's fate.

In Greece, riot police are firing tear gas at workers protesting against the latest round of cuts -- and while we tend to be a bit more peaceful here, ditching the Croke Park agreement would almost certainly lead to some kind of industrial action that could end up holding the country to ransom.


On the upside, FG and Labour are both still doing well in opinion polls. This is partly because there is no opposition worthy of the name.

However, it's mainly because voters placed a huge amount of faith in Kenny and Eamon Gilmore -- and they desperately want to believe.

On the plus side, the Government can point to election promises that have already been kept. The minimum wage been restored, state cars have been largely scrapped and the HSE is on the way out.

The Government has got a lot of small things right. It's the big issues that keep tripping it up.

FG and Labour got elected on the promise that they would renegotiate our massive debt burden with the EU. So far, even their attempt to secure a measly interest rate cut has failed.

Nicolas Sarkozy's big fat "non" has rattled Kenny -- and since the two men obviously hate each other, we can only hope the French kick Sarko out in next year's election.

As long as this debt continues to cripple us, all other government plans are just tinkering around the edges. After the summer, but after that the countdown to Michael Noonan's first budget will be under way. The minister has admitted he may have to break his promise not to increase income tax -- and if dramatic health and education cuts are also introduced, the public may be left wondering if there's any real difference between this crowd and the shower that went before them.

In Barack Obama's stirring address at College Green last month, he assured Ireland: "Your best days are still ahead." Enda Kenny must convince us it's true.

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