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Andrew Lynch: Taoiseach faces his own 'stress test' over Lowry unless he speaks out

After three weeks in office, we've already learned a few things about what kind of Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be.

On the plus side he is good with people, does his homework on the issues and displays a refreshing lack of ego.

On the down side, Enda is painfully bad at thinking on his feet -- and that's why the Michael Lowry affair is still threatening to do him enormous damage.

As the Dail begins its two-day debate on the Moriarty Report, Kenny must realise that his response so far has been nowhere near good enough.

He has failed to clear up the questions surrounding that $50,000 donation made to Fine Gael by Esat Digifone, just two months after they were awarded the most lucrative contract in the history of the State.





opinion

When asked if Lowry should resign his Dail seat, Kenny half-heartedly replied, "In an ideal world, yes" -- without acknowledging that as Taoiseach, it's his job to bring that ideal world a little closer.

The early opinion polls suggest that most people believe Judge Michael Moriarty's version of events. Even if you give Lowry the benefit of the doubt, we already knew enough about his tax-dodging past to suggest he is not fit to be a member of the national parliament.

For the new Taoiseach, dumping on his old cabinet colleague should be a political no-brainer -- so why is Enda apparently so reluctant to do it?

When Lowry admitted that Ben Dunne had paid for the renovation of his house and resigned from government in 1996, Kenny assured the Dail that his friend was "a man of the highest integrity and honour". The problem is that more than 14 years later, the North Tipperary TD is still on friendly terms with many people at the top of his old party.

Speaking at the 50th birthday of their mutual pal Phil Hogan last July, Kenny spotted a familiar face in the crowd and quipped, "Is that an application form I see in Deputy Lowry's top pocket?"

The time for joking is now over. Kenny won last month's General Election because the country is desperate for a fresh start. To do that, he must exorcise the ghost of corruption that's been hanging around the Dail for so long -- not just shut his eyes and hope it will eventually go away.





advantage

Of course, the Taoiseach's one huge advantage is that the opposition is in no position to preach. Fianna Fail can hardly take the moral high ground on Lowry since Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen were more than happy to prop themselves up in office with his vote.

Sinn Fein's dilemma was vividly illustrated last week when Gerry Adams solemnly accused Fine Gael of "money laundering" and the Dail collapsed in laughter.

Even so, the public clearly wants Kenny to come down on Lowry as hard as he possibly can. As things stand, it looks as if the taxpayer will have to foot the bill for the disgraced ex-minister's legal bills of an estimated €5m.

We could even have the grotesque spectacle of Barack Obama arriving at his ancestral home in Moneygall and being lobbied by the local TD for a giant casino just a few miles up the road.





controversy

In real terms, the Lowry controversy is nowhere near as important as the results of our banks' stress tests that are due on Thursday. However, anything less than a commanding performance in this week's Dail debate will leave Kenny with a stress test of his very own.

If he doesn't seize this opportunity to show that he understands the public's anger over low standards in high places, he will leave us suspecting that all FG's talk about "a new politics" was just the usual election guff.

Enda Kenny's honeymoon is over. Now he must prove that he has what it takes to make this marriage work.