I have been known to have a pint or two in the same joint that Enda Kenny, who last week survived a confidence vote in his party, has been known on occasion to have a pint or two.
Generally we encounter each other on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, late, when the bar is empty, and I am surrounded by students and he is surrounded by yes men. I’ve never spoken to him. The only thing I’ve ever thought to tell him is that he looks much taller on television. In fact, he is a tiny man with a great big voice.
The fact that Richard Bruton, who challenged him for the leadership of Fine Gael, is much smaller than Kenny, makes me wonder just how small is Richard Bruton? Is he the size of a newt, or a badger, or a field mouse?
Vincent O’Brien, who was too quick to declare Fine Gael dead in 2002, was too quick to declare the end Kenny’s leadership in an opinion piece in The Irish Times. He effectively labelled Kenny a handsome buffoon, and said he hadn’t the brains to understand complex economic questions.
Cowen and Lenihan, one might argue, had the brains to understand complex economic questions, but they either forgot to ask them, or they don’t have the brains to cope with complex ethical issues.
One thing I have learned in my time as a journalist, attending Oireachtas Committee meetings and Public Accounts Committee meetings, is that Ireland’s politicians (I would say this is true everywhere, but I have only worked as a journalist in Ireland) are broadly incapable of navigating complex terrain, no matter how intelligent they are. The reason is that they prepare for these meetings like very bad chess players. They see an opportunity to strike, and they take it. They are attracted to the feeling one gets in one’s gut when one delivers the zinging soundbite.
What they do not see is that the senior civil servant who has briefed the minister or secretary general of a particular department, or even the CEO of the HSE, has merely created and maintained the illusion of that opportunity, so that the politician will step into the space provided and get stomped on.
One of the reasons transparency in government is so hard to attain here is that these important meetings, where people who are in charge of spending billions of euro of taxpayer money are held to public account by members of the opposition party, tend to become farces. The staff behind the civil servants always out-prepare the staff of politicians, and the politicians themselves.
The reason that national confidence in Enda Kenny has dipped is not because he lacks intelligence (he may or may not; it is simply beside the point); it’s because the opposition has failed to launch a convincing, credible, and popular attack on what we must acknowledge to be one of the most vile and destructive and stupid governments modern civilisation has ever witnessed — and Kenny leads the largest opposition party. — G.B.