As Fine Gael Prepares To Win The Irish General Election, Meet Ireland's New Taoiseach: Enda Kenny

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With just 4 days left before the Irish General election, the Irish Times reports that Fine Gael is now guaranteed to be the winner of the upcoming popular vote. The only question is whether the government will be a monopoly one or coalition based. Reports the Irish Times: "When people were asked who they would vote for if there were a general
election tomorrow, the figures for party support (when undecided voters
were excluded) compared with the last Irish Times  poll on
February 3rd were: Fianna Fáil, 16 per cent (up one point); Fine Gael,
37 per cent (up four points); Labour, 19 per cent (down five points);
Sinn Féin, 11 per cent (down one point); Green Party, 2 per cent (up one
point); and Independents/Others, 15 per cent (no change)." Not surprisingly, lagging Labour party is scrambling to get some last minute votes: "Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore has urged voters not to give Fine Gael
a “monopoly of power” and called on people to “switch to Labour” when
they cast their vote on Friday." Sounds like a call for a vote for hope and change. That worked swell back in the US. So now that the election outcome is certain, and Brian Cowen's tenure has at most 3 more days to go, here is a profile of the new Irish leader: Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Enda Kenny (born 24 April 1951) is an Irish politician and leader of the Fine Gael party and Leader of the Opposition in Dáil Éireann. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo since 1975, having succeeded his father Henry Kenny.[3]

Kenny served as Minister for Tourism and Trade from 1994 to 1997. He has been leader of Fine Gael since 2002, and is the longest-serving TD in Dáil Éireann still in office, and is the incumbent Father of the Dáil.

Early and private life

Enda Kenny was born in Castlebar, County Mayo in 1951. The third child in a family of five, he was educated locally at St. Patrick's national school in Cornanool and St. Gerald's College (De La Salle) in Castlebar. Kenny subsequently attended St Patrick's College of Education in Dublin and University College Galway. He later worked as a primary school teacher.

Kenny has been married to Kerry woman Fionnuala O'Kelly since 1992; they have three children. The couple met in Leinster House where O'Kelly worked as a press officer for Fianna Fáil. She later worked with RTÉ.[4][5][6]

Kenny enjoys golf, cycling, romantic walks on the beach, hillwalking and the music of Bruce Springsteen, he has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and cooked a meal.[7] He is a keen supporter of his native Mayo Gaelic football team. His father, Henry Kenny, won an All-Ireland medal with the inter-county team in 1936.

Kenny has been portrayed as cross-dresser "Dame Enda" by satirist Oliver Callan, a circumstance known to be of some discomfort to the politician.[8]

Early political career

From an early age Kenny was exposed to politics as his father, Henry
Kenny, became a Fine Gael TD in 1954. In the early 1970s he became
directly involved in politics when he started helping his father with
constituency clinics. In 1975 Henry Kenny, who was at this stage a Parliamentary Secretary
in the government, died after a short battle with cancer. The Fine Gael
party wanted one of his sons to stand as their candidate at the subsequent by-election,
and so Enda Kenny was chosen. He was elected on the first count with
52% of the vote, and at 24 he was the youngest member of the 20th Dáil.[9]

Kenny remained on the backbenches of the Dáil for almost a decade. He
was appointed party spokesperson firstly on youth affairs and sport,
then western development, however, he failed to build a national profile
as he concentrated more on constituency matters. Kenny was left out in
the cold when Garret FitzGerald became Taoiseach for the first time in 1981 and again in 1982. He was, however, appointed as a member of the Fine Gael delegation at the New Ireland Forum in 1983 and later served on the British-Irish Parliamentary Association. In 1986 he became a Minister of State at the Departments of Education and Labour. Fine Gael lost the 1987 general election
resulting in Kenny being on the opposition benches for the next seven
years. In spite of this his national profile was raised as he served in a
number of positions on the party's front bench, including Education, Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. He was also the Fine Gael Chief Whip for a short period.

Government minister

In late 1994 the Fianna FáilLabour Party government collapsed; however, no general election was called. Instead a Fine GaelLabour PartyDemocratic Left "Rainbow Coalition"
came to power. Kenny, as Fine Gael chief whip, was a key member of the
team, which negotiated the programme for government with the other two
parties prior to the formation of the new government. Under Taoiseach John Bruton, Kenny joined the cabinet and was appointed Minister for Tourism and Trade.
During his tenure as minister, Ireland saw a significant growth in
tourism business and in its international trade position. As minister he
chaired the European Union Council of Trade Ministers during Ireland's six-month Presidency of the European Council as well as co-chairing a round of the World Trade Organization talks in 1996. Among Kenny's other achievements were the rejuvenation of the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Dublin and the successful negotiations to bring a stage of the 1998 Tour de France to Ireland. In 1997 the government was defeated at the general election and Kenny returned to the opposition benches.

2001 Fine Gael leadership election

In 2001 John Bruton resigned as leader of Fine Gael following a vote of no confidence in his ability.[10] Kenny was one of a number of candidates who stood in the subsequent leadership election, promising to "electrify the party".[11] In the final ballot it was Michael Noonan
who emerged victorious (it is Fine Gael's custom not to publish ballot
results for leadership elections). Noonan subsequently failed to give a
spokesperson's assignment to Kenny. This led Kenny to accuse Noonan of
sending a "dangerous message".[12]

Racist joke controversy

In September 2002, Kenny was accused of making racist remarks, when
he used the word "nigger" during a racist joke in relation to Patrice Lumumba, the assassinated first Prime Minister of Congo.
Kenny wanted his "obscure joke" to be suppressed and specifically asked
journalists not to report it, though Enda's "chortling repetition of
the inflammatory word" was carried by the Sunday Independent newspaper.[13] He was subsequently condemned by race campaigners at home, in Britain and further abroad.[14][15]
Matters were made worse when it emerged that several of Lumumba's
relatives, including a son and several grandchildren, lived in Tallaght.[16]

Fine Gael leader

At the 2002 general election
Fine Gael suffered its worst electoral performance ever, losing 23
seats, a figure larger than expected and with its overall vote down 5%.
Kenny himself came close to losing his seat and even went so far as to
prepare a concession speech. In the end he won the third seat in the constituency. Michael Noonan resigned as Fine Gael leader on the night of the result, an action which triggered another leadership election.
Protest meetings were held by members of the party against the speed
with which the leadership election had been called and the failure to
broaden the franchise to the membership. It was suggested that it was
foolish to choose a leader before conducting an electoral post-mortem.

Kenny once again contested the Fine Gael leadership and emerged successful on that occasion.[1] On becoming leader he faced an unenviable task as his demoralised party faced the popular Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, with 31 TDs. In the beginning his leadership style was also criticised. The tide began to turn for Fine Gael in 2003 as the Fianna Fáil-led
government's popularity took a downturn. Fine Gael's membership
increased and the party became a much more united entity. Kenny's first
major televised conference speech in November 2003 was well received by
the media and, for many, marked a turn in Fine Gael's fortunes as it
began to offer more vigorous opposition to Ahern's government.[citation needed]

Fine Gael out-performed expectations at the 2004 Local and European elections, which saw Fine Gael increase it representation from 4 MEPs of 15 from Ireland, to 5 from 13. This was the first time Fine Gael beat Fianna Fáil in a national election since 1927.

In July 2005, five men
from the north of Kenny's Mayo constituency were jailed over their
opposition to the Fianna Fáil-led government's plans for the Corrib gas project. One of the men, Philip McGrath, worked for Kenny as an election agent for Rossport during general elections. Unlike his fellow Mayo Fine Gael TD, Michael Ring, Kenny was cautious about backing the men's stance (Ring would later be forced to adopt the same policy).[17] The Shell to Sea
campaign that was founded to help release the men and get the
government to change its mind shut down work on the project for fifteen
months. When Gardaí were brought in to remove protesters with tactics that saw many hospitalised, Kenny said: "The law must be obeyed."[18]

In November 2005, Kenny called for the abolition of compulsory Irish for the Leaving Certificate examinations. This was opposed by all the major Irish language organisations.[19] In March 2006 Kenny was elected Vice-President of the European People's Party (EPP), the largest European political group to which Fine Gael is affiliated.[20] In his speech to the EPP he stated that Fine Gael would be in Government within two years.

During the first half of 2006 Kenny went aggressively after a more
populist line on the cost of immigration, street crime, paedophilia and
homeowner's rights. A graphic description of a mugging he had
experienced was given to the Dáil in the context of a crime discussion,
only for it to be revealed a day later that the incident had occurred in
Kenya not Ireland.[21]

2007 general election

Under Kenny the Fine Gael Party agreed to enter a pre-election pact with the Labour Party in order to offer the electorate an alternative coalition government at the 2007 general election
held on 24 May. The so-called 'Mullingar Accord' was agreed in
September 2004 following the European and Local elections that year.[22] The Green Party also signalled via the media to be in favour of membership of such a coalition government after the election.[citation needed] They refused to commit to an agreement prior to polling day however.

Kenny's leadership has attempted to define Fine Gael as a party of
the progressive centre. Its policy initiatives have concentrated on
value for money, consumer rights, civil partnerships, reform of public
spending, reward and enterprise and preventative health care policy. The
party has sought to retake its former mantle as the law-and-order party
committed to defending the institutions of the state. At the Fine Gael Ardfheis in March 2007 Kenny outlined his platform for the forthcoming general election entitled the 'Contract for a Better Ireland.'[23] The main aspects of this 'contract' included: 2,300 more hospital beds, 2,000 more Gardaí, tougher jail sentences and tougher bail for criminals, free health insurance for all children under 16 and lower income tax.

Bertie Ahern was perceived by many to have comfortably beaten Kenny in the pre-election Leaders' debate.[24]

When the votes were counted it emerged that Fine Gael had made large
gains, increasing its number of seats by twenty to give a total of 51
seats in the new Dáil.[25]
But Kenny's so-called 'Alliance for Change' did not have enough seats
to form a majority in the new Dáil, as neither the Labour Party nor the
Greens made gains. Despite predictions to the contrary, the Fianna Fáil
vote recovered sufficiently to bring it to 78 seats, and a return to
government for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.[26]

Kenny is currently the longest-serving TD in Dáil Éireann still in office, and is the incumbent Father of the Dáil.

Media commentary

In December 2008, Vincent Browne criticised Kenny in The Irish Times for not having a grasp of the issues, notably of economic issues.[27]

2010 leadership challenge

An opinion poll published in The Irish Times on 10 June 2010 triggered a challenge to Kenny's leadership of the party. The Ipsos MRBI poll indicated that the Labour Party had become the most popular political party in the country for the first time ever, and also showed a drop in backing for Fianna Fáil
and Fine Gael, and for their leaders. It showed a five-point drop in
Fianna Fáil support since January 2010, leaving that party on 17%, Fine
Gael down four points to 28%, and Labour up eight points to 32%.
Satisfaction with Kenny's leadership dropped 7% to 24%.[28]

Following the failure of the party's deputy leader Richard Bruton
to support him, he was dismissed by Kenny on 14 June. He also tabled a
motion of confidence in his leadership, to be held on 17 June.[28][29]
On the following day it was revealed that nine members of the Fine Gael
frontbench did not have confidence in Kenny to lead their party -
composed of Simon Coveney, Denis Naughten, Olwyn Enright, Olivia Mitchell, Fergus O'Dowd, Michael Creed, Billy Timmins, Leo Varadkar and Brian Hayes.
Denis Naughten said frontbench members did not have Kenny's support and
would like him to withdraw his motion of confidence and stand down in
the interest of the party.[28]

The motion of confidence in Kenny was passed.[28][30] He announced a major reshuffle of his party's front bench on 1 July 2010, re-appointing Bruton, Coveney, O'Dowd and Varadkar.[31]

2011 general election

At the start of the 2011 election
Mr Kenny said Fine Gael recognised the importance of “the giving of
hope and confidence to people through the taxation system”, when
speaking to reporters outside party election headquarters in Dublin.
“The Fine Gael party in this election is the only party that is
categorically saying that there will not be any increase in income tax
over our period in government,” he said. “There will be no increase in
income tax.” He said the country needed strong government and not an
administration that depended on the support of Independents. “I think
that this is a time for courageous and strong government. It is not a
time for government that might self-combust or that would be dependent
on the whim of any mercenary Independents. This is a judgment call for
the people.”[32]

Kenny refused to participate in the three-way leaders' debate proposed by TV3, stating his unhappiness that Vincent Browne would chair the debate.[33] In September 2010 Browne made a comment on his show that Kenny "should go into a dark room with a gun and bottle of whiskey".[34][35] Micheál Martin and Eamon Gilmore took part without him.[36]
Browne offered to step aside if Kenny would participate, but Kenny then
stated that his schedule prevented him from attending the debate.[37] Kenny was in Leitrim for Town hall style meeting that evening. During the meeting a man heckled him for several minutes.[38][39][40][41] The heckler were later revealed to be a prankster.[42]

On 14 February 2011, Kenny met German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the Irish economy. Kenny and Merkel are friends because Merkel's CDU party and Fine Gael are both members of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and seating at EPP meetings is arranged by alphabetical order of surname.[43]
The close relationship between these two leaders is illustrated further
by the fact that Angela Merkel also backed Enda Kenny and Fine Gael
during the 2007 election.[44]