Were Kenny’s SF remarks a simple old-school gaffe or a canny ploy?
AMID the fallout from Enda Kenny’s remarks on a possible Fine Gael coalition with Sinn Féin, one question seems to have gotten lost in the wash.
Why did Kenny choose to make the comments and what ulterior motive could he have? The media in general may have glossed over this issue – simply labelling Kenny’s words as an old fashioned gaffe – but it is a question that FG’s rebels and the other parties will surely be mulling over. And, if they’re not, then they should be.
As the longest serving TD in the Dáil and the first FG Taoiseach to hold onto his office in back-to-back elections, Kenny is far too shrewd to make such a massive political miscalculation. First, lets define what a ‘gaffe’ actually means. According to the Oxford Dictionary a gaffe is an unintentional act or remark – a blunder – that embarrasses its author. In political terms it is often cynically described as when a politician ‘slips up and tells the truth’.
Lets be clear, Kenny’s line on a possible partnership with Sinn Féin was definitely not a slip-up or a blunder.
How can we be so sure? Because of how and where he made the controversial remarks.
Kenny’s supposed ‘gaffe’ wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment during a doorstep interview, it came at a press briefing in Leinster House in front of Ireland’s most prominent political correspondents.
Furthermore, it wasn’t a single remark it was a position he reiterated several times in the face of repeated questioning from the Dáil press corps.
So if it wasn’t a gaffe, what was Kenny doing and what might he have been hoping to achieve?
It would be nice to think his motive was to test the political waters and – in the wake of the Stormont Assembly’s collapse – fly a kite to test voters’ views on republicanism and a post Brexit united Ireland. That, however, seems unlikely.
A much more plausible theory is that Kenny – always a wily operator – was laying down a challenge to his internal opponents and the potential leadership contenders in Fine Gael.
For months the FG rebels and Kenny’s leadership rivals have been courting support on the backbenches ahead of an inevitable heave against Kenny.
While some rebels have identified themselves – the so called ‘five-a-side’ gang – a party coup to depose Kenny is thought unlikely until there are at least 20 to 25 TDs willing to publicly back a ‘no confidence’ motion in his leadership.
The fallout from his ‘gaffe’ will have helped the Taoiseach root out unidentified dissidents with time to bring them back into the fold before they are wooed by his rivals.
It will have also put huge pressure on those rivals – Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney in particular – to lay their cards on the table and launch a leadership bid.
Jack Lynch’s political demise came when a long planned heave was launched while he was in Washington with Jimmy Carter.
Perhaps Enda Kenny just wants to know exactly who is in his camp before he jets off to meet President Trump this March.