Were Kenny’s SF re­marks a sim­ple old-school gaffe or a canny ploy?

Bray People - - OPINION -

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.

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