Of course, Fine Gael Enda, given what he does for a living, can’t plead complete innocence to a little yarn spinning. After all, he’s a politician, an Irish one to boot.
The man from Mayo does indeed enjoy a good yarn.
So much so that it drives his aides to distraction. Kenny is such a personable fellow that it is near impossible to get him to disengage.
He’ll chat to just about anyone about anything and for as long as it takes. As a result, he is often late for meetings and events.
Still, the ability to engage is keenly appreciated by Irish voters. Just ask Bertie Ahern.
Kenny leads a party known for past leaders who had a reputation for being a bit dour and distant.
Nobody accuses Kenny of being any of these things. The man can match any of his peers when it comes to energy output and meet-and-greet politicking.
The question is, can he match and surpass Ahern in this week’s general election?
Kenny and Ahern squared off in their sole televised debate late last week. The Irish Independent opined in a page one report that Ahern shaded the contest but had failed to deliver a knock out blow.
That’s not entirely surprising. Incumbents tend to be larger targets than challengers. Power tends top usher more skeletons into the office holder’s closet.
Kenny, then, the tenth leader of his party, is mounting a meaningful challenge to Ahern, the tenth taoiseach.
And no matter what happens in the election, Kenny is going to reach a new zenith in is his career. He stands to be ranked as the unofficial father of the D_il when, presumably, he is returned to his seat by the voters in his Mayo constituency.
This sounds a little odd. Kenny is no Robert Byrd. He is only 56 and looks younger. But his D_il membership does stretch back to 1975, when he turned 24 and took over the seat occupied by his father, Henry Kenny, who died that year.
And though he still seems like a relatively new face in Irish politics, Kenny can point to previous ministerial experience as far back as 1994 when he was appointed to the trade and tourism portfolio by then taoiseach, John Bruton.
Though his manner of meeting and greeting seems mild and personable, an astrology buff might detect more combative elements in Kenny’s chart. His birth date matches that of Easter Monday, 1916. He became leader of his party – succeeding Michael Noonan – on June 6, 2002.
But it’s May 24, 2007 that will prove to be Kenny’s D-Day, or his Waterloo.
If it turns out to be the latter, changes will take place at the top of the Fine Gael pyramid
But no matter what happens in the election, Kenny has stored up considerable goodwill in a party that looked on the verge of extinction when he took the helm.
Fine Gael lost 23 seats in the 2002 general election. But Kenny, because he was not a member of the cabinet in the Noonan government, avoided any damaging share of the blame. The debacle for the party, indeed, was to prove his opportunity.
“The popular impression of Enda Kenny is accurate. Every bit of the man is genuine,” said one source long familiar with the inner workings of the party.
The source, who preferred not to be named, said that Kenny really enjoyed what amounts to a punishing schedule of meeting people. The Mr. nice guy impression was not an act, the source said.
But there is more to Kenny than what first meets the eye, the source stressed.
“In many ways his record is understated. He took over Fine Gael when the party was on the ground and some journalists were saying it was gone. But he toured the country, bound up the wounds and brought the estranged back in.”
Kenny, the source added, reviewed every single aspect in the way that the party conducted its affairs and brought in changes where he deemed it necessary.
“Everything that he said he would do, he has done,” the source said.
For a politician, that is not an understated accolade.
At the same time, the kind of internal party work that Kenny has been engaged in is not necessarily the kind that raises your profile with the media or public.
Kenny has had a tough time convincing some in the former that he is a political force to be reckoned with. But he has been slogging up that particular hill with the energy of a man who knows that he has a good chance of succeeding – even as it might be his only chance.
“It’s only in the last few weeks that the media is beginning to take Kenny seriously,” said the source.
It’s a tad ironic. Bertie Ahern has long been a master of playing down what night be construed as serious when the spotlight is focused on himself, or his actions in office.
Enda Kenny’s task has been precisely the opposite. That leaves the election ripe for a decision that is heavily dependent on the mood of the voters as much as the perception of policy differences between the two main contenders for power.
More than just political junkies have noted that Kenny seems to have drawn lessons from Ahern’s party. Perhaps it’s because his wife, Fionnuala, was once a press officer for Ahern’s Fianna F_il.
Certainly the move by Kenny to start a fundraising arm in the U.S. earlier this year has echoes of Fianna F_il’s longstanding, though lately waning habit, of viewing America as a financial prop for activities back in Ireland.
Kenny seems to like America a lot. Rather than cancel an engagement in New York last year, even though an emergency debate had broken out in the D_il, Kenny fulfilled his commitment by flying into Kennedy Airport, attending the event and flying back to Ireland that very same evening.
Kenny followed up with a successful fundraising event in Manhattan earlier this year organized locally by the “Supporters of Fine Gael Inc.”
Kenny would like to see similar events in other U.S. cities, not least Cleveland, which has especially deep ties to his native Mayo.
It’s to be expected Kenny, the non-singer/songwriter, will be seen again on U.S. shores. How people here will precisely address him is about to be revealed.
The Enda Kenny File
Born: April 24, 1951, Castlebar, County Mayo.
Education: St. Gerald’s College, Castlebar; St. Patrick’s Teacher Training College, Dublin and University College Galway.
Married To: Fionnuala O’Kelly; father of three children.
Job profile: A qualified school teacher, leader of Fine Gael and the opposition.
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In his own words: “He’d have to run very hard to keep up with me.” Kenny referring to Bertie Ahern on a recent fast paced campaign swing through Kerry.