Terry Prone explains why people like me support Enda Kenny. Some people on doors give grief on the subject of Enda. Compared to Ahern and Haughey, Kenny is a far more trustworthy person. He does not pretend to be a genius on all subjects.

Monday, February 7, 2011

If Micheál is to rebuild FF then Enda should be his role model

By Terry Prone
Monday, February 07, 2011
THE first time I met Micheál Martin, I was certain he would become leader of Fianna Fáil.
The first time I met Enda Kenny, I was certain he would never become leader of Fine Gael. It’s just as well I’m not a betting woman.

I met Micheál Martin and his wife when I was doing a study of the pharmaceutical industry in Cork for a client. The two of them gave up a day to act as chauffeur-experts.

They had nothing to gain out of it. I had everything to gain out of it. As I learned about the pharma industry, I also learned that the young Cork politician had three great strengths. One was his capacity to see beyond a question to implications the questioner might not even have intended.

The second was his diligence — if he discovered a gap in his knowledge, that gap was filled within an hour.

The third was his wife. Mary Martin has a big brain, quiet personal warmth, boundless courage and great directness. They were a team for the long haul. Micheál Martin, even then, was a man destined for heavy lifting.

To meet Enda Kenny, back then, was to meet a man clearly designed for conviviality and fun, rather than heavy lifting. A man who loved life, the outdoors, people, fitness and books. Like Micheál Martin, he was a good mimic, and — like Micheál Martin — did mimicry of colleagues that was deadly accurate and explosively funny, but never cruel.

“Ambition” was the last word you’d apply to him. He’d be grand as a minister for something not very important. He’d be courteous, presentable and socially assured overseas. But that was about the height of it.

Then came electoral disaster for his party. When Fine Gael was razed to the ground, he stood in the count centre in front of an RTÉ camera in Castlebar in the middle of the night with a white face on him. He had just scraped past a colleague to be re-elected after perhaps a dozen counts. When John Bowman asked him about his future, he more or less replied that until 15 minutes earlier, he had been looking at being turfed out of politics, so his brain wasn’t ready to look at the future quite yet.

When, not long afterwards, he announced his plan to “electrify” Fine Gael, it sounded sweet and a bit naive. I mean, come on. The quintessentially lazy Mayoman had never shown the capacity to electrify anything.

Nice fellow, but, despite looking younger than men who had arrived in Leinster House 20 years after him, the fact is that for him to electrify a moribund party would require the kind of radical change in behaviour that seldom, if ever, happens in a man’s middle years. Especially when a man has young children and self-evidently relishes every minute he spends with them.

Except that he did it. That’s the amazing thing. He did it. Not by being a lucky general. By unbreakable faith, impregnable resilience, and a level of hard work worthy of a well-trained yak. The quintessential laziness disappeared.

That was unexpected. Even more unexpected was his demonstration of the pivotal skill of a great leader or manager: knowing what he didn’t know, understanding what he wasn’t good at, and ensuring that people were put in place who could take care of the areas where he lacked interest or skill. He employed smart strategic people at headquarters and left them the hell alone. Frank Flannery beavered away and produced a report. Kenny read the report and said “do it”.

Then he took to the roads, travelling the country every week, getting out of his car, unaccompanied, to bounce into local Fine Gael gatherings with an aura of confidence and direction around him, glowing like he was in an ad for porridge. Nobody recorded the extempore speeches he made in one location after another, but they were locally recalled and quoted for their muscle-memory of what Fine Gael stood for, for their fluent effortless quotations from writers ranging from Shakespeare to John B. Keane, and for their uncomplicated passion.

The guys on the ground spotted stuff they hadn’t realised about Kenny. If, for example, you put him on a main street, he drew passersby like a magnet. People wanted to talk to him, touch his arm, embrace him. That hadn’t happened with John Bruton.

It was two-sided, as well. Enda Kenny wanted to talk to them just as much as they wanted to talk to him. Nothing was as important to him as people.

He was endlessly curious about the lives of quiet desperation he encountered, and had a memory like an elephant for what they told him. He would repeat what they had said, in their language, to those around him, and the quotes would find their way into formal speeches at party conferences that caused those present to erupt into applause.

Meanwhile, the shattered party on the ground was coming together again. Infrastructure was being laid down. The membership grew. Everywhere, including universities. Flannery and the chronically underestimated general secretary Tom Curran trekked around the country working out which candidates might make it.

When the election came, Kenny was like a man on steroids. He was tireless, charismatic, sure-footed. Whenever his wife, Fionnuala, appeared, which wasn’t often, he showcased her with quiet pride.

His children never appeared. Never have. Never will. Kenny is obsessively protective of their privacy. The only time I can recall him ever referring to one of them arose during last year’s heave, when he quoted a text message from one of his sons, which said that if FG didn’t continue to have his father as leader, they didn’t deserve him.

His leadership continued and he made arguably the smartest move of his time at the top of the party. He brought back Michael Noonan. Enda Kenny doesn’t hold grudges or keep people in the Enemy bin. It’s a trait disliked by some supporters because supporters always want anyone they perceive to be unsupportive to be disembowelled, ideally in public, and then kept around, mummified, pour encourager les autres.

It was known, though, that Kenny and Noonan had previous, and that it wasn’t good previous.

Yet, post-heave, Kenny brought Noonan back, in the process giving his front bench a spine of tempered steel. But he did more.

He stood back and let Noonan perform, his quick wit and ruthless analytical brain returning him to national prominence and high regard within weeks. It wouldn’t occur to Kenny to resent his finance spokesman having a higher profile than his own.

That’s because he sees himself as an instrument, rather than an individual.

He hates talking about himself, his family life or his feelings. He quite likes talking about policies, but ultimately, nothing matters to Enda Kenny as much as people do.

Now, he stands on the cusp of becoming Taoiseach, while Micheál Martin’s best hope is a role as leader of the opposition, while pulling Fianna Fáil up off its knees.

In that grim task, all Micheál has to do is copy what Enda did. How weird is that?

This appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, February 07, 2011

Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/terry-prone/if-micheal-is-to-rebuild-ff-then-enda-should-be-his-role-model-144430.html#ixzz1DFHilreJ