Arguably the most important consequences for politics in the Republic are for parties other than Fianna Fail. Brian Cowan seems to have laid out his ground thoroughly and is relatively popular across the party. The immediate sense of relief, liberation even, is likely to be most keenly felt amongst the coalition partners. But the pain is no doubt being carried on the opposition benches. Kenny’s address on Wednesday was funereal. The normally ebullient Olwyn Enright wore (if she’ll forgive me for saying so) a face the length of a Lurgan spade. In the Irish Times, Harry Magee puts his finger on one source of its problem.
The Taoiseach was undoubtedly under enormous pressure but this did not come from the Opposition but from the media. The nadir, as far as Fianna Fáil was concerned, was Ahern’s pregnant pause for eight seconds on Henry Street after he refused to answer persistent questions about Padraic O’Connor.
All opposition parties, with the paradoxical exception of the Greens, steered clear of this issue other than making bland observations. Kenny said he would never face the kinds of questions that Ahern was facing at the time. “I’m not asking anybody to look at my ethical reputation. I can certainly confirm that the kinds of questions that are being asked [ about Ahern] are irrelevant in my case.”
On the same day, Rabbitte was a little more direct, saying the public had legitimate concerns about Ahern’s finances. But, comparatively speaking, it was mild stuff. He continued: “The Taoiseach is the only person who can allay the legitimate unease that is out there among voters by making a clear, definitive and complete statement, but it is entirely a matter for him.”
As it transpired, Fianna Fáil scored a notable victory in the election.
Fine Gael publicly denied that it had been over-timid in the run-up to the election. It justified its new-found aggression on the grounds that new revelations and disclosures had come to light that were not known in the early months of 2007.
However, the sense that Fine Gael was over-compensating for earlier diffidence and caution became most clear on Wednesday when Ahern announced his resignation. When he appeared on the plinth of Leinster House to give his first public reaction, Kenny continued to ply the criticism, saying that Ahern had bowed to the inevitable and had been forced to resign. He went on to say that Ahern had lost credibility and authority.
Kenny was more tactful when choosing his words later in the Dáil – and warmly acknowledged Ahern’s contributions over the course of a decade in power – but many who listened to what he said on the plinth said it lacked a little graciousness on a day when his adversary had decided to step down. His call for a general election also seemed curiously out of kilter and misplaced, and was not taken seriously by any other political party.
It was as if he were completely tone-deaf to the mood music of the day. However, there have also been some hard-to-explain inconsistencies in the Fine Gael approach. Kenny’s first public response to Gráinne Carruth’s change of evidence came a full 13 days later, by which time Ahern had already made his fateful announcement.
In contrast, Gilmore probably struck a more appropriate balance in tempering his criticisms with praise for Ahern’s achievements.
He finishes by speculating that Fianna Fail under Cowan is a more attractive package for Labour than Ahern had been. It may be a little early for apportioning out the members of the ruling coalition in the 31st Dail, still it would seem Enda Kenny needs to bring more focus to his party’s ‘naked enmity’ towards Fianna Fail if it is to offer an alternative to another Cowan government.