Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny is an Irish Fine Gael politician, and has been the Taoiseach since 2011.

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Enda Kenny (born 24 April 1951) is an Irish Fine Gael politician, and has been the Taoiseach since 2011. He has led Fine Gael since 2002. He served as Minister for Tourism and Trade from 1994 to 1997. He is also a two-term Vice President of the European People's Party.

Kenny has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo since 1975, having succeeded his father Henry Kenny.[2] He is the longest-serving TD currently in Dáil Éireann, which makes him the incumbent Father of the Dáil.

Kenny led Fine Gael in the 2011 general election. He subsequently brokered an agreement with the Labour Party and formed a coalition government on 9 March 2011.[3] He is Fine Gael's first Taoiseach since John Bruton from 1994 to 1997, and the first Fine Gael leader to win government in an election since Garret FitzGerald in 1982.

Early and private life

Enda Kenny was born in Derrywash in the village of Islandeady near Castlebar, County Mayo in 1951, the third child of five. He was educated locally at St. Patrick's National School in Cornanool and St. Gerald's College (De La Salle) in Castlebar.[4] Kenny subsequently attended St. Patrick's College of Education in Dublin and University College Galway.[5] He briefly worked as a primary school teacher.

Kenny has been married to Dubliner Fionnuala O'Kelly since 1992. She has been described by the media as his "best asset" and his "secret weapon".[6][7] O'Kelly is first cousin to sitting MEP Seán Kelly,[8] former President of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). The Kelly family originally come from the parish of Kilcummin near Killarney, County Kerry. Enda and Fionnuala have three children, one daughter and two sons. The couple met in Leinster House where O'Kelly worked as a press officer for Fianna Fáil. She later worked with Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ).[6][7][9]

Kenny has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and completed the Ring of Kerry Charity Cycle.[10][11] He is a keen supporter of his native Mayo Gaelic football team. He played Gaelic football for his local club, Islandeady,[12] of which he is the current club president. His father, Henry Kenny, won an All-Ireland medal with the inter-county team in 1936. His grandfather was a lighthouse keeper.[13]

Political career

Early political career

From an early age Kenny was exposed to politics as his father, Henry Kenny, became a Fine Gael TD in 1954. In the early 1970s he became directly involved in politics when he started helping his father with constituency clinics. In 1975 Henry Kenny, who was at this stage a Parliamentary Secretary in the government, died after a short battle with cancer. The Fine Gael party wanted one of his sons to stand as their candidate at the subsequent by-election, and so Enda Kenny was chosen. He was elected on the first count with 52% of the vote, and at 24 he was the youngest member of the 20th Dáil.[14]

Kenny remained on the backbenches of the Dáil for almost a decade. He was appointed party spokesperson firstly on youth affairs and sport, then western development; however, he failed to build a national profile as he concentrated more on constituency matters. Kenny was left out in the cold when Garret FitzGerald became Taoiseach for the first time in 1981 and again in 1982. He was, however, appointed as a member of the Fine Gael delegation at the New Ireland Forum in 1983 and later served on the British-Irish Parliamentary Association. In 1986 he became a Minister of State at the Departments of Education and Labour. Fine Gael lost the 1987 general election resulting in Kenny being on the opposition benches for the next seven years. In spite of this his national profile was raised as he served in a number of positions on the party's front bench, including Education, Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht, and the Islands. He was also the Fine Gael Chief Whip for a short period.

Government minister

In late 1994 the Fianna Fáil–Labour Party government collapsed; however, no general election was called. Instead a Fine Gael–Labour Party–Democratic Left "Rainbow Coalition" came to power. Kenny, as Fine Gael chief whip, was a key member of the team, which negotiated the programme for government with the other two parties prior to the formation of the new government. Under Taoiseach John Bruton, Kenny joined the cabinet and was appointed Minister for Tourism and Trade. During his tenure as minister, Ireland saw a significant growth in tourism business and in its international trade position[citation needed]. As minister he chaired the European Union Council of Trade Ministers during Ireland's six-month Presidency of the European Council as well as co-chairing a round of the World Trade Organization talks in 1996. Among Kenny's other achievements were the rejuvenation of the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Dublin and the successful negotiations to bring a stage of the 1998 Tour de France to Ireland. In 1997 the government was defeated at the general election and Kenny returned to the opposition benches.

2001 Fine Gael leadership election

In 2001 John Bruton resigned as leader of Fine Gael following a vote of no confidence in his ability.[15] Kenny was one of a number of candidates who stood in the subsequent leadership election, promising to "electrify the party".[16] In the final ballot it was Michael Noonan who emerged victorious (it is Fine Gael's custom not to publish ballot results for leadership elections). Noonan subsequently failed to give a spokesperson's assignment to Kenny. This led Kenny to accuse Noonan of sending a "dangerous message".[17]

Fine Gael leader

At the 2002 general election Fine Gael suffered its worst electoral performance ever, losing 23 seats, a figure larger than expected and with its overall vote down 5%. Kenny himself came close to losing his seat and even went so far as to prepare a concession speech. In the end he won the third seat in the five-seat constituency. Noonan resigned as Fine Gael leader on the night of the result, an action which triggered another leadership election. Protest meetings were held by members of the party against the speed with which the leadership election had been called and the failure to broaden the franchise to the membership. It was suggested that it was foolish to choose a leader before conducting an electoral post-mortem.

Kenny once again contested the Fine Gael leadership and emerged successful on that occasion.[18] On becoming leader he faced an unenviable task. He not only had to rebuild a demoralised party that had been cut down to 31 seats, but also had to face a very popular Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. In the beginning his leadership style was also criticised. The tide began to turn for Fine Gael in 2003 as the Fianna Fáil-led government's popularity took a downturn. Fine Gael's membership increased and the party became a much more united entity. Kenny's first major televised conference speech in November 2003 was well received by the media and, for many, marked a turn in Fine Gael's fortunes as it began to offer more vigorous opposition to Ahern's government.[citation needed]

Viktor Orbán, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, and Enda Kenny during an EPP Summit on 11 December 2008

In September 2002, Kenny was accused of making racist remarks after he used the word "nigger" in a joke relating to Patrice Lumumba, the assassinated first Prime Minister of Congo. Kenny wanted his "obscure joke" to be suppressed and specifically asked journalists not to report it, though Enda's "chortling repetition of the inflammatory word" was carried by the Sunday Independent newspaper.[19] He was subsequently condemned by race campaigners in Britain and abroad.[20][21] Matters were made worse when it emerged that several of Lumumba's relatives, including a son and several grandchildren, lived in Tallaght.[22]

Fine Gael out-performed expectations at the 2004 Local and European elections, which saw Fine Gael increase it representation from 4 MEPs of 15 from Ireland, to 5 from 13. This was the first time Fine Gael had ever defeated Fianna Fáil in a national election, as well as the first time Fianna Fáil had lost a national election since it finished second in the Irish general election, September 1927 to Cumann na nGaedheal, Fine Gael's immediate predecessor.

In July 2005, five men from the north of Kenny's Mayo constituency were jailed over their opposition to the Fianna Fáil-led government's plans for the Corrib gas project. One of the men, Philip McGrath, worked for Kenny as an election agent for Rossport during general elections. Unlike his fellow Mayo Fine Gael TD, Michael Ring, Kenny was cautious about backing the men's stance (Ring would later be forced to adopt the same policy).[23] The Shell to Sea campaign that was founded to help release the men and get the government to change its mind shut down work on the project for fifteen months. When Gardaí were brought in to remove protesters with tactics that saw many hospitalised, Kenny said: "The law must be obeyed."[24]

In November 2005, Kenny called for the abolition of compulsory Irish for the Leaving Certificate examinations. This was opposed by all the major Irish language organisations.[25] In March 2006 Kenny was elected Vice-President of the European People's Party (EPP), the largest European political group to which Fine Gael is affiliated.[26] In his speech to the EPP he stated that Fine Gael would be in government within two years.

During the first half of 2006 Kenny went aggressively after a more populist line on the cost of immigration, street crime, paedophilia, and homeowner's rights. A graphic description of a mugging he had experienced was given to the Dáil in the context of a crime discussion, only for it to be revealed a day later that the incident had occurred in [[Kenya], not in Ireland.[27]

Responding to the 2008–2011 Irish banking crisis in County Cork on 15 February 2009, Kenny asked the entire board of the Central Bank of Ireland's Financial Regulation section to resign.[28]

2007 general election

Kenny, speaking at the Young Fine Gael conference in 2007

Under Kenny the Fine Gael Party agreed to enter a pre-election pact with the Labour Party in order to offer the electorate an alternative coalition government at the 2007 general election held on 24 May. The so-called Mullingar Accord was agreed in September 2004 following the European and local elections that year.[29] The Green Party also signalled via the media to be in favour of membership of such a coalition government after the election.[citation needed] They refused to commit to an agreement prior to polling day however.

Kenny's leadership has attempted to define Fine Gael as a party of the progressive centre. Its policy initiatives have concentrated on value for money, consumer rights, civil partnerships, reform of public spending, reward and enterprise, and preventative health care policy. The party has sought to retake its former mantle as the law-and-order party committed to defending the institutions of the state. At the Fine Gael Ardfheis in March 2007 Kenny outlined his platform for the forthcoming general election entitled the "Contract for a Better Ireland".[30] The main aspects of this "contract" included: 2,300 more hospital beds, 2,000 more Gardaí, tougher jail sentences and tougher bail for criminals, free health insurance for all children under 16 and lower income tax.

Bertie Ahern was perceived by many to have comfortably beaten Kenny in the pre-election Leaders' debate.[31]

When the votes were counted it emerged that Fine Gael had made large gains, increasing its number of seats by twenty to give a total of 51 seats in the new Dáil.[32] However, Labour and the Greens failed to make gains, leaving Kenny's "Alliance for Change" short of a majority. Despite predictions to the contrary, the Fianna Fáil vote recovered sufficiently to bring it to 78 seats, and a third term in government for Ahern.[33]

Media commentary

In December 2008, Vincent Browne criticised Kenny in The Irish Times for not having a grasp of the issues, notably of economic issues.[34]

2010 leadership challenge

An opinion poll published in The Irish Times on 10 June 2010 triggered a challenge to Kenny's leadership of the party. The Ipsos MRBI poll indicated that the Labour Party had become the most popular political party in the country for the first time ever, and also showed a drop in backing for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and for their leaders. It showed a five-point drop in Fianna Fáil support since January 2010, leaving that party on 17%, Fine Gael down four points to 28%, and Labour up eight points to 32%. Satisfaction with Kenny's leadership dropped 7% to 24%.[35]

Following the failure of the party's deputy leader Richard Bruton to support him, he was dismissed by Kenny on 14 June. He also tabled a motion of confidence in his leadership, to be held on 17 June.[35][36] On the following day it was revealed that nine members of the Fine Gael frontbench did not have confidence in Kenny to lead their party - composed of Simon Coveney, Denis Naughten, Olwyn Enright, Olivia Mitchell, Fergus O'Dowd, Michael Creed, Billy Timmins, Leo Varadkar, and Brian Hayes. Denis Naughten said frontbench members did not have Kenny's support and would like him to withdraw his motion of confidence and stand down in the interest of the party.[35]

The motion of confidence in Kenny was passed.[35][37] He announced a major reshuffle of his party's front bench on 1 July 2010, re-appointing Bruton, Coveney, O'Dowd, and Varadkar.[38]

2011 general election

At the start of the 2011 general election, Kenny said Fine Gael recognised the importance of “the giving of hope and confidence to people through the taxation system”, when speaking to reporters outside party election headquarters in Dublin. “The Fine Gael party in this election is the only party that is categorically saying that there will not be any increase in income tax over our period in government”, he said. He said the country needed strong government and not an administration that depended on the support of Independents. “I think that this is a time for courageous and strong government. It is not a time for government that might self-combust or that would be dependent on the whim of any mercenary Independents. This is a judgment call for the people.”[39]

There was several leaders debates on television during the campaign. There was uniquely three debates on stations TV3, RTÉ and TG4 between Enda Kenny, Michaél Martin, and Eamon Gilmore and a five way leaders' debate on RTÉ also including Gerry Adams and John Gormley along with the other participants from the three way debates.

Kenny however refused to participate in the three-way leaders' debate proposed by TV3, stating his unhappiness that Vincent Browne would chair the debate.[40] Browne is a well known critic of Fine Gael and Kenny. In 1982 Browne appeared on The Late Late Show where he poured scorn on Kenny, claiming he was "purporting" to be a TD.[41] In October 2010, Browne was forced to make a public apology to Kenny after jokingly asking whether Fine Gael was requesting that he go into a darkroom with a gun and bottle of whiskey. This was in reference to Fine Gael's position in the polls, where they were in second place to Labour, and a previous leadership challenge to Kenny by Richard Bruton.[42] Kenny refused to appear on the leaders debate despite an offer by Browne to be replaced by a different moderator for the debate if Kenny would appear.[43][44]

Kenny participated in a three party leader debate on RTÉ, moderated by Miriam O'Callaghan[45] and also in a five-way debate on RTÉ, which was a new departure involving all party leaders of the outgoing Dáil, including Kenny, moderated by Pat Kenny.[46]

He participated in a three-way debate in the Irish language with Micheál Martin and Eamon Gilmore on TG4.[47]

Kenny makes a speech to Fine Gael party members on the day of the election results.

On 14 February 2011, Kenny met German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the Irish economy. Kenny and Merkel have close political ties because Merkel's CDU party and Fine Gael are both members of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and seating at EPP meetings is arranged by alphabetical order of surname.[48] The close relationship between these two leaders is illustrated further by the fact that Angela Merkel also backed Enda Kenny and Fine Gael during the 2007 election.[49]

Opinion polls of 23 February 2011 sponsored by Paddy Power,[50] the Irish Independent,[51] and The Irish Times[52] suggested that Kenny would lead Fine Gael to its largest total of seats to date in the 31st Dail, and that he would be elected Taoiseach.

In the election, Kenny led Fine Gael to a decisive victory. The party won 76 seats, the most in its 78-year history, becoming the largest party in the Dáil for the first time ever.[citation needed] Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil suffered the worst defeat of a sitting government in the history of the Irish state, its representation being reduced by 75%. Kenny himself topped the poll in his Mayo constituency and uniquely three others from Fine Gael were elected alongside Kenny. At a victory party in Dublin, Kenny declared Fine Gael had "a massive endorsement" to govern, and the election marked "a transformative moment in Ireland's history".[53] Later, he told Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) that he fully expects to become Taoiseach after what he called "a democratic revolution at the ballot box".[54] While there was some talk that Fine Gael would govern alone as a minority government, senior Fine Gael leaders indicated as soon as the election result was beyond doubt that they would likely enter a coalition government with Labour.[55] Late on the night of 5 March, Fine Gael and Labour formally agreed to form a coalition government with Kenny as Taoiseach[3] and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore as Tánaiste, with Labour being given four other seats in cabinet.[56]

Kenny said that his first priority upon taking office will be to renegotiate the bailout, calling the original deal "a bad deal for Ireland and a bad deal for Europe".[57]

Taoiseach 2011–present

Kenny with U.S. President Barack Obama

The members of the 31st Dáil convened for the first time on 9 March 2011 and elected Kenny as Taoiseach by a vote of 117–27.[58] Kenny received his seal of office from President Mary McAleese. He also announced ministerial appointees to his Government on 9 March 2011.[59] At just under 59 years and 11 months on accession, Kenny is the second-oldest person to have assumed the office for the first time,[60] the oldest being Seán Lemass.

On 9 March 2011, Kenny appointed 15 junior Ministries. He also appointed a Minister for political reform, and sent a request to the OPW as to how he could address ministerial transport.[61] On March 15 it was announced that only the current President, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice were to have Garda drivers. All other Ministers would have to make use of their own transport with a mileage allowance and a commercial chauffeur as an expense. There was no announcement as to the continuing engagement of three government jets.[62] The media reported that this would reduce the ministerial motor vehicle transport bill to 7 million euro annually which is more than the combined annual tax contributions of 16,000 people on minimum wage.

A report in the Sunday Mirror said Kenny would be the first Taoiseach to use the Steward's Lodge at Farmleigh as his official residence.[63]

Government pay cuts

In one of his first acts in the top office, Kenny slashed his own pay by €14,000 (a reduction of 7% which leaves his weekly net income at over €2,500[64]). The new government also decided to cut the pay of senior ministers. The Taoiseach's pay is to be cut from €214,187 to €200,000. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore's pay is cut from €197,486 to €184,405. Ministers' pay has been reduced to €169,275 (from €181,283), while pay for Ministers of State is cut from €139,266 to €130,042. In another cost-cutting measure, Kenny asked the Garda, the Departments of Justice and Transport, as well as the Office of Public Works, to come up with a plan to reduce the amount spent on transporting ministers and their teams.[65]

Financial and banking policy

On 11 March, his third day as Taoiseach, Kenny attended his first summit of European Union leaders in Brussels. During that summit he engaged in a heated confrontation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy (which Kenny termed "a Gallic spat") over Ireland's comparatively low 12.5% corporate tax rate, which EU leaders have frequently posited as a condition of more favorable terms for the Irish bailout.[66] Kenny held firm on his refusal to alter the corporate tax, which he reiterated in his first Leaders' Questions the following week—also declaring his government's intention to withhold further state funds from Dublin banks until the EU agreed to new terms that forced banks' senior bondholders to share in the losses.[67]

However, less than three weeks later on 31 March, the Central Bank of Ireland published the results of its "stress tests" on Ireland's four surviving banks (Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland, EBS, and Irish Life & Permanent)—indicating that the banks needed to raise an additional €24 billion to remain solvent.[68] Despite his earlier promise, the government announced the same day that the state would supply the necessary funds to keep the banks afloat, with Kenny stating that seeking the money from bondholders would be neither "reasonable or logical".[69] Kenny was heavily criticised for his government's action, with the Irish Independent noting that "this is the fifth time Irish people have been told over the past couple of years it would be the last payout they would have to endure".[70]

Nevertheless, the first national opinion poll since Kenny took office, published on 10 April, showed that public support for Kenny's Fine Gael party had increased since the election from 36% to 39%, although a plurality also indicated deep dissatisfaction with his rescue of the banks.[71]

On 21 July 2011, Kenny announced that an agreement had been reached by Eurozone leaders to reduce Ireland's interest rate by 2% and extend the repayment period.[72]

Pension levy controversy

On 9 May, Kenny's government announced a new job creation program, along with plan to finance it via a 0.6% tax levy on private pension savings.[73] Public pension funds, however, would remain untouched. The pension levy caused an immediate and intense outcry, leaving Kenny to defend the initiative as "a modest proposal" and refuting charges that the government would next tax personal savings.[74][75] However, the controversy surrounding the levy intensified on 12 May, when Kenny admitted that the holders of Approved Retirement Funds—most of whom were among the highest income earners in Ireland—would not be included in the levy.[76]

Political reforms

Enda Kenny shakes the hand of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2008.

On 3 May 2011, Kenny's government approved a set of political reforms that adhered to promises Kenny had made in the 2011 election.[77][78] Among the approved reforms were a binding Constituency Commission scheduled for June 2011, with the specific purpose of reducing the number of TDs by up to 20;[77] an act to establish a six-month time limit for holding by-elections to the Dáil; a €750,000 spending limit in the 2011 Irish presidential election; Legislation to ban corporate donations, to be enacted by summer 2011; establishment of a Constitutional Convention in 2011, which will include discussion of the Seanad; and a referendum to abolish the Seanad, to be held in the second half of 2012.[78] The promise to cut up to 20 TDs caused some controversy and skepticism due to the Constitutional requirement that there be no less than one TD for every 30,000 people, which would necessitate a minimum of 150 TDs—meaning that the current number of 166 TDs could be reduced by 16 at most.[79]

Vatican reprimand

On 13 July 2011 the Cloyne Report was published, detailing the investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by 19 priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cloyne.[80] Among the report's findings were the revelation that the vast majority of allegations made in the diocese were not reported to the Garda, as required by the Church's 1996 guidelines; that the Bishop of the Diocese, John Magee, and others had withheld full cooperation with the Government's investigation and had deliberately misrepresented his own response to the allegations; and that the Vatican itself had both refused to cooperate in the investigation and counseled the Diocese that the 1996 guidelines were not binding.[81][82]

On 20 July, Kenny condemned the Vatican[83] for its role in the scandal, stating that the Church's role in obstructing the investigation was a serious infringement upon the sovereignty of Ireland and that the scandal revealed "the dysfunction, disconnection and elitism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day".[84] He added that "the historic relationship between church and state in Ireland could not be the same again".[85][86]

Kenny's attack on the Vatican was unprecedented by a high-level official in Ireland, whose formal relationship with the Catholic Church had long been viewed as intimate and inextricable.[citation needed] The speech was widely regarded as extraordinary, with the Daily Mail commenting that the "attack was the first time that Ireland's Parliament has publicly castigated the Vatican instead of local church leaders during the country's 17 years of paedophile-priest scandals".[87] The Guardian remarked that " the political classes have...lost their fear, namely of the once almighty Roman Catholic church."[88]

Vatican response

On 3 September the Holy See issued its response to Mr Kenny's speech noting that "the accusation that the Holy See attempted “to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic as little as three years ago, not three decades ago”, which Mr Kenny made no attempt to substantiate, is unfounded. Indeed, when asked, a Government spokesperson clarified that Mr Kenny was not referring to any specific incident". The response added that "Those Reports [...] contain no evidence to suggest that the Holy See meddled in the internal affairs of the Irish State or, for that matter, was involved in the day-to-day management of Irish dioceses or religious congregations with respect to sexual abuse issues".

On the quoting of then Cardinal Ratzinger, the response notes that "the quotation in question is taken from the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, otherwise known as Donum Veritatis (The Gift of the Truth), published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 24 May 1990, and signed by the then Prefect and Secretary of the Congregation. It is not a private text of the then Cardinal Ratzinger but an official document of the Congregation. This document is concerned with the theologian’s service to the Church community, a service which can also be of help to society at large, and not with the manner in which the Church should behave within a democratic society nor with issues of child protection, as Kenny’s use of the quotation would seem to imply".[89]

Address to the nation

Kenny gave a televised address to the nation on 4 December 2011, ahead of the delivery of the 2012 Irish budget.[90] He warned that Budget 2012 "will be tough", and that "it has to be". He also said that it will move Ireland towards a manageable deficit of 3% of GDP by 2015.[91] This was only the sixth time that a taoiseach has addressed the nation,[92] reflecting the gravity of the Irish economic condition, in what Kenny stressed were "exceptional" circumstances.[93] The broadcast was the second most watched television programme of 2011 in Ireland, attracting an audience of 1.2 million viewers.[94]


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