As a young boy I can remember sitting in the kitchen while my mother listened to Gay Byrne on the radio. Often a caller would come on the line and overstay their welcome – singing a long song or getting into a complicated story with no obvious ending. In such circumstances Gay’s manner turned businesslike. “Good day to you now” was how the Late Late Show presenter usually terminated such a discussion. It was a reminder that no one should ever dare try to put Ireland’s most popular broadcaster off his stride when he was on a roll.
Like the talkative radio caller, someone else who looks like overstaying his welcome is our present taoiseach. Enda Kenny has taken Fine Gael a long way since the party’s grim general election result in 2002 but no leader can realistically expect to last for more than 15 years in modern politics. Next year Mr Kenny will reach this milestone and speculation in the media is growing, by the day, over his future in politics.
Fine Gael are spoilt for choice at the moment as they have at least two first rate candidates in their ranks to replace Mr Kenny, whenever he decides to leave (or if he is deposed in a power struggle). Leo Varadkar is a very popular young politician in party circles and is a polished media performer (indeed, like Gay Byrne, it’s hard to stop him when he gets going). If, for whatever reason, the Minister for Social Protection fails to ascend to the leadership, another big name immediately springs to mind.
Simon Coveney, currently our Minister for Housing (among other responsibilities), is a safe pair of hands and equally as popular with his colleagues as Mr Varadkar. He is less smooth in style, yet remains a formidable force to be reckoned with. A possible compromise candidate, if one were needed could be Frances Fitzgerald. She is a deeply conservative politician and less popular than the other two aforementioned gentlemen.
I’ve been observing the political scene and it seems that Ms Fitzgerald is keeping her cards close to her chest. For now she is staying loyal to the taoiseach. It is possible – similar to Theresa May’s appointment as British prime minister earlier this year – that the Minister for Justice might find herself in the top spot if Messrs Varadkar and Coveney falter in the race to succeed Mr Kenny. That scenario is unlikely to develop, but at this time cannot be ruled out as a possibility.
We have examined the possible successors to Mr Kenny. But before a successor emerges there first needs to be a vacancy. That means the Mayo TD must make up his mind quickly about his political intentions. Like the irritating caller on Gay Byrne’s radio programme, Mr Kenny, it seems, is not getting the message. Politically speaking, he is living on borrowed time and the longer he stays on the more damage he will cause – to his legacy, his party and ultimately the country.
Next month is the 26th anniversary of a momentous event in political history. In November 1990 Mrs Thatcher - once an indomitable force in world politics – lost the leadership of her party. Soon after this painful humiliation she ceased to be Britain’s prime minister. If he wants to avoid the same fate, Mr Kenny will have to set out a plan – albeit privately – to step down. In politics, as in life, time comes for everyone. His time is nearly up and there is no point in him thinking he is invincible. Reality will bite eventually whether he likes it or not.