It must be a bitch to date Fine Gael.
I mean, one day sheâ€™s promising to get all down and dirty, the next sheâ€™s in the church saying rosaries for our souls. All hard-on and no pay-off. Itâ€™s enough to make any sane man despair.
The allegations in the Sunday independent regarding Bertie Ahern â€“ allegations involving, once again, cash and Manchester â€“ are now believed to have been given to the paper by Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins. Today, Enda Kenny has come out and said that:
â€œIf a Fine Gael source was in touch with the papers, and I would hope they were not, it was done without my imprimatur or the imprimatur of the Fine Gael front bench. We have no interest in a dirty tricks campaign.â€
Normally, a statement like this is released once the damage has been done; to give the leader some distance, while his opponent feels the heat. In Kennyâ€™s case, he has distanced himself because his party is the one under pressure. It would be wrong to say the tactic backfired â€“ more accurately, this was a move without tactics. Kenny is quoted in todayâ€™s Independent as saying that â€œI never involved myself in 32 years in public life in personal animosity or personal degradation of any candidate, irrespective of who they represent, all parties and none.â€
It is as if Kenny got to be leader of his party because he ran a nice campaign â€“ that he got to be the head of Fine Gael by being nice to everybody. And that is simply ridiculous.
Once again weâ€™re going to hear about Bertie the Teflon Taoiseach, and how any personal attacks on the man backfire for the opposition. But Bertieâ€™s teflonosity is a bit like stamp duty â€“ a cover story for the real issue.
The focus of the story has now moved to whether Fine Gael is conducting a smear campaign against a man who signed blank cheques for Charlie Haughey, took thousands of pounds of cash off strangers in a Manchester hotel, who apparently cashed his pay cheques in a pub or shop and kept around Â£50,000 in cash in his house, and who faces serious questions over his Bertie bowl.
Conducting a smear campaign? Bertieâ€™s doing a grand job all on his own.
But the fact that the story has been allowed to move against Fine Gael is a simple sign of the fragmentation in the party at senior tactical level. Kenny now admits that Jim Higgins leaked the story to the Sunday Independent without his knowledge.
What type of party has an MEP who leaks a story about the Taoiseach to the biggest-selling Sunday newspaper in the country, and who neglects to inform his leader â€“ the main opposition leader â€“ about it? Although Kenny now admits that he knew the story was to run, he maintains he knew nothing about it, and certainly did not approve the leak.
Kenny knows, but doesnâ€™t know. He spends all of Sunday and Monday waiting to see what happens, and then on Tuesday tells the press he didnâ€™t approve the leak.
Surely if he didnâ€™t approve, he didnâ€™t approve on Sunday, and he didnâ€™t approve on Monday as well? Kenny waited because he wanted to see what would happen, to see if others would smell blood and pounce on Tayto Ahern for him.
But hereâ€™s the deal. Thatâ€™s Kennyâ€™s job. He dithered because he wanted someone else to do the work for him, the work of opposing the Taoiseach. The fact of the matter is that Kenny is a crap opposition leader. And if he isnâ€™t able to draw blood from a Taoiseach who has a dubious relationship with cash, he should stick to teaching.
With about four weeks to go before the election â€“ and Iâ€™m putting my money on the 17th of May so as to save Bertie a tribunal appearance â€“ Kenny is the only alternative Taoiseach the system allows. Letâ€™s hope he can stamp some authority on his party, and that no scandals involving Bertie arrive.
This is the position Kenny finds himself in at the moment â€“his lack of an opposition killer instinct means that Bertieâ€™s fuck-ups rebound on Kenny.
For the countryâ€™s sake, letâ€™s hope the election is called before the tribunal season begins. I donâ€™t think the opposition could take any more bad press about the Taoiseach.