Willie O’Dea: Don’t adjust TV, Enda’s on the blink

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Brian Farrell’s 1971 book Chairman or Chief was one of the first major political works to analyse the role of Taoiseach. It categorised the holders of the office as either consensus-building chairmen or more autocratic chiefs.

Published just four years before Enda Kenny entered the Dail, Prof Farrell could never have imagined that some 40 years on it would be necessary to devise a whole new category to encompass Mr Kenny’s particular talents.

Farrell had presumed the Taoiseach of the day would exhibit leadership in some form or other. But, as the recent debate-dodging tactics have shown, leadership is not Enda Kenny’s forte.

He can pose like a leader at the EU Council or when VIPs come to town. He can power dress with the best of them and do his “I’m in charge” walk when the cameras are flashing, but as soon as the microphones come out the powerful Taoiseach illusion evaporates.

He is then reduced to re-hashing the inane soundbites his handlers tucked in his lunchbox. He becomes the ‘bust TV’ Taoiseach: a half decent picture with very poor sound quality.

When faced with a difficulty the Taoiseach takes to the road with cameras in tow. It doesn’t matter where — Boston, Beijing or Bruff — he goes somewhere where his handlers can control the media access and, more importantly, where they can control what he says.

It is this near pathological fear of his going off script that is stopping him debate the fiscal treaty referendum.

Maybe the Taoiseach himself is prepared to debate it, but it appears that what he wants is not as important as what his handlers, advisers and spin masters want.

As we have seen and heard in recent days they now seem determined that he will not be debating the treaty in any studio with anyone unless they have full control. In fairness, can you blame them?

They know how bad he can get when he starts ad-libbing. They not only know it: they have seen it. They know how badly he has fared in previous debates. They know he is a broad stokes type of debater, preferring to stick to generalities, always avoiding details.

They have seen from bitter experience that he can hold his own in a combative radio or TV debate for 10 or maybe 15 minutes. After that; he is liable to appear lost.

The problem with all of this is that the Taoiseach is either unwilling to show the leadership the country needs in this referendum or he is being prevented from doing it.

Either way, the result is the same — we have a Taoiseach in office, but not in power.

The people are being asked to make a very tough decision at a very fraught time. They want to see their political leaders debate the issue in a properly moderated debate.

His reluctance to be a leader and to have a proper leaders’ debate is an unnecessary distraction. By avoiding it he is allowing a straightforward proposal to be unduly complicated and twisted by people on the No side who put party interests before national priorities.

They have been at it all weekend and his response is to take a few minutes before the Angelus tonight to reply. That is not the action of a leader.

Participating in a debate, alongside Micheal Martin and together facing down Adams, Higgins, Boyd Barrett etc and exposing the myths and nonsense they are peddling, is.

From my own experiences on the doorstep I am convinced there is a majority out there who want to see the treaty passed. If they turn out as expected, it will pass. When it does it will be the first time an EU referendum has passed in this country in spite of the Government’s approach, not because of it.

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