Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Kenny's strength lies in his singleness of purpose

In plain language, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, has told us that the proposed Fiscal Stability Treaty, which the heads of state and government are expected to agree today, will result in a diminution of sovereignty over budgetary policy in participating countries.

This really draws a line under the massive and sustained deception that has gone on through the past four years as a deeply undemocratic Europe, together with the giddy and deceitful politicians who led us through the crucial Lisbon Treaty years, tried to cover up the true implications of what they were deciding and recommending.

Fine Gael and Labour, in opposition when the worst deals in our history were carried through, supported what was happening and subscribed to a good deal of the rubbish that was uttered by leading figures in the EU takeover of our economy. These were persuasive and experienced voices on the sidelines, supporting the Big Lie.

For Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore, together with the members of their parties, it was not quite as brutally blunt as that.

Politically, they had little choice but to stay within the broad national consensus that had been created around the theory of closer union that was being constructed within new, legally binding treaties. We had the success story of the Celtic Tiger. We had a relatively long history of European aid to this country that had transformed it. Recognising and teasing out the huge problems that lay ahead was high-level economic, structural and legal science and the wonder of it was the extent to which the dangers were assessed by so few people but then recognised by half the voters in the two Lisbon Treaty referendums of 2008 and 2009.

Those dangers were massively increased by the absurd over-reaction of Brian Lenihan to the banking crisis. The madness to which Mr Kenny referred in Davos last week, and earlier in more moderate terminology was madness in the hearts and minds of those who governed us through those years of treachery and deceit, greed and dissipation. The Taoiseach was right on both occasions. It was true that almost everyone went mad. It was also true that the blame was unevenly distributed and the guilt and greed unevenly spread.

What has been less easy to recognise is that Mr Kenny, leading the opposition when most of the damage was done, took at the time a pragmatic line and has held to it ever since, working essentially on the basic political policy he adopted in opposition throughout the previous, and mercifully the last, Fianna Fail administration.

He believed, as most people in the country in the end believed, that our way was within Europe and within all the realities of Europe as established by the legal frameworks we had voted into place -- at Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice, Lisbon, together with the whole evolution of what now governs us.

His beliefs about what might have been were luxuries in which he could not indulge. His credibility depended on singleness of purpose and on living with the circumstances that had been democratically resolved, however much commentators pointed out that it was all a very shabby deception. He had to be unswerving or he was lost. In this he was close to the true traditions of leading Irish politicians on whom he modelled himself.

Quite early in the general election last year, I pointed out that Mr Kenny was following Jack Lynch in his campaigning style and doing so with a largely unrecognised success. Though no real match for Mr Lynch in depths of political understanding, Mr Kenny replicated a straight, easy and relaxed approach that was based on an equally straight political message that was grounded in the reality of where we had arrived in terms of Europe, banking, debt and the bailout. They were all in place. We had to live with them. Mr Kenny, if he was to get elected and lead the next government, needed to face the clear truth of this and did so.

Though many may scoff at the comparison, the other politician whose name occurs in the analysis of what has governed Mr Kenny's thinking up to now, is Sean Lemass. A good deal of nonsense has been talked about Sean Lemass in recent weeks, presenting him as somehow the 'Irish Father of Our European Heritage'. It was never so. Mr Lemass, like Mr Kenny, was governed by the reality of what he faced at the time. His essential view of Europe was an Anglo-Irish one. He reckoned as centrally important the views of farmers, who sold much of their produce to England. He respected burgeoning business in Ireland, dependent on the British market. A federal Europe might possibly have been a future option. But wise politicians deal with what is there. Mr Lemass did that. Mr Kenny does that now and is right so to do.

The most important conversations the Taoiseach had in Davos were about business and jobs. Talking about the reckless past was a mistake, but its substance was not his mistake and turning it into some kind of personal or political crisis was part of the worst insanity that at times pervades our media.

The two statements he made -- one on the Davos panel, the other in his state of the nation address -- were not inconsistent. It was crude to say most of us went mad, but not inaccurate. It would be truthful to place the major part of the blame on Fianna Fail and the 'closet', inbred climate they nurtured, with developer friends, subservience to the banks and complicity in the complete failure to regulate or legislate for tougher controls.

Mr Kenny has not been seriously at odds with his election aspirations or his general statements since then on what he seeks to achieve. He has been blocked or frustrated by Europe's overwhelming interest in preserving its banking system in which we were made to play a critical part from the time of the Cowen-Lenihan ill-judged guarantee.

WHAT came out at the time of the Davos explanation -- a classic example of a Mr Kenny 'wobble' -- were the messages about investment in this country by new firms and the general air of confidence in the creation of jobs which is filling the finance pages and the pages of our newspapers when we pause from the dogged determination to misunderstand what Mr Kenny's politics are about and to deride and mock him.

Fundamentally, my own position is a different one on Europe but I accept that I know only part of the story and that confrontation at this time would be as ill-judged as much of the mockery. But on the path that Mr Kenny has taken, he remains firm.

His Government is behind him. They are working hard on a financial rescue mission that is immensely challenging and seeks to remedy appalling mistakes. They are not of this administration's making.