In November 2012, the Taoiseach, as the Irish prime minister is called, was named European of the Year by the German Magazine Publishers' Association, VDZ. A month earlier, Kenny featured on the cover of the US international news magazine Time, and billed as leading a "Celtic comeback" in a report which suggested his government's ongoing policies of fierce economic austerity were bringing results.

Since 1 January 2013, Kenny has led Ireland's EU Presidency, the seventh in the country's 40 years of Union membership. Over the 20 months since his election, he has been busy pushing through extra taxes and spending cuts and yet has remained popular with a largely compliant electorate.

Irish people's puzzlement at Kenny's slight notoriety is more than just the usual reluctance to recognise a domestic politician's work at a time of considerable economic suffering. The reality is that Kenny is more generally something of an unlikely Taoiseach'.

Despite his youthful appearance, at age 61 he is the longest serving deputy in the Dail, or national parliament, and he was elected Taoiseach all of 36 years after he first entered public life. More than that, just eight months before he became Taoiseach, the key lieutenants he himself had chosen as his opposition government-in-waiting tried to ditch him because they did not believe he could ever lead them to government.

Kenny showed surprising steel in seeing off this party leadership heave and he was elected Taoiseach in March 2011 following one of the biggest electoral upheavals in Europe since 1945. The Irish election outcome was comparable to the 1994 collapse of the Italian Christian Democrats and Socialists in the face of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, and the 2002 election in the Netherlands, which saw the meteoric rise of Pim Fortuyn's party.

But what made the Irish outcome different from the Netherlands and Italy was that the upheaval did not involve a new party. In fact the long-time ruling Fianna Fail party lost three quarters of their parliamentary seats and were replaced by a coalition of Kenny's Fine Gael, founded 80 years previously, and the Irish Labour Party, which in 2012 celebrated the centenary of its birth.

There are only slight differences between Fianna Fail (FF), translated from Gaelic as Soldiers of Destiny, and Fine Gael (FG), rendered in English as Family of the Irish. FF began with the freedom fighters, who initially rejected the 1922 treaty with Britain because it stopped...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT