With the Dáil back in session this week, Enda Kenny would do well to put the crude old days of spin and media manipulation firmly in the past and engage in public relationships rather than just pointless public relations, writes Paul Allen.
Even though Ireland’s fragile recovery is starting to blossom, the public is as disgruntled and cynical as ever with politicians.
The only cure to restore their faith is to put the crude old days of spin doctors and meaningless soundbites in the past.
There have been few public figures as protected from engagement with the public as Taoiseach Enda Kenny. His every move and utterance has been closely protected and guided by his handlers. This has so far served him well.
At a time when Ireland needed safe and steady leadership to guide the country through a period of unprecedented hardship, the Taoiseach needed a Teflon exterior. Any missteps, gaffes or public outrage on issues not directly associated with economic recovery would have created landmines the government needed to do without.
But the game has changed. While strict media management has helped the Government avoid PR gaffes and focus, as the Taoiseach put it during his Christmas message, on “getting Ireland working again,” the electorate will soon want more.
There is no doubt his political handlers can look back on 2013 as a job well done. Their man is number one in the polls and has barely put a foot wrong. But as we exit austerity, and pray that Spain and Italy soon do likewise rather than plunge Europe and Ireland back into crisis, the Irish public will seek a straight-talking Taoiseach rather than a leader who avoids, rather than engages in, public discourse.
Public opinion now matters more than ever and is shaped by a multitude of sources thanks to social media. While we are only at the beginning of learning how to adapt to this new age one thing is for sure – the public is unlikely to be captivated for long with politicians who value media management above public engagement.
The shadowy world of spin doctoring and media manipulation is no longer a strategy that can ensure political survival. Nor is a strategy that protects political leaders from any form of meaningful public engagement on issues of importance.
Ducking and diving away from tough questions and refusing interviews can only get you so far.
While Enda Kenny will never be a man of the people, he does have an opportunity to set himself apart from the tainted reputation the Irish public now tends to paint all politicians with.
While his dignified calm and confident performance during the Troika years won the Taoiseach respect and plaudits overseas, the Irish people now want a leader with substance. And Enda Kenny has shown in the past he can cut through political waffle and become the voice of a nation.
When he took aim at the Vatican in the wake of the Cloyne report, he showed his world-class political pedigree. His unprecedented attack on the Church gave a voice to the feelings of the Irish people. Speaking in such direct, candid terms, while pulling no punches, was a masterclass in the leadership this country needs.
This is the Taoiseach Irish people want to see more of in 2014. Whether his handlers will let him off their leash is another thing.