Though he is said to have uttered it during a radio debate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s great phrase — “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts” — could have been coined with Enda Kenny in mind.
While we have seen glimpses during his time as leader of Fine Gael of his capacity to construct facts out of thin air, the last week or two have seen this dubious talent embarrassingly exposed several times.
The more innocuous of these was his incredible assertion at the Beal na Blath commemoration that Michael Collins, “the outstanding organiser” as he called him, had “brought Lenin himself to Ireland to see how the National Loan worked”.
At first I suspected that the Taoiseach was having a Sixties flashback, thinking about John Lennon of the Beatles — but no, he really did claim that VI Lenin had come to Ireland.
When it was pointed out to the Taoiseach, a teacher, and his political speechwriters that no such visit had ever taken place and that Lenin had never been to Ireland, the line was changed on the government website to “brought Lenin’s attention to … ”
A major, checkable, factual error was brushed aside as unimportant. Are the Taoiseach’s political hacks now so arrogant and self-deluded that they think history can be created and then re-written online whenever they please?
Perhaps the Taoiseach’s handlers were grateful that the ruckus over the Lenin line had distracted attention away from the potential embarrassment caused to our Defence Forces by using them at what the Taoiseach attempted to turn into a partisan political rally.
While the Lenin claim had no great impact on today’s politics, except to give us a further insight into how the leader of Fine Gael views the world, the other incident does.
This more serious factual error came to light in the last few days when the Taoiseach’s department was compelled to admit that his repeated assertions that there were no files relating to the 2008 bank guarantee were totally without foundation.
Unlike the Lenin claim, this is not something the Taoiseach’s handlers and spindoctor can fix with a couple of quick typing changes on a website. Twice Enda Kenny told the Dail that there were no such files in the Taoiseach’s department and they have “gone missing” or must have been “shredded”.
This was not just him mis-speaking. These comments were part of the FG narrative that the events of 2008 were a conspiracy by the last Government against the interests of the State and of its people.
‘Twice Enda Kenny told the Dail that there were no such files in the Taoiseach’s department and they must have “gone missing”…’
In July, Kenny sought to justify and reinforce his claims, saying that they ” … were intended to highlight the remarkably small volume of documentation held in the Department of the Taoiseach from the night of the bank guarantee”.
He was compelled to say this, despite the fact that there were 17 files sitting there, because to say otherwise would have meant exposing the entirely false basis to his criticisms of the previous Government in the months running up to the last election and his rewriting of history since. The same is true of the ECB correspondence.
A rewriting that seems to omit the fact that Kenny and Fine Gael supported and voted for the bank guarantee, saying that they did so “in the interests of the country, in the interests of protecting our economy and to protect the interests of our taxpayers”.
This is precisely the reason the previous Government made the decision itself.
After weeks and months of claiming otherwise, we discovered last week that there are, in fact, 17 files relating to the bank guarantee sitting in the Taoiseach’s own department. Not shredded, not missing, not lost. Seventeen files is hardly a “remarkably small volume of documentation”.
Enda Kenny is not entitled to his own facts, not on this issue and not on any other one either. As we see with the cuts to community services, when he and his ministers come up with their own facts, it’s the public who feel the pain.