Belfast Telegraph

Enda Kenny's national address was understated, but realistic

The Republic exited its £57.4bn bailout programme at the weekend, prompting Taoiseach Enda Kenny to address the nation on television. Fionnan Sheahan reflects on the style and substance of his words

Thankfully, it was far shorter than the soliloquy two years ago, when the Taoiseach delivered his first 'State of the Nation'.

And there wasn't the expected patronising air to the 'National Address' either on Sunday night.

Early on, there was an acknowledgement of the pain people have gone through, that the medicine so far was hard and that the improvements in the public finances aren't yet being felt by many people.

"But it is now clear that your sacrifices are making a real difference. Ireland is now moving in the right direction. Our economy is starting to recover," he said.

At the end, there was a thank you to the Irish people.

Mr Kenny struck a populist note by pledging yet another clampdown on the bogeymen in the banks, saying the Government will require the banking system to "become a contributor to the economy, rather than a huge drain on it".

"The banks must do more to deal with mortgage distress and to provide access to credit for small business," he said.

All welcome, but it begged questions of what the Coalition has been demanding of the banks up to now – if not just that.

Enda Kenny's address to the nation was quite understated. And there was a distinct sense of realism to it.

The country is out of the bailout, but there's a lot more to do to fix the economy.

The message was: We've got this far, so we've got to stay the course if you want more jobs.

"But the progress that we have made must not be put at risk. Now is not the time to change our course or direction," he said.

That was pretty much it.

Despite exiting the bailout, the Government's message is that the country has to stick to the policies of bringing in tough budgets to avoid putting the economic recovery in jeopardy.

Anybody who had been expecting a change of tack on the austerity policies can forget about it.

But Mr Kenny's speech also had a hint of optimism, as it focused heavily on jobs, and he pledged to replace the jobs lost in the crisis by 2020.

The Government is predicting a return to full employment, more or less, by then.

Compared to Mr Kenny's previous effort before the Fine Gael-Labour Party Coalition's first proper Budget in 2011, this was a far more focused affair.

On that occasion, he droned on for a good 11 minutes with figures scattered across the dull script, and a folksy anecdote about an encounter with a woman with a husband who had just got off the dole even popped in.

And he followed up his message about the crisis not being the people's fault by heading to the World Economic Forum in Davos saying "people went mad with borrowing".

The lessons were clearly learnt this time out.

Mr Kenny does have a strong input into his own speeches.

On special occasions like this, there is always a strong suggestion that his wife, Fionnuala, also has a guiding hand.

His chief adviser, Mark Kennelly, and his economic adviser, Andrew McDowell, are also reflected in the language used in the speech.

Mr Kenny's handlers said last night that the speech was deliberately aimed at creating a sense of calm.

"It's a speech with a very definite purpose. It is about making sure we continue on the path we are on because it is working and not do what the country has done in the past, which is to go back to the old practices," a source said.

"It offers a message of hope based on realism and was deliberately targeted at continuing on the path to recovery."

The 'National Address' was part of an effort by the Government to dominate the agenda on the bailout exit. The opinion poll ratings to date would suggest it is paying dividends.

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