Enda Kenny, Irish politician who serves as Leader of Fine Gael (2002–17) and as 13th Taoiseach of Ireland (2011–2017), is born on April 24, 1951 in Derrycoosh, Islandeady, near Castlebar, County Mayo, the third child of five of Mary Eithne (McGinley) and Henry Kenny.
Kenny is educated locally at St. Patrick’s National School, Cornanool N.S., Leitir N.S. and at St. Gerald’s College, Castlebar. He attends St. Patrick’s College, Dublin, qualifying as a national teacher and is an undergraduate student at University College Galway. He works as a primary school teacher for four years.
Kenny turns to politics in 1975 upon the death of his father, Henry Kenny, a long-serving member of the Dáil Éireann, representing Mayo. He wins a comfortable victory in a special election to fill his father’s seat, and at age 24 he is the youngest member of the Dáil. He spends much of his early political career on the backbench, focusing on local issues. In 1994 he is appointed Minister for Tourism and Trade in the “rainbow coalition” government of Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton.
With the collapse of Bruton’s coalition in 1997, Kenny loses his portfolio, but his stature rises as the party itself declines. Weeks after the 2002 Irish general election, which sees Fine Gael win just 31 seats, he is elected party leader. He immediately sets to restoring the party’s fortunes, and Fine Gael makes an impressive showing in the 2007 Irish general election, capturing 51 seats.
Fine Gael’s momentum continues to build as Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Brian Cowen, beset with a banking crisis and a soaring national deficit, is obliged to accept a bailout package of more than $100 billion from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. The Green Party withdraws from Cowen’s coalition, and the government collapses, forcing early elections in February 2011. Capitalizing on widespread voter dissatisfaction, Fine Gael wins more than 70 seats, ending 14 years of Fianna Fáil rule, and Kenny begins discussions with the Labour Party about the formation of a coalition government. After more than a week of negotiations, the details of the coalition are settled and Kenny is formally elected Taoiseach by the Dáil on March 9, 2011, by an unprecedented 90 votes.
Kenny oversees a strong rebound by the Irish economy over the next five years, but the perception by many that the recovery has not been shared equally is reflected in the results of the 2016 Irish general election, when the electorate punishes the ruling coalition by ending its majority. In particular, voters appear to be disenchanted by the government’s pledge to end the Universal Social Charge — a graduated tax on all income over €13,000 — despite austerity-mandated cuts to social services. In the event, Fine Gael remains the largest party in the Dáil, but its share of the seats falls from the 76 it ultimately had secured in 2011 to 50, while coalition partner Labour plummets from 37 seats to seven. Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael’s traditional rival for power, which had appeared politically moribund after the last general election, bounces back forcefully to add 24 seats to its 2011 count, reaching a total of 44 deputies.
With no party holding a majority and no quick path to coalition rule evident, a hung parliament ensues. Ten weeks of negotiations follow as Kenny seeks to form a government. Even the unheard of possibility of grand coalition rule with Fianna Fáil is on the table. Finally, in early May, after much policy-related horse trading, an agreement is reached whereby Kenny and Fine Gael will continue to lead the government, supported by independent deputies and with a promise by Fianna Fáil that it will abstain on key votes until 2018. With Fianna Fáil abstaining, Kenny captures 59 votes on May 6, 2016, enough to return to power. In the process he becomes the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be reelected.
A scandal involving the public smearing of a police whistleblower nearly topples the government in February 2017, and Kenny narrowly survives a vote of confidence, 57 to 52, with Fianna Fáil abstaining. Under pressure from the opposition as well as from members of his own party, Kenny stands down as Fine Gael leader in May 2017. The following month the party chooses Kenny’s Minister for Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, to succeed him as leader of Fine Gael. Kenny resigns as Taoiseach on June 13, 2017, and Varadkar is elected Taoiseach the following day.