An Taoiseach’s national address was well intentioned but badly executed.
To his credit; from the moment he became Taoiseach, Enda Kenny has shown that he realises the importance of talking to people. He has demonstrated regularly that he knows the job of Taoiseach is not just the traditional one of government Chairman or Chief.
He understands that it is also that of the “confidence giver in chief”, particularly at times of crisis like this. The person who tells the rest of us what is happening and how he and his team have a plan to get us through the difficulties.
Television has not been his friend. Neither have the formal set pieces: Ard Fheis speeches etc. He has been more comfortable in informal situations, particularly those where his words and message are delivered unmediated: live to a flesh and blood audience.
For all these reasons, last night’s TV “Address to the Nation” was going to be a big ask. The fact that it was billed as the most important address he would ever give, the “speech of his life”, did not help.
In the event, the speech did not succeed in achieving its desired result.
A speech is not about offering a litany of facts and figures, it is about putting across a clear message. The Taoiseach acknowledged this truth in his address saying that he was “outlining the Government’s strategy.”
The pity is that while this may have been the aim, the content and delivery failed to convey any sense of strategy or coherent plan.
The address should not just have been another element of the package of budget speeches: but an opportunity to set out a vision of where we are going and how we can get there together.
It could have been a vision of the kind of Ireland the Taoiseach wants to see in place by 2016, the centenary of the Easter Rising and an exposition of how he sees us achieving that.
Instead of the expected “state of the nation” we got a curiously cold and passionless presentation that omitted both vision and purpose. A bland party political broadcast that seemed, in part, to be an attempt to explain both why The government was now implementing policies it had opposed and why it had abandoned promises made only nine months ago.
It was less an “address to the nation” and more an apology from the leader of Fine Gael.
As the Taoiseach and his advisers are now starting to realise there are some very obvious risks with such addresses.
The expectations were high.
People expect to be better informed and maybe even more confident after the broadcast than they were before. Looking at the online commentary as I write this, I do not see this being the emerging consensus. Most politically unaligned posters appear to be seeing the address as a “wasted opportunity”.
But there are other risks too. The leader comes on TV to say that things will get better… but, they don’t. As a consequence we lose faith in them.
The other worry is that the Leader comes on TV to say that things are even worse that he had suggested they were… the opposition have a field day using his own words to attack him and his popularity plummets
Though I have no firm evidence for thinking this, I believe that these were the two of the key factors behind Brian Cowen’s reluctance to make a similar address in 2008/2009. The one issue Cowen would not have had to address if he had chosen to make such a speech then is the crisis facing the EU and the Euro.
In my view the Taoiseach made a mistake in not devoting more of his script to this crucial issue. Not only did the EU section amount to less than 10% of the total text, the section was bland and failed to seriously address any of the issues facing us.
In other EU countries they are talking of having “less than a week” to save the Euro. Within the coming days we will learn more of the Merkel/Sarkozy plan to fundamentally change how the EU and the Euro function, but here our Taoiseach reduces the matter to almost an afterthought in his keynote address to the nation.
It kind of sums up the whole exercise, well intentioned, but poorly done.