Enda Kenny was born on the 24 April 1951 in Castlebar, County Mayo, the third child in a family of five.
He was educated at his local national school in Cornanool Co Mayo and later attended secondary school in Castlebar. At third level, he attended University College Galway and St Patrick’s College of Education in Dublin, where he trained as a primary school teacher. He worked as a teacher for a few years before being elected as a TD in 1975 at the age of 24.
At the age of 41, in 1992, he married Kerry native Fionnuala O’Kelly. The couple met in Leinster House where O’Kelly was working as a press officer for the enemy: Fianna Fáil. She went on to work with RTÉ. They have three children.
Kenny climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity in 2003 and remains a keen supporter of his native Mayo Gaelic football team – his father Henry Kenny, having won an All-Ireland medal with Mayo in 1936. Kenny played football with his local team in his youth.
He has been a TD for Mayo since 1975, having succeeded his father Henry Kenny. He served as Minister for Tourism and Trade from 1994 to 1997 and has been leader of Fine Gael since 2002.
With some 35 years service under his belt, Kenny is the longest-serving TD in Dáil Éireann still in office. When he was first elected in 1975 at the age of 24, he was the youngest TD in the Dail. On the European stage, he was Vice President of the European People’s Party.
In 1986 he became a Minister of State at the Departments of Education and Labour, but only for a short period as Fine Gael lost the 1987 general election and were out of power for the subsequent seven years.
In the mid 1990s, Taoiseach John Bruton appointed Kenny as appointed Minister for Tourism and Trade. In 2001, after Bruton’s resignation, Kenny stood for election as leader promising to “electrify the party” but he lost out to Michael Noonan on that occasion.
In September 2002, Kenny became embroiled in a racism row when he used the word “nigger” during a joke in relation to Patrice Lumumba, the assassinated first Prime Minister of Congo. Kenny was condemned by race campaigners at home and abroad. It also emerged that several of Lumumba’s relative lived in Tallaght.
In the 2002 general election Fine Gael suffered a catastrophic loss of support, losing 23 seats. Michael Noonan resigned as leader on the night of the result, and Kenny won the leadership election that followed. He had the task of opposing Bertie Ahern during an unprecedented economic boom, where tax-cuts and giveaway budgets were possible.
In July 2005, Kenny refused to back the jailed The Shell to Sea campaigners, saying: “The law must be obeyed.”
Kenny toughed-out a leadership challenge last June when an Ipsos MRBI poll indicated that the Labour Party had become the most popular political party in the country, ahead of Fine Gael. The poll showed Kenny’s satisfaction ratings at only 24%.
The party’s deputy leader Richard Bruton refused to support him, and nine Fine Gael frontbenchers said they didn’t have confidence in Kenny to lead their party: Simon Coveney, Denis Naughten, Olwyn Enright, Olivia Mitchell, Fergus O’Dowd, Michael Creed, Billy Timmins, Leo Varadkar and Brian Hayes.
With such forces arrayed against him, many expected Kenny to crumble and resign. However, he hung tough and the manner in which he dealt with the crisis caused many to have increased respect for his leadership capabilities.
During the 2011 election Kenny said “I think that this is a time for courageous and strong government. It is not a time for government that might self-combust or that would be dependent on the whim of any mercenary Independents. This is a judgment call for the people.”
On 14 February 2011, Valetine’s Day, Kenny met German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the Irish economy, in what many dismissed as a political stunt, although it appears the two are friendly from their contacts in European Peoples’ Party.
He is certain to be Ireland’s next Taoiseach, perhaps in coalition with Labour. Earlier today, when Pat Rabbitte was asked whether he would meet with Fine Gael representatives for a pint to discuss the possibility of a coalition, he said “ah sure you know how it is yourself, Miriam. I think a pint later on would be well-advised.”
During Kenny’s leadership challenge last year, Paddy McGuinness, a retired councillor, said Kenny told him that the tenacity required to win the leadership battle reminded him of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro:
“He reminded me of it when I spoke to him this morning. He said he didn’t give up then – and he’s not giving up now.”
The election is over, and a new government will be formed within days. It is only then that Enda Kenny will find that he has a real mountain to climb. For all our sakes, let’s hope he’s able for it.