Profile: Is Enda Kenny more thanjust a safe pair of hands?

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Ireland's prime minister-in-waiting is used to doing just that: Enda Kenny has been waiting for a shot at power for decades, and it has taken the country's economic meltdown to give the nation's longest-serving member of parliament a chance to emerge from the shadow of opposition.

But even as his Fine Gael party looks set to triumph in today's elections, there remains a lingering feeling among voters – and even among some of his own party – that Mr Kenny, 59, is just too nice to cut it.

A former primary school teacher with an easygoing manner, worries abound that Mr Kenny lacks the charisma, economic savvy and plain old guts to dig the nation out from under a mountain of debt and renegotiate the IMF and European Union bailout.

Born in the market town of Castlebar in County Mayo in 1951, Mr Kenny entered Ireland's parliament in 1975, winning his late father's seat and becoming the nation's youngest parliamentarian. He kept a low profile and focused on his rural constituency for his first couple of decades in politics, before receiving his first ministerial position in 1994.

Despite his only cabinet spell being those three years serving as trade and tourism minister, he ascended to the leadership of Fine Gael in 2002, helping rebuild the party after a bruising general election defeat. During his time at the helm, Mr Kenny has cultivated a reputation as a safe – if a little uninspiring – pair of hands. A senior colleague complained of him last year: "I don't think Enda can cut it. The public can't visualise him as Taoiseach. They don't have the confidence in him."

Yet it may be his understated persona that appealed to an electorate tired of the brash policies that brought financial calamity. And a steely side has emerged. He saw off a leadership challenge last year, and in an uncharacteristically colourful moment in this campaign he scornfully slapped down a Fianna Fail opponent during a television debate, telling him, "You're full of wind and spoof."

This election, it seems, the voters are willing to cast aside their misgivings for the safe pair of hands.

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