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Irish victor faces economic challenge

Associated Press / February 28, 2011

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DUBLIN — Opposition leader Enda Kenny has already shattered Ireland’s 80-year-old political monopoly. Now he faces an even more challenging assignment: rebuilding Ireland’s economy, nearly brought to its knees by reckless property speculation and bank lending.

Kenny rebuilt his Fine Gael party into a force that handed the ruling Fianna Fail party its worst defeat since 1932 in Friday’s national vote. He faces a decision within days on building a stable government that will respond to Irish voters angry and anxious over the nation’s economic freefall and subsequent bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Ireland’s next prime minister said his administration will be “one of responsibility, not privilege; a government of public duty, not personal entitlement; a government looking with confidence and courage to the future, not with guilt and regret at the past.

Only eight months ago, his Fine Gael colleagues thought so little of his leadership that they tried to oust him. But the steely nerve and sharp tactics that Kenny displayed in rebuffing that challenge will be sorely tested as he works to assemble a strong government, with another party or with the support of independents. The latter option offers Kenny more opportunities to reward Fine Gael legislators with ministerial jobs. The temptation grows as Fine Gael wins more places in the 166-seat Dail, the lower house of Parliament; with 78 or more seats, going it alone is a viable option.

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