Thursday 23 October 2014

Enda survives Paddy's Day roast – now for the grilling

Published 17/03/2014 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny continues his U.S visit

IT must've been the bloodthirstiest breakfast that the Taoiseach has ever encountered. Instead of rashers it was battered politicians that were on the menu. If he thought that the bit of banter and odd outbreak of sniping that he has to endure in the Dail was a bit rough, then a full-throttle Bostonian political roast must've been a right old eye-opener indeed.

Enda is the first Taoiseach ever to attend the St Paddy's Day roast, which has been in full swing for 70 years, and he was there at the invitation of State Senator Linda Docena Forrey. She is the first woman and the first Haitian-American to host the rambunctious breakfast, which goes out live on local TV. And it's a bunfight which local politicians miss at their peril – a no-show can cost votes, which is why the high-powered likes of Governor Deval Patrick, US Senator Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh don their green ties and literally sing for their brekkie – in between speeches, various senators and congressmen entertained the room with rousing versions of 'The Wild Rover' – and they were all word-perfect.

And Senator Forrey proved to be a total star, wowing the huge 1,000-strong audience with a string of funny videos and quips.

"For those of you watching at home, do not adjust your television set," she said by way of introduction.

"That's right everybody, I'm a woman!" she declared to cheers.

What followed was an entertaining free-for-all slagging match between the various Republican and Democrat politicians, with the hapless and absent City Council President Bill Linehan – who chose to spend Paddy's Day in Limerick – the butt of some serious slagging.

It was a mad-cap affair, with congressmen and governors posing for a group selfie onstage, videos taking the mick out of each other, and barbed jokes.

Democrat Congessman Stephen Lynch got a mighty cheer when he had a dig at Republicans, declaring, "you never have to worry about Republicans smoking pot in Congress – that would require them to pass something," he winked, passing an imaginary joint.

Enda's eyes were out on sticks – this sort of carry-on made an Ard Fheis look like a day at the zoo. After the breakfast, he had a meeting with Boston's new mayor, Marty Walsh, who found himself with a bit of extra time on his hands as he had pulled out of that morning's annual St Patrick's Day Parade through the city's Southside over the exclusion of LGBT groups.

Marty, whose parents came from Connemara, was a stalwart of the parade, and tried to broker some sort of deal between the organisers and the groups, to no avail, and so issued a last-minute statement that he would not be marching this year, in which he made his position clear.

"As mayor of the city of Boston, I have to do my best to ensure that all Bostonians are free to participate fully in the civic life of our city. Unfortunately, this year, the parties were not able to come to an understanding that would have made that possible," he said.

The hoohah over US parades has turned into something of a quandry for the Taoiseach who is due to march in the New York parade today – but it too is being boycotted on similar grounds by the city's new mayor, Bill di Blasio.

It's a stark example of the clash of Old Ireland and 21st Century Irish-America, and the latter's windiness to deal with this civil rights issue which is destined to win out in the end.

And for the moment, the Taoiseach is stuck in between, and for now is remaining firmly planted on the fence. After the breakfast, he said the he was "very happy" to march down Fifth Avenue.

"I don't have any control over the conditions that are laid down by the organisers of the parade.

"From that point of view I have accepted the invitation and I am happy to walk in it," he said.

However, unwilling to be aligned with the less-enlightened among the New York organisers, he added: "Clearly from Ireland's point of view, as you know, Government has committed to holding a referendum on the question of gay marriage next year."

The LGBT groups in Ireland have called on him to at the very least sport a Rainbow lapel pin beside his clump of shamrock, which wouldn't appear to be too big an ask.

After the breakfast, the Taoiseach travelled out to the Irish Cultural Centre in Boston to attend Mass and to meet with the Irish community, including some undocumented Irish.

Entertainer Brendan Grace was wandering about, sporting a green jacket.

He explained that while he's a resident of Florida, he has family living just outside Boston.

Later, Enda dropped into a business reception and toured the USS Constitution museum before heading to New York.

His packed programme today begins with breakfast with Bill di Blasio in his residence, Gracie Mansion, before he heads to march in the parade alongside members of the local GAA community.

Bill is a forthright sort of chap with strong views about inclusion and equality with regards to the parade.

So Enda better be ready – instead of a mixed grill this morning, he might well get a roasting of his very own.

Irish Independent

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