Saturday 22 July 2017

Nicola Anderson: An exit rich in metaphors and emotion as Enda finally shuffles off the political stage

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: “So, is it ok if I go now?” Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny: “So, is it ok if I go now?” Photo: Tom Burke
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Finally, Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell stopped talking. She welled up with emotion and Enda gave her a big hug - before appearing to slap her in the face.

Maybe more like a playful tap. Something to relieve the tension in the room.

"This was set up weeks ago. If we'd known what was going to happen, it probably wouldn't have been the best idea…," mused a Fine Gael insider afterwards.

Certainly, the launch of a report on death and bereavement entitled 'Finite Lives' was far too wincingly philosophical and appropriate a public engagement on which to go out on, with its rich bounty of political metaphors.

The same senator - an Enda pick herself - had not three months ago been urging him to 'not go gentle into that good night.'

Life is a funny old thing, we mused, as Marie Louise went on and on - speaking of how we're all on a journey. About how the end of life comes to us all and that it's the only thing we can be certain of. And how "the State cannot be asked to promise immortality because t it can't". "How we die and where we die is as important and as irrefutable a fact as that we will," the senator waxed lyrically.

Read More: 'Let the games begin' - leader picks his moment to start race

And later: "You never get the truth as you do from someone who is facing their mortality."

At first, Enda tried keeping a carefully neutral expression and gazing directly down at the relatively immense crowd gathered in the Italian room of Government Buildings.

But it all grew too much and he was reduced to resting his chin in his hands and looking off awkwardly to the side. Cursing the strange gods of the political diaries.

It didn't help that Marie Louise's speech continued for far longer than any reasonable person might have expected.

Enda seemed to think so.

"I was born in a rambling house," he said finally as he got the stage to himself. But there was an affection there.

If the political parallels were to the forefront of our minds, it was clear they were also to the fore of his own as he spoke of how five people can work together in an office for 15 years and then one day - he clicked his fingers - "they're not there anymore," said the man who was leader of his party for 15 years.

It felt like a final farewell because that's what it was.

A quirky little send-off which held real meaning and emotion.

After the hugs and the applause and the slap for Marie Louise, he was swept from the room in a mini-Ard Fhéis wave, only to wash up a very short time later at the parliamentary party meeting.

Having pulled it forward by an hour to 4.30pm, it was clear that after all the speculation, this was happening.

Heather Humphreys had a file under her arm and was determined to discuss her rural development plan. But would she get the chance?

"Well, I'll be making them discuss it," she said firmly.

Rural development didn't get a sniff in at a meeting that started at 4.37pm and ended at 4.44pm.

All had been pre-arranged. The minute Enda rose to his feet, his statement of resignation was tweeted out.

In the leaky sieve of the parliamentary party, the party was keen to control the messaging. His voice went completely, with an emotional croak as he thanked his wife Fionnuala and their children for their understanding of his work and for accepting the intrusion of politics into family life.

"Everyone was willing him on in the room," said an insider.

As he came to the end, they rose with a standing ovation and he signalled them all to sit down as Martin Heydon, the chairman, gave his reply.

"Let the games begin," said Enda, smiling mischievously at Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar.

He had a prior engagement, he explained.

"So, is it ok if I go now?"

It was ok.

Leo couldn't hang around either because he had to sit an Irish exam.

Surely a sign.

Afterwards, they streamed out funeral-like to give the eulogies. It wasn't the time to talk about appointing a successor. That starts today.

Irish Independent

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