News Analysis

Thursday 2 October 2014

Echoes of great JFK in Enda's triumphant battle cry

Published 13/06/2013 | 17:00

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THE Taoiseach stood in the Dail chamber, quietly but fiercely determined not to buckle in the face of the canon's roar.

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Yet another titanic struggle now rages between Church and State, and yet again it's over abortion.

It's an unholy holy war.

The sacred Scuds are raining down on the Taoiseach and his coalition cohorts.

And there, in the eye of the storm, right in the midst of the pitched battle is the unlikeliest of generals, Enda Kenny.

Until yesterday he had resisted direct hand-to-hand combat with the clergy.

Until yesterday that is, when he picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the princes of the church.

It was totally unexpected, understated and unheralded and all the more powerful for it.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath was piling more pressure on the Taoiseach during leaders' questions. "Will you listen to the people, will you give a free vote and will you not go to the country and ask the people for their opinion?" he demanded.

Enda set off on a standard reply, reminding Mattie that "on two occasions in the past, the people were consulted," referring to the referendums of 1995 and 2002.

So far, so humdrum. But then he looked up from his notes.

"I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer, that I'm going to have on my soul the death of 20 million babies," he said.

"I'm getting medals, scapulars, plastic foetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls," he added.

"I am proud to stand here as a public representative, as a Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic, but not a Catholic Taoiseach. I'm a Taoiseach for all the people. That's my job while I have it."

This had echoes of his remarkable Cloyne speech made in the same arena almost two years ago.

AND it had echoes reaching back even further, to 1950.

It seems the Taoiseach – perhaps keeping in mind the commemoration ceremonies next week in Wexford – had gone to the well of the great orator John F Kennedy and dipped into a speech the then-presidential candidate gave to an audience of Protestant ministers in which he declared: "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President, who happens also to be a Catholic".

What's good enough for Kennedy, is good enough for Kenny.

But after the applause, another faint sound could be heard.

It was the tectonic plates of Church and State, welded together for so long, slowly but inexorably on the move again.

Irish Independent

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