Thursday 29 September 2016

So our Taoiseach likes to play air guitar? Let it rip, Enda, let it rip

Gerard O'Regan

Published 11/06/2016 | 02:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and wife Fionnuala at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Croke Park in Dublin Picture: Arthur Carron
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and wife Fionnuala at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Croke Park in Dublin Picture: Arthur Carron

It must be more than 25 summers ago - and that, as they say, is neither yesterday nor the day before.

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All I can remember is that the sun was shining outside and I was ensconced in some licensed premises with sundry media folk - plus Michael Noonan, already a Fine Gael presence of some substance.

At this far distance, details of the encounter have long since slipped into the fog of memory. Where exactly did that chit-chat take place? Who else was there? I simply can't remember.

But I do recall the joviality and the exchange of political gossip with Mr Noonan. And one aside of his, way back then, has lingered over the years.

I can still remember him at some point suggesting there could be a bright future in Fine Gael for a young TD by the name of Enda Kenny. But he did add a caveat. He felt the Dáil deputy from the west of Ireland would need to get a bit more serious about the business of politics. He portrayed a picture of somebody with talent, but who should "knuckle down'', if he was to reach his full potential. He needed to be less flippant, and more serious, to really make his mark.

Given all the subsequent twists and turns of their respective careers and how they alternated between being friend and foe within the party, meshing into their unlikely alliance of the last few years, it was an insightful comment by one of our more thoughtful politicians.

For his part, Kenny had come into the Dáil, aged only 24, following the untimely death of his father, Henry. It may have been a bit too soon, and too sudden, for immersion in the vagaries of national life for the recently qualified school teacher.

As always in this situation, the question must be asked: would he have chosen such a career were it not for the overwhelming pressure to preserve a rural political lineage? It has been recounted that during his early years as a Dáil deputy, the young Kenny was all too often a kind of Jack the lad. Perhaps it's no wonder he languished on the backbenches for almost a decade.

When eventually he began climbing the greasy pole, others of his generation had forged ahead.

At that point in time, his long-term prospects as a politician seemed modest at best. But as the years passed, those youthful follies slipped away. Inevitably he became older and wiser, and his eventual marriage to Fionnuala O'Kelly, (pictured at the recent Bruce Springsteen concert) with her own strong political bloodline, all combined to make him a man of steely political ambition. The rest, as they say, is history, and in the years that followed, Enda Kenny would clamber his way to the very top. Events may have favoured him in eventually becoming leader of Fine Gael, but that hardly matters in the greater scheme of things.

It is now clear that along the route, he developed a grit which his enemies, all too often underestimated. The mild-mannered exterior obviously camouflages a sense of purpose and drive, which is all the more potent because it came so late in life.

Yet his public persona has attracted some unlikely criticism since achieving high office. The most frequent jibe is that he comes across as "wooden'', particularly on television.

During the election campaign, this was a repeated refrain - perhaps not surprisingly in an age of superficial soundbites and incidental TV cameos which attract all sorts of superficial comment.

Yet he must have cast a wry smile at the inconsistency of such judgments. At the recent Bruce Springsteen concert, the "wooden'' exterior gave way to a bopping Taoiseach, strumming along with an 'air guitar'. But this also found no favour with some of his critics, who suggested such flippant behaviour was a bit "unstatesmanlike''.

However, in those fleeting camera shots we just might have got an insight into the Enda Kenny of former times. That was when he could let things rip a little bit, just for the pleasure of the moment.

The opportunities for such displays of public levity are few for the modern-day politician who has attained high office. The spin doctors always remain on edge about any kind of unrehearsed enjoyment. If it's not part of carefully choreographed scripted behaviour, it must be avoided, according to the canon of modern day image makers. But maybe the lesson from the Springsteen gig is that the Taoiseach should in fact go to a few more concerts this summer. More chillaxed behaviour, in suitable surrounds, might be just what the spin doctors should embrace.

And should his native Mayo, finally, land that agonising All-Ireland title come September, from his high point in the Hogan Stand, he could justifiably strum a little once again on his imaginary guitar. It just might regale the nation, chip away at the much commented upon wooden exterior, and remind us all of how things used to be for Enda Kenny in younger and more carefree days.

Irish Independent

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