Friday 19 January 2018

Electric Enda turns on style in the great escape

Fiach Kelly

WHEN the chips were down, Electric Enda saved his own bacon. At the close of yesterday's parliamentary party meeting, where Enda Kenny was fighting for his political life, the Fine Gael leader stood and delivered what was widely described as a barnstorming speech.

"They say Enda doesn't have passion, they say Enda doesn't connect. Who are they? I've been going around the country meeting people," he thundered, earning himself a standing ovation from most of the gathering.

They said Enda couldn't survive. He did.

Despite being often ridiculed and derided, Kenny played a tactical blinder this week, leaving his opponents looking presumptuous and flat-footed.

The frontbench thought they could tell him to go and he would. Instead, he sacked them on the spot and began the fight of his life, which may now earn him the public's respect.

He almost knew the challenge was coming and had steeled himself for it in recent weeks.

"I know Enda and I knew his father from rural politics," said one of around 20 supporters who made the journey up from Mayo for another day of high drama in Leinster House.

"He stopped in to me for a cup of tea around two weeks ago. He said to me: 'There's only two things that will stop me becoming Taoiseach. One is health, and that's okay. The other is that some of my lads have the knives out. We'll see if they use them.'"

They did use them, but their cack-handed rebellion backfired spectacularly, leaving half of the party's frontbench with egg on its face.

The result seemed to be sealed by Wednesday night. The Kenny camp strutted around the Dail with confidence and the Bruton side, while talking up their chances, gave the game away with their slumped shoulders and defeated body language.

But yesterday was 'D-Day', as described by Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan on his mobile phone voicemail.

Both sides have talked a good game in the past week, but they got down to real business at the four-and-a-half-hour party meeting.

They dribbled into the basement room of the new extension to Leinster House shortly after 11.30am and only surfaced for a Dail vote at 2.20pm.

All involved said it was polite. "We're a mature party," said Donegal North-East TD Joe McHugh. "It's all very civil."

On the way back into the party meeting, Fine Gael chief whip Paul Kehoe stopped a rumoured 'wobbler', James 'Bonkers' Bannon from Longford-Westmeath.

Kehoe's finger was wagging furiously in Bonkers' face, with Bonkers shaking his head in response. Of such persuasion is a victory claimed.

The afternoon stretched on until it filtered through that a decision would come at 4.45pm.

At 4.33pm, Richard Bruton nipped out of the meeting looking nervous.

Confident, Richard? "Oh yes, we need change," came the reply as he walked back in.

Five minutes later, a rumour circulated that Kenny had won by six -- 38 to 32. Word was passed to Enda's driver Liam Coady, who was sitting anxiously nearby. He clenched his fist, but nobody was sure if it was the correct result.

Then, a few minutes later, Kenny's constituency colleague John O'Mahony came out and whispered to the Mayo crowd the news that their man had won, but the margin remained unconfirmed.

"Up Mayo!" came the first of many yelps, as they bounded up the stairs and headed for the plinth to spread the good news.

One TD leaving the meeting was asked if he was happy. "Not really," he said. "The party is split and that will take a while to heal."

But Enda has lanced the leadership boil that had been threatening to burst since the 2007 General Election.

"It was a difficult week," his brother Kieran said. "It was on a knife edge. It was like a good championship match, like he said himself."

He said Enda had stood with John Bruton through his troubles and had expected similar loyalty.

"There has been no animosity between the Brutons and the Kennys. There never was and I don't think there ever will be."

Half an hour after the result was officially announced by parliamentary party chairman Padraic McCormack, Enda strolled out the front doors of Leinster House, applauded by his supporters and opponents.

As he was speaking out on the plinth, the rebels skulked in the background, with sour faces drooped in defeat.

Senator Fidelma-Healy Eames, who steadfastly refused all week to say who she was backing, shamelessly pushed her way to the front for Enda's victory press conference and doughnutted with pride.

"I'm thrilled and indeed very relieved that the motion of confidence has been approved and endorsed by the parliamentary party," Enda said.

"For me, this is the end of any of the tensions that were building up. We move on from here as a completely united party.

"I want to say that my relationship as a friend of Richard Bruton is not broken by this. I made that clear before that vote took place and that still stands."

RTE were taking Enda live on TV, aptly breaking into their screening of 'The Great Escape'.

After Enda finished, Richard Bruton had to be coaxed forward to speak, posing for a strained photograph with the man who is still his boss.

"It is a very difficult thing as a party," he said, before seemingly leaving the door open to a return to the frontbench.

"We are a family and sometimes issues arise in a family and they have been resolved in a very adult way and there has been no rancour in the meeting."

The losers went to the nearby Merrion Hotel to drown their sorrows.

The winners fanned out to celebrate their victory.

But at the back of it all, the happiest will be Fianna Fail.

After a week in which Kenny's economic competence and suitability for the office of Taoiseach were dragged through the mud by his own, he's still standing and will likely have some of his fiercest critics on his frontbench for the next election.

You can hear it on the doorsteps already: "How can you have confidence in him when his own don't?"

Open goal, lads. Take your shot.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News