Sunday 21 January 2018

Enda's newfound mojo keeps wolves at bay for now

Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the second day of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party think-in at the Keadeen Hotel, Newbridge,Co Kildare. Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the second day of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party think-in at the Keadeen Hotel, Newbridge,Co Kildare. Photo: Tom Burke
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

What was supposed to have been a think-in ended up being a bit more of a think-out. Against crushing national housing and homelessness problems, the conundrum of keeping a stable government on the road despite its rickety set of wheels, the upcoming Budget and the looming unknown of Brexit, one question of much lesser significance proved of stubborn stickiness. What of Enda and his recently revived mojo?

The rumblings of discontent were continuing. "A change of leadership is required," said Brendan Griffin, the Kerry South TD.

That was his opinion - but other backbenchers in the party feel the same way, he claimed. Fine Gael have to be 'election ready' because of the precariousness of the Government, he insisted.

Cork West TD Jim Daly joined him up there on the windswept parapet. He said "a grown-up conversation" needs to take place after the Budget.

"There is no point in pretending this is going to go away," he warned.

And there he had Enda's plan in a nutshell.

It was quite a squash at the top table for the final press conference at the Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge, Co Kildare. There was only meant to have been four of them up there but Enda had pounced upon everyone he had met in the corridors, persuading them to come along. Safety in numbers and all that. Heather Humphreys took a glum perch at the very edge of the table while James Reilly had positioned himself as close to Enda as he could - a photographer noting that he is the new Catherine Noone when it comes to nestling into the Taoiseach for pictures.

There was just one key figure missing. Leo - who had also missed out on the big party photograph at the start of the think-in.

After a late night before, they left the crucial issue of housing and homelessness - the one thing the nation would like to see fixed - until last. So predictably, things ran over.

Enda told us how the principles of the new Programme for Government were already being put in place and of their plans to make life better for communities in north Dublin ravaged by gangland crime.

They concluded on a very "successful" presentation on what's happening in terms of the supply of housing in the country from Sherry Fitzgerald and the Fr Peter McVerry Trust.

After a brief question on Nama and the possibility of a cross-border investigation, the question was ventured.

A group of TDs are terrified he will stay too long and in doing so, damage Fine Gael's chances in the election. If he doesn't go by Christmas, they will go missing for votes. "I've already answered this question," Enda said briskly. "We have a really busy challenging agenda ahead," he said, adding that he has no intention of walking away from his mandate in this regard.

Frances Fitzgerald permitted herself a small wry smile before hurriedly reverting to neutral.

Again he batted off the same question, saying: "This is not a time to mess around."

"This country faces very serious challenges and I have no intention of destabilising the Government," he said.

The atmosphere grew awkward and Simon Harris and Heather Humphreys gave one another a look of significance.

Yet again Enda managed to evade the question as to whether he would fight a motion of no confidence in his leadership, adding "the future comes for everybody". It sounded mildly threatening.

There came a fourth question. Would Enda consider running for the Presidency? James Reilly and Frances Fitzgerald dissolved in mirth. Even Enda - who happened to be on his way to Arás an Uachtaráin later that day, was forced to see the funny side. "No," he protested. He had no intention of going for the Presidency.

While he likes to visit the Arás, he said rather firmly: "I do not wish to become a tenant." It was a reprieve - and Enda took it. But what about next time?

Irish Independent

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