Saturday 20 January 2018

'The most popular guy in Ireland' feels the love in the US

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, right, and his wife Fionnuala present a bowl of shamrock to US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at a St Patrick’s Day reception in the White House on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, right, and his wife Fionnuala present a bowl of shamrock to US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at a St Patrick’s Day reception in the White House on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
US President Barack Obama laughs with Fionnuala Kenny. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

US Vice President Joe Biden reckons Enda Kenny would get 80pc of the vote if he ran for election in America.

It is unclear if Mr Biden's prediction is based on recent polling data, or if the figure includes "don't knows" and "who the hell is Enda Kenny?" responses.

However, the unprecedented surge in support for Kenny will undoubtedly put huge pressure on US Presidential frontrunners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

At a campaign event yesterday, Trump promised to ban St Patrick's Day if voted into power and to also build a wall across the Atlantic to stop US tech firms travelling to Ireland.

Ms Clinton is understood to have told her husband Bill to no longer drink Guinness in public or speak to that "Bertie guy".

If he is to run in the US, it is likely Kenny will put his name on the ballot paper as an Independent, and Fine Gael election strategists were last week poring over the Healy-Rae playbook for guidance.

As ridiculous as all that seems, it is hard to rule anything out as the US Presidential campaign continues to evolve at a worrying speed into a Will Ferrell movie.

Sure, bejaysus, didn't Kenny give his clearest signal to date of his intention to quit Ireland for the US when he told revellers at an Irish Embassy St Patrick's Day event he did not want to go home and face the whinging politicians in Leinster House.

And they do love him Stateside. Both Republican and Democrat politicians scramble for his affections when March 17 rolls around every year. At a breakfast do in Biden's residence, the Vice President told his guests Kenny is the "most popular guy" in Ireland despite losing a significant number of seats in the election.

(The Irish Independent understands Fine Gael strategists are actively seeking to establish the name of the polling company that compiles research for the Vice President.)

In the White House's Oval Office, President Barack Obama told reporters what a great job the acting Taoiseach has done over the last five years.

In remarks he may have lifted from a Fine Gael speechwriter's laptop, Obama warned of "political volatility" stemming from our General Election and spoke of the importance of encouraging investment and boosting jobs.

Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan was almost giddy with praise at a lunch he hosted for Kenny.

During the event on Capitol Hill, Ryan and Obama competed, at near nauseating levels, to link themselves to Ireland. Kenny played along.

Obama also used the typically bipartisan event to attack Donald Trump and got a standing ovation from politicians of various hues.

Again, this left many political insiders suggesting Kenny might be the ideal compromise candidate for the presidential race.

Former Speaker John Boehner regaled an American Ireland Fund dinner with stories of his days out golfing with the Taoiseach and even attempted an impression of Kenny. 'Attempted' being the operative word.

And it wasn't just the US politicians who were full of adoration for the Mayo man on his St Patrick's Day visit. Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald and Martin McGuinness were beaming from ear to ear and clapping with gusto during the Fine Gael leader's address at the Irish Embassy's reception in the Willward Hotel. Kenny even joked that he and Mary Lou were like-minded politicians during a speech that will be remembered as the only time an Irish prime minister has said "bejaysus" in public.

Gerry Adams wasn't spotted at the event - and may have been still in a sulk with Mary Lou after she ditched him outside the White House when security wouldn't let him in.

Not long after the reception, Kenny was back on a jet heading for Ireland via Brussels, where he spent St Patrick's Day.

Next week, it's back to government formation talks and Kenny's mind will surely stray to the plaudits of his American contemporaries as he seeks to become ringleader in his own political circus.

If only the Irish public could have been as receptive as the US chattering classes.

Irish Independent

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