Saturday 18 November 2017

Show is over for 'no regrets' Enda as new generation takes up the mantle

Enda Kenny at the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Brexit Meeting in the RDS yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin
Enda Kenny at the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Brexit Meeting in the RDS yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

There comes the curious point when you realise the power has trickled away. It came as Enda Kenny sat on the stage during the lengthy launch of the Healthy Ireland Network at Dublin Castle.

How did he feel after confirming he was retiring, reporters ventured as he first arrived.

Enda paused and turned around.

"Je ne regrette rien," he replied, the French phrase rolling ripely off his tongue.

He whispered something else too, but nobody heard it.

And then he turned his attention to doing the Taoiseach thing - the tour of the room and the chat with schoolchildren.

He plucked seven-month-old baby Lexi McKeon, of Rathfarnham, Dublin, from the arms of her mother Michelle and flaunted her before the cameras.

She never blanched - a natural. A political career beckons in, oh, 2040 or so.

"Michelle, you'll be lucky to get the baby back," roared rugby legend Keith Wood.

Enda gave his speech about his love of cycling, of the inner city principal who had turned the eating habits of his school around, of the need for healthier habits.

"We should engage to show communities it's not a drift to the bottom - you can arrest that," he said.

He casually threw in the fact that he had completed a 60km cycle in Sligo last weekend for the local hospice. "You should do these things as a matter of example," he instructed.

We know, Enda - not bad for a 66-year-old who's spent 40 years fending off the three potato options simultaneously piled on to plates in the Dáil canteen.

"Mr Wood runs up hills. It's easier going up them than coming down," he mused.

Health Minister Simon Harris publicly thanked the Taoiseach for "an awful lot" in his career.

And then Enda sat on the stage and quietly, the political correspondents, photographers and TV cameras melted away before his very eyes. Unheard of up until that point, but they had somewhere else to be - Simon Coveney was launching his campaign at Mount Street.

Over cups of tea outside, Enda's two press secretaries flapped a forlorn hand of farewell.

The show was over.

Two posters of Simon flanked the steps outside Fine Gael HQ with the caption "Positive Strong Leadership", one smiling, one serious - but both in black and white, political correspondents groaned in exasperation.

Nevertheless, there was a frisson of excitement - probably a bit like a masquerade ball when everyone gets to see who is who.

Camp Coveney had Mr Harris in the bag and Kate O'Connell; Jerry Buttimer was an early backer and also he had secured Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

Brexit, his determination to form the last government, his choosing of one of the most difficult ministries in the country and his red cross support scheme during the flooding of 2015 were rattled off by Mr Harris as his own reasons behind his choice to back Mr Coveney.

But has Mr Coveney the X factor, someone inquired.

The Housing Minister gave a snort of impatience. "For me it's about delivering," he said.

Leo was keeping deliberately busy in the chamber but sent a motley crew of senators out to kickstart his campaign.

It was a bit awkward, with a prickly Catherine Noone refusing to elaborate further past the point of "he's the right man for the job".

On the other hand, Richard Bruton aligning himself with Leo was seen as a very significant move, while Heather Humphreys was also backing Leo.

"He's able to get to the nub of the problem," she declared on the 'Six One News'.

There was skulduggery on the stairs, clandestine meetings abounded.

But for such a dramatic day, it felt oddly flat in Leinster House. Was the race over before the horses had even cantered out of the yard, or were the jockeys only weighing in? It was hard to tell.

Then there was the departure of some former big hitters. Michael Noonan announcing he would not seek a cabinet position under the new regime, James Reilly resigning as deputy leader because he felt it would leave him conflicted in his 'eagerness' to be involved in the election of the new leader.

The generational shift has begun. Maybe that accounted for the strange sense of melancholy in the air.

Irish Independent

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