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Monday 20 November 2017

Video: The courtiers ... who calls the shots in Enda’s inner circle?

Willie Kealy

Willie Kealy

BACK in 2001 as Michael Noonan, the then new leader of Fine Gael, stood below the starry dome of the Mansion House, basking in the love of his party which had just elected him leader, a grey nondescript figure slipped into the back un-noticed even by his own.

That grey man was Enda Kenny who had just been defeated in the race for John Bruton's crown by Noonan.

It was not perhaps surprising that Noonan had won but what was astonishing was that the victor had not found any space for Kenny within a front bench that was not overburdened with talent.

Some claimed the exclusion was vindictive, but most believed it was a simple judgement by Noonan that Kenny Lite simply did not add enough to the team to be worth his place.

Though he winked and nodded away, there can be little doubt Kenny burned inwardly for, after he became leader of Fine Gael, the great chill between the leader and his predecessor meant by 2010 Noonan was a politician in exile.

Then suddenly, as power beckoned, Enda found himself in trouble. Eleven members of his front bench, including some who Kenny would have believed to be close personal friends and loyal political allies, resigned.

It might have all ended there were it not for the steel injected into the Kenny spine by his loyal lieutenant, Big Phil Hogan; the political nous of his wife, Fionnuala; the unquestioning loyalty of then political neophyte, Dr James Reilly; the dogged determination of some of his most senior advisers to not let the chance of power slip out of their grasp – and Michael Noonan.

Not for the first time, Kenny needed some intellectual credibility. A message was sent that help at this crucial time would be very much appreciated by a very grateful Taoiseach, should the election turn out as everyone was predicting.

Noonan did not have to say anything in response. His silence offered a sufficient message, and the tightness of the final result meant he could undoubtedly take some credit for the outcome.

Thus was completed the circle of Enda’s friends.

- The inner circle of Government, the kitchen cabinet, sometimes referred to as the courtiers of the bedchamber, are put under the spotlight in the Sunday Independent this weekend in a special feature written by our top team - John Drennan, Brendan O’Connor, Anne Harris, Daniel McConnell, Maeve Sheehan and Jody Corcoran.

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