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Lise Hand: Kenny team's 'amateur hour' takes the shine off his speech of a lifetime

IT WAS an inspirational speech, delivered on an extraordinary night by a gifted orator. Thousands had crammed into Chicago's Grant Park on the unseasonably balmy night of November 4, 2008, to witness the historic triumph of Barack Obama who had just been declared the winner of a titanic battle for the White House.

And even by the extremely high standards of the 44th President-elect, it was a magnificent address.

The speech began strongly, with this powerful sentence: "If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer".

It was indeed a memorable speech -- this reporter was among the throng in Grant's Park that evening.

Yet I wasn't gripped by any sense of déjà-vu, nor did any bells begin ringing straightaway among those watching the proceedings on Monday when those rousing opening words were reprised almost word-for-word on a stage in Dublin two-and-a half years later.

For the Taoiseach kicked off his introduction to the American president on College Green on Monday with these words: "If there's anyone out there who still doubts that Ireland is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our ancestors is alive in our time; who still questions our capacity to restore ourselves, reinvent ourselves and prosper, today is your answer".

This wasn't a coincidence -- it was an almost-verbatim lift. But it wasn't until the following morning that it was brought to the public's attention by some sharp-eared people in East Coast Radio who played out the two nearly identical clips.

Then the question immediately became: was it plagiarism or bungling?

Had whoever wrote Enda's remarks simply lifted the phrase wholesale in the hope that nobody would notice, or had they assumed the phrase would be so iconic that no attribution was necessary?

In either case, it was an ill-advised decision. All it would've taken was the inclusion of a few extra words along the lines of, "To paraphrase President Obama" or "to borrow words used by the man standing behind me", and there would've been no hullabaloo to cast a shadow over what was otherwise a nigh on perfect week for the Taoiseach.

It was a pitfall which Barack Obama avoided. In his Dublin address, he name-checked George Washington when he quoted him, and although he didn't name William Butler Yeats when he quoted his poetry -- "in dreams begins responsibility" -- the president described the author of the line as "one of your greatest poets".

The situation wasn't helped by the confusion which broke out in the aftermath of the revelation about the lift/homage by the Taoiseach.

At first, the official line from a government spokesperson was it wasn't a case of plagiarism, but when the two sentences were shown to be identical in all but a few key words, such as swapping "America" for "Ireland" and "founders" for "ancestors", this statement was amended to explain that it couldn't be plagiarism because it had been a "tribute" by the Taoiseach to the US president.

But the confusion was unnecessary and suggests an 'amateur hour' among the Taoiseach's backroom staff.

And it was a shame, for it was a top-class performance by Kenny and had been described by many afterwards as a speech of a lifetime by a man not known for his rhetorical skills.

The Taoiseach had raised his game considerably when introducing such a formidable orator and his speech -- of which he was described as being the "chief architect" -- was full of graceful flourishes, drawing praise from wide quarters.

The fuss won't have done any lasting damage, especially after the impeccable way in which he and the Government carried off two such prestigious visits in the space of a week. And the US embassy insisted yesterday that it was clear that Enda's choice of words was a tribute to their president. Imitation may indeed be the sincerest form of flattery.

Irish Independent