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Lise Hand: Not so much X Factor as cringe factor

The Taoiseach surveyed the cream of our international diplomatic corps who were seated in front of him, under the glittering chandeliers of the ballroom in Iveagh House.

"For your information, this is the Leinster dressing room at half time in Cardiff, so nobody goes out the door, you go out the window or the walls," declared Enda with gusto.

Golly, this was going to be mighty. Already the rousing clarion call-to-arms by Jonny Sexton to his struggling team-mates at half-time during the Heineken Cup Final has acquired the legendary status of King Henry V's impassioned speech before the Battle of Agincourt.

And this was quite the suitable occasion for Kenny to pull out all the oratorical stops; after all it had been his Government's bright idea to haul home all the Excellencies from all over the globe for a pep talk/strategic confabulation/kick up the collective ambassadorial posterior.

So this was going to be stirring stuff, which would send our ambassadors thundering out of the Department of Foreign Affairs, onto planes back to their postings with green, white and orange sparks flying out of the tops of their heads to preach all things Irish.

Even better, it was clear that Enda was going to throw caution -- and his script -- to the wind. And surely the Taoiseach could better his predecessor Brian Cowen, who pulled that stunt at a Chamber of Commerce dinner and practically blew the doors off the Four Seasons Hotel.

But alas, it wasn't the spirit of Winston Churchill that stalked the ballroom, but the ghost of David Brent, the hapless boss from 'The Office'. There was no stirring talk of fighting on the beaches, instead there was crying on the bleachers.

"I actually cry every time I see the power of the phenomenon of Riverdance," Enda confided to his bemused audience.

"It's like the young fella who climbed out of the military tank in Taiwan many years ago, and had no English but one word -- U2, [he] knew the music," he added inexplicably.

The Taoiseach's distinguished audience had probably expected overhead projectors and pie-charts and statistics and maybe a detailed dossier on a new stratagem to promote our battered brand.

But instead, they were treated to half an hour of generalities, couched in language more suitable for a speech to a crowd of school kids.

"I'd like to think that what we have to do here is get our country back on track, sort out our economy, create employment opportunities for people, and wave goodbye to Ajay Chopra as soon as possible, and he wants that. We want a mutual separation," said Enda jokingly.

But the Taoiseach was enjoying himself hugely, in the manner of a chap plucking random thoughts from mid-air.

He reminisced about admiring the view of the Washington Memorial from the balcony of a US Senator's residence in Washington DC, and his host remarked that he'd like a glass of whiskey.

And so, Enda told the room, when he got back to Ireland, he had an idea.

"I went out to the garage and I got one of these presents that had been given to me years ago, a bottle of Midleton Rare. I sent it over and I wrote him a note saying, 'Go out on that balcony on a fine evening, open this bottle, put it on ice and it'll make a sound, as John B Keane said, of a mountain stream going over the rocks, and let it work its magic'. And he wrote back to me last week and said, 'The magic is working alright,'" laughed Enda.

'Twas a heart-warming tale to be sure, but it was hard to see what it had to do with the price of tea in China, so to speak. Where was the fire and brimstone? Instead, Enda's idea of a rousing pep talk was to recount how on Capitol Hill on St Patrick's Day this year, he had handed a small piece of paper to Barack Obama.

"I said, 'Mr President, would you write a message for the children?' and he wrote three words -- dream big dreams," he declared. "I think while we're all adult people here, there is no requirement not to have big dreams, and your big dream is to be the best ambassador in the world." It wasn't a dreadful speech, but it certainly was more cringe factor than 'X Factor'. Of course, it's all Obama's fault -- but the Taoiseach needs to realise that his recent proximity to the gifted orator last week hasn't automatically covered him in the Obama fairy dust when it comes to public speaking.

"That's the Leinster dressing-room at half time," he concluded. Eh, no it wasn't -- if it had been, the big shiny cup would be on a shelf in Northampton right now.

Irish Independent