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Memories of Helen's 'hero' never far away during her first day on the job

There aren't too many feelgood moments for Irish politicians of any stripe these days, but one of them is the arrival into their ranks of a newly-minted deputy, full of enthusiasm and in possession of all their stuffing for the brief and innocent hiatus before it gets knocked out of them.

And yesterday was a perfect day for a party to put up the bunting and celebrate a new member to their political family. The weather was even playing ball, with a touch of balminess in the spring sunshine bathing the plinth of Leinster House.

"You brought the fine weather with you," a smiling Enda Kenny told Helen McEntee as she entered the Kildare Street gate, gave her new boss a kiss and a hug and took her place among the large gathering of the Fine Gael parliamentary party awaiting her on the steps for the traditional group photo.

But of course there was a sad, dark cloud casting a shadow over this lovely day.

Helen was in Leinster House because her dad isn't, anymore. What a whirlwind four months it's been since the tragic death of her father, junior minister Shane McEntee.

Nonetheless she was the picture of composure as she walked through the gates yesterday afternoon with her mother Kathleen, brother Vincent and sister Sally.

Most of the Fine Gael ministers were present on the plinth, including the lesser-spotted Environment Minister Phil Hogan, and Justice Minister Alan 'Wigs on the Green' Shatter, who is embroiled in a scrap which now seems to involve every Judge bar the dog from 'Wanderly Wagon'.

There was a cheery mood about (this was, after all, a couple of hours before Croke Park II became in serious danger of falling off its perch), and the banter was flying. One (non-Fine Gael) wit in the gaggle spotted two Fianna Fail staffers scurry past and beckoned them over.

"Want to see what victory looks like?" he sniped naughtily.

In the meantime, the Taoiseach bustled in and dragged another Meath deputy, Damien English (who is the short-odds favourite to fill the junior ministry left vacant by the death of Shane) over to stand beside him.

Enda welcomed Helen to the Dail. "I am quite sure that you will do justice to the tradition of the McEntee family, particularly of your late dad, and that you will represent the people of East Meath with vigour, with absolute conviction and that you'll do a wonderful job," he told her.

The new deputy thanked her party leader.

"I'm absolutely honoured that the people of Meath East have put their trust in me, and I'm delighted that my family and my friends are here to support me today. I'll do the best that I can to continue the work that my father did," she told reporters.

And naturally thoughts of Shane weren't too far away.

"I drove down to the graveside this morning and had a few words. I think he called into Michael Collins the morning of his first day, so I called into my hero," she said, revealing an eloquence which is rare enough in a debuting deputy.

An hour later, she waited at the top of the Dail chamber with the chief whip Paul Kehoe as she was formally announced and applauded into the chamber. Every deputy on both sides rose, as did a packed public gallery full of friends and supporters, and also her family seated in the visitors' gallery.

SHE stopped to shake hands with the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and the rest of the Cabinet, with a kiss and hug for Leo Varadkar and also for Simon Coveney, who acted as a sort of mentor since she took the emotional decision to follow in her father's footsteps, before greeting Micheal Martin and Mary Lou McDonald.

Mary Lou welcomed her. "I wish you very well. I know that when you were elected, you recorded that it was a bittersweet moment for you after the loss of your lovely father. Can I tell you it's never sweet in here, but neither is it bitter," she said.

A few minutes later Leaders' questions kicked off, and the opposition gleefully piled into Wigs On the Green Shatter. Helen must've wondered just what she's got herself into.

Irish Independent