Terry Prone: Enda stirred up spirit to start our fightback

A 24-year-old who looked just 14 stood up to nominate Enda Kenny.

It was Simon Harris's first day in Dail Eireann and he looked properly awed by the task he'd been handed.

He'd been only 14 when Kenny had promised to electrify the Fine Gael Party.

Harris stepped up to the plate and into history with a brief introduction that quoted Shaw's famous letter to Michael Collins's mother after his assassination, when he told her to put away her black mourning clothes and "hang out your brightest colours in his honour".

It was time, Simon Harris told the Dail to hang out our brightest colours to honour Enda Kenny. Then the Mayo man stood up and delivered one of the best speeches ever made in Leinster House.

It didn't just have the words. It had the music, too.

It talked of a new kind of Leadership, "Leadership that cherishes responsibility over privilege."

It talked of the bad times we're in. "The blackest days since Ireland's Independence," he called them.

Within the first minute, it was clear that this was no generalised speech filled with acceptable cliches.

Kenny was going to be clear, truthful and fair. When he talked of past Taoisigh, he mentioned Fine Gael's Liam Cosgrave, Garret FitzGerald and John Bruton. He mentioned Fianna Fail's Dev, Sean Lemass and Jack Lynch.

But he did not mention Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern or Brian Cowen.

The inference was clear: great statesmanship had stopped a couple of decades ago and was restarting right here, right now

Then came the reference to what roots Enda Kenny, what centres him, what carries him through bad times: his family.

The mention of his father hoarsened his voice and filled his eyes with tears, because Kenny is a man of deep feelings whose reverence for his father is such that it kicks the control out from under him.

But there was no time for self-indulgence, either, yesterday.

He quoted our great poet Seamus Heaney in two lines that sum up every important career, from motherhood to being Taoiseach:

"You have to try and make sense of what comes.


"Remember everything and keep your head."

People who had never before registered how good an orator Kenny is would have been puzzled by the sudden catch at the back of their throat as they listened to him, by the surge of unsought emotion washing past the barriers of safe cynicism inside them.

What makes Kenny special, as a speaker on momentous occasions, is not his style, but his lack of style.

No flourishes. No pre-mixed gestures. No dramatic pauses. No relishing of the great phrases -- and there were great phrases a-plenty in yesterday's speech.

Enda Kenny does oratory the way Luke Kelly did singing: with a dogged, resolute authenticity that catches listeners by surprise and floors them with its honesty.

The speech called for an end to pointless mourning: it's time to fight back.

It's time, as the Shaw quote said, to hang out our brightest colours.