Ask Enda anything
The Fine Gael Ardfheis takes place this weekend. We invited entertainers, broadcasters and others to ask Taoiseach Enda Kenny a question. Then we got some answers
12-year-old spelling champion from Galway
Hi Taoiseach. I was the national winner of the Eason Spelling Bee last year. I won by spelling the word “ pontificate” correctly. Do you have to do a lot of pontificating in your job?
Enda Kenny : “Well, congratulations on winning the award. No I don’t. My job really is to lead, to chair, to encourage, to negotiate and to get things done. You see, in Government people give you a mandate and you’ve got to fulfil that. Ours is very clear. Fix our public finances and get our country working.”
Actor and writer
Why are Irish people so useless at protesting, and are you secretly thrilled about this?
“Irish people are pragmatic. They understand that nobody is going to fix our problems but ourselves. I think this is a case of levelling with the people, telling them the truth, the scale of the challenge, and getting everybody to contribute. And they will contribute once it’s fair and they are recognised for the part they play. That’s what I like to do. That’s called leadership with people.”
National Parents’ Council
I’d like to know what you do to make sure you achieve a good balance in your work, home and family life?
“It’s difficult. My wife, Fionnuala, and I have been married for more than 20 years. We have three children, who are 21, 19 and 17. All through their childhood years, my wife has reared our family. In this job, I’ve been away constantly, both in opposition and in Government, so if Fionnuala didn’t understand politics then it wouldn’t work and I couldn’t do it. In that sense, it’s difficult to get a work-life balance, but people do understand that when you are with your wife and family they leave you alone. That’s what I call respect, and I thank people for that.”
Do you have a stylist or do you choose what you wear yourself on public engagements?
“If I were to do that I probably would be the most outrageously badly dressed public figure certainly in Europe if not the world. My wife makes those choices. I respect that absolutely, and I never question it.”
Presenter of ‘The Book Show’ on RTÉ Radio 1
What’s the best new album you’ve heard and the best novel you’ve read in the p ast year?
“I’m a big fan of Springsteen. Obviously, his social commentary is very powerful for me. I like his album The Rising . It’s not a new one, but it sticks in my mind because of what it says to me. I’m trying to read about 40 books altogether, but as I haven’t finished any of them I can’t give you a final answer to the best novel. What happens is if I start to read, three or four minutes later it acts as a trigger and I’m gone off to dreamland.”
‘Irish Times’ columnist
You’ve been called the Lucky General because even your defeats seem to be well timed. In this vein, which would you say was your bigger break? Losing the 2001 Fine Gael leadership election or losing the 2007 general election?
“I’m an optimist. You make your own luck in this business. Fate plays its own part. This is about explaining to people what you’re about. You’ve got to have a sense of conviction, of clarity, of courage and consistency. They will judge you as they will when the time comes. So, to lose in 2001, that’s in the past. To lose the 2007 election was an event. I thought we might win. Who knows? We’re here, we’re three years in, two years left, we’re driving on relentlessly and there will be no let-up until the final whistle blows.”
Why are entrepreneurs who have run their own businesses, employed so many people and paid so much tax not afforded the same redundancy, dole and other social benefits that are given to PAYE workers?
“There were differences and advantages for people who are entrepreneurs or self-employed in terms of PRSI and some other advantages. But that question is being looked at because of the economic catastrophe. When people who were self-employed fell through the net there was no safety net there for them. It’s a matter of levelling this out, but I never want to see the same economic catastrophe hit again. Jackie’s point is valid, and it will be addressed.”
Homophobia has been much debated recently in Ireland. Growing up in what was then a far more conservative country, do you think there were times when you were homophobic yourself?
“No, I don’t think so. I think the issue now is for people to have a sense of tolerance, of understanding, of a capacity to listen to many other points of view and have rational, commonsense discussions about challenges that we face in our everyday lives.”
Presenter of ‘Two Tube’, on RTÉ Two
If there was one law you could pass tomorrow without any referendum or debate, what would that be?
“That everybody would have the opportunity to have a career and a path that they wish to follow to achieve their ambitions in our own country.”
I believe you are a great mimic . Could you do an impression of somebody, so I can see whether my job is safe?
“His job is safe: he’s one of the best mimics I’ve ever heard. But for me I suppose JFK would have been one of the ringing clarion calls I heard when I was a young fella. So it would be” – does quite a good impression – “ ‘We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom.’ His job is safe!”
Participant on a community employment scheme in Dublin
What plans do you have to stop young Ireland’s brain drain?
“Many plans. The action plan for jobs is now in its third version. It’s really an engagement of Government with people and civic society. This is a national challenge. The reason so many companies come here is because of the fact she points out: it is about brain power. In 1961 Ireland was one of the countries that founded the OECD. A few weeks ago, when I was there, they pointed out that one of their first big reports on Ireland was about second-level education. Donogh O’Malley, God rest him, dealt with that. That’s the real reason they’re here. We’ve got to fix our public finances and allow our people to stay at home if that’s what they wish to do. If that’s not what they wish to do, we need to give them the confidence and competence to stand against their peers on any platform around the world.”
Is there an unlikely figure that has been a notable inspiration in your life?
“I’m an outdoor person by nature . . . Muhammad Ali was the man for me, with his skills and his verbal gymnastics. One of his lines always stays with me, when he said, ‘It ain’t never the mountain gonna slow you down. It’s always the pebble in your shoe.’ Our job is to take the pebbles out of people’s shoes and allow them to do their own thing.”
Chairwoman of Dublin 50:50 Group
Why do you believe we haven’t had a female Taoiseach since the foundation of the State?
“There’s no reason why not. Since the early days we’ve had Countess Markievicz, we’ve had the first woman to serve as a cabinet minister, we have the first woman to serve as a senior Government Minister dealing with children, we’ve had two women presidents, the Attorney General is a woman, our Chief Justice is a woman. There’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t have a female taoiseach. It’s a matter for the people to decide that choice when they get the chance. We’ve set targets for all the major parties for the next general election, and they’ll be fined heavily if they don’t measure up. I don’t particularly like gender quotas, but I do like to see more and more women involved in politics. After all, they make up half the population of our country.”
Is it true you were invented in a shed by farmers?
Daily Features Editor,
The Irish Times
There has always been a lot of intellectual snobbery about you in certain circles. D oes it hurt?
“I’ve no interest in intellectual snobbery. I’ve an interest in fulfilling my mandate, which is about trust, belief and respect for people. I do my best. I don’t take myself seriously; I take the job very seriously. At the end of the day, and when my remit in politics is over, I’d like to think that we’d put in place platforms that will allow our country to develop for the next 50 or 100 years.”
Does it hurt?
“No. I take no notice of it. Let them say as they will.”
Ireland’s first track -cycling world champion for 117 years
There has been a huge growth in high-performance, leisure and commuter cycling in Ireland in recent years and the Giro d’Italia is coming to Ireland in May. Other cycling powerhouse nations have built their success on track cycling, and you yourself are a cyclist. So what are the chances of the
Government approving funding this year for our first indoor velodrome?
“There’s one being built in Dundalk, as I understand it, which is the first in the country of international specifications. I admire Irvine’s commitment, the ferocious determination it takes to compete in a clean sense at international level. We’re going to have a velodrome: we have a capital sports programme which I’m sure will be able to contribute to this and other facilities.”
What is your opinion about the a nti-g ay law that came into effect in Uganda this week? W ill Ireland follow the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark by suspending development aid, as the new law is a violation of human rights ?
“We’ve had difficulties with aid to Uganda because of corruption in the last couple of years. The Tánaiste withdrew funding from Uganda because of that fact. I deplore the legislation that’s been passed in Uganda, and obviously Ireland will make its case along with the UN in that regard.”
I’m a spiritual person. I’m curious to know what you think happens when we die?
“You can never quench the spirit. I think it’s everlasting. I think it’s an enormous power. I draw on that resource occasionally myself – and I admire her music.”
Janet Ní Shúilleabháin
Stay-at-home parent and pro-choice activist, Dublin
I have spent the past two weeks sharing my story about having to travel to the UK from Ireland for an abortion. It ha s been covered by national and international media. Taoiseach, what I want to know is do you have anything to say to the 150,000 women like me, and to the people who love and support us, who are silenced by the stigma that surrounds abortion in this country?
“This has been a very difficult argument and set of decisions. We’ve had a number of referendums by the people in our Constitution over the years. We’ve had a situation where a decision made by the people as interpreted by the Supreme Court was not acted upon for 20 years. My Government has done so in the sense of protecting the life of the unborn and the life of the unborn’s mother. That’s our political responsibility: to deal with what is in our Constitution, and not what’s not in it . . . I sympathise with people in terms of the personal, emotional stress and trauma they go through, but my job as Taoiseach is to lead Government in respect of the implementation of our constitution, which is decided by the people in a referendum.”
Writer and comedian