Gay Byrne asks Enda Kenny: will you take a job in Europe?
From the Archive: Following his resignation, we look back at the ‘Ask Me Anything’ answers Kenny gave in 2014 on everything from his legacy to his dress sense
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 past 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. Does 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 anti-gay law that came into effect in Uganda this week? Will 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
My favourite joke is: Why did the hippy drown? Because he was too far out! No fear of that with you, Taoiseach. Anyway, what’s your favourite joke?
“My favourite joke is about the fire chief in Denver, but I’m not going to tell you the story . . . It’s unprintable.”
Taoiseach, first of all I want to say I have a lot of admiration for you and I think you have balls the size of Alaska for standing up to the church in the Dáil the way you did. In the early 1980s I was 14 and in a residential institution, An Grianán. I had a 17-year-old friend who was also a resident and in the care of the State. While there she became pregnant. I saw the baby boy when he was born. She was forced against her will to give the child up for adoption. My question is, can you help trace this woman’s son and the other babies born to women in similar circumstances and taken away from them against their will?
“I love her voice and her music. The answer to that question is yes. For the first time in the history of our State we have a woman at senior Cabinet level who deals with children and youth affairs, who brought through a referendum on children’s rights to enshrine them as individuals in their own right in our Constitution, and the Minister is dealing with the very complex legal constitutional issues surrounding adoption and the right to know. And that right to know also applies in the case of the mother who has a right to decide whether her adopted offspring should have that right as to who she is. The answer to the question is yes.”
Nutritionist and former Miss World
Why are dairy products promoted so heavily in this country when there is substantial and undeniable evidence that milk causes cancers, particularly breast and prostate cancers? Even Harvard scientists have come out strongly against dairy. Surely the Government isn’t putting profit above people?
“The Government is not putting profit above people. We are an agrisociety. For very many years we have developed our food understanding to an exceptional level. That’s why the Kerry Group is investing €100 million in Naas. That’s why Glanbia is investing very heavily on the Kilkenny-Carlow border. That’s why our agri exports have been more than €10 billion . . . Rosanna as a nutritionist would understand that we’ve had all these reports over the years about butter, sugar, salt and potatoes and what you can and cannot eat. I think it’s a case here of information and understanding, that all of these things should be used in respect of the fact that we have one body and one life to live and use in as healthy a fashion as we can.”
Ross O’Carroll- Kelly
Will Gaelic football eventually evolve into rugby, or is that just a dream for GAA guys like you?
“It’s not a dream, Ross. Gaelic football has already evolved into rugby on more than one occasion. It has also evolved into many other sports on occasion. We’re trying to discipline players and have the proper interpretation of referees. Now, sublime games – both Gaelic football and, indeed, the supreme artistry of hurling – rugby and GAA become intertwined when emotions rise and the pitch is invaded, and when personality clashes occur in the heat of battle, but are separate and distinct forms of athleticism. Very important for us.”
Author and co creator of Father Ted
Horslips, Thin Lizzy or Dickie Rock?
“I think Thin Lizzy. Haunting memories, haunting music, with a real bite.”
I have a friend who is not an Irish native but has settled in Ireland and works hard to run a successful business. She has a 12-year-old child who is an Irish citizen and is finishing primary school this May. He cannot get into a secondary school, not even the one attached to his primary school. This is because he is not Catholic. My question is: why are my taxes and my friend’s taxes going to the Government to fund schools that are not open to everyone?
“This is a problem that has arisen, in the past 10 years in particular, because of the number of new people that we have in the country from many countries outside the EU. That’s why we’ve changed the rules for proper ceremonies now for people who want citizenship. The Minister for Education recognises this. He’s already bringing in legislation in respect of waiting lists and who can enrol in what school. The Catholic Church, as you know, has said it has too many schools under its jurisdiction and is anxious to have some of these schools transferred to other patronage. That’s the solution to the problem here, and that process is under way.”
You are on death row and can have any meal you like. What would be your last supper?
“Bacon and cabbage.”
Long-term client of Focus Ireland, currently living in supported housing in Limerick
Will it ever happen in the lifetime of your Government that the people will be given a referendum on a constitutional right to a home?
“This was debated at the constitutional convention, and recommendations were made by the people there. Clearly from the reports of the discussions they were quite vigorous . . . but this is a matter of policy by the Government of the day with a direct impact on where we should build, what we should build and how we should build. It’s a problem now in the sense that in the Tiger years we were building 100,000 houses when we needed 25,000. We are now building 6,500 when we need 30,000. To get from where we are to where we want to be requires political decisions. The Constitution itself won’t change that: it’s time for action.”
Self-employed community midwife
There are more than 100 birth centres throughout the UK. These standalone midwife -led units provide a home-from-home environment where healthy women give birth under midwifery management. Scientific evidence has established this is the safest and most cost-effective model of maternity care for healthy mothers and babies. Will you commit funding and resources to our first birth centre in Ireland on a pilot basis?
“I think the important thing here is that children be born safely. Our three children were born in the National Maternity Hospital, and obviously for any mother – for a first-time mother or for a mother with more than one child – the safety of the child and the health of the child is critical. I’m not qualified to give you a medical answer to a scientific report. What concerns me is that we have a structure and a maternity system in Ireland that makes Ireland one of the safest countries in the world in which to give birth.”
When do you think it might be possible for someone like me – aged 31, in steady employment – to buy an average house in an okay area as opposed to one on a ghost estate in the middle of nowhere?
“Hopefully in the not-too-distant future. We had a special Government meeting about construction today. We’re focusing on this. We expect to see the construction sector play a really important part in the economy from now on. It used to contribute more than 24 per cent of GDP: too much. It wants to be effective and managed, about 10 or 11 [per cent]. The Government is working towards that, and I do hope we can answer that question in the not-too-distant future.”
TV critic, ‘The Irish Times ’
You probably don’t get time to watch TV, but the rest of the country does. So are you out of touch with the average citizen’s pop-culture reference points, whether Operation Transformation or House of Cards ?
“I know about Paudie O’Mahoney in Operation Transformation , and I’m glad to see he’s moving downwards from the 20 stone that he was carrying around for a while. I rarely see television, to be honest with you. But I do hear the odd blip on the radio, and people give me little bits of information now and again. Good luck to them all. Willpower and determination.”
Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss
Martina Navratilova or Billie Jean King?
“Martina. Left-hand devastating return of serve. She didn’t make it up Kilimanjaro, though. Altitude sickness.”
Partner of the late Marie Fleming
With the publication of the carers's trategy coming up to its second anniversary, why have none of the commitments made in the strategy been fulfilled?
“We’ve had a long and difficult period of three years, but I understand where Tom is coming from. I recognise that the past three budgets have been very difficult for people. We were in a position where we were not our own masters. We were subject to the paymaster general, who was the troika. We have now exited that programme, we’ve a little more flexibility, and as the economy improves we will attempt to address those issues in that report.”
Electrician, Co Roscommon
Taoiseach, as you can imagine it’s sometimes annoying having the same name as you, so I think I deserve a question. On St Patrick’s Day the Castlebar Mitchels are playing in the club finals in Croke Park, but you are going to be in New York at the parade. Where would you rather be if you had a choice?
“I have a choice, and I have a responsibility along with that choice, and that’s to be in New York. I know that Enda wore the Roscommon jersey with pride and distinction. I used to say, when I was on the sideline watching him, ‘Pity I couldn’t run around like that.’ ”
Today FM presenter
During the leaders’ debate in February 2011 you stated that suicide, self-harm and mental health were an “absolute priority”. So what has the Government done to prioritise suicide prevention in the last three years?
“Well, I thought Ray D’Arcy was going to emigrate if I became Taoiseach. That’s the first thing that I would say to Ray. In any event, suicide is absolutely a priority of Government. It’s a tragic phenomenon that has struck too many families around our country. There is a great deal of assistance out there being driven by Minister of State Kathleen Lynch. Unfortunately, when this happens in any part of the country you tend to have another organisation set up with the best of intentions to deal with its consequences. I’d like to think that there’s a clear, umbrella line of contact here with all the different agencies and organisations to help people. It is about identifying signs, identifying little things that might lead people to talk about their problems, concerns and their anxieties. Nobody wants to see this happen. Unfortunately it’s been on a scale in Ireland that’s much too high.”
Managing Editor, The Irish Times
Which international political figure do you most enjoy being in a room with, and why?
“I have occasion to meet most of the European leaders at European Council meetings. I don’t want to pick out any of them in particular. It’s an occasion to engage with them, and many of them are world figures, of course. I think it’s a privilege to be able to talk about Irish interests in the US with President Obama, to hear him say that his most enjoyable day in politics was when he walked the street in Moneygall and shook hands with all the Irish. Or indeed to talk about our shared interest in our history with Prime Minister Cameron on Flanders Fields on the centenary of the Great War and understand the slaughter that took place there, which should never be able to happen again. Or indeed to meet François Hollande in the Elysée Palace and discuss issues about Irish-French connections. And of course to meet one of the most powerful women politicians on the planet, in Chancellor Merkel, who is now starting her third period of government in Germany.”
Abie Philbin Bowman
Comedian and broadcaster
Would it not be more honest to replace the household charge, the water charge and the universal social charge with a single Paying Off the Gambling Debts of Europe’s Financial Elites charge?
“No. Obviously, there’s nothing for nothing in this world, except I suppose the air that you breathe, and even that’s being charged for with carbon taxes . . . We’ve got to run our own affairs ourselves as a country. There is assistance available in various forms, but this challenge that we face is an economic challenge, and we will beat this challenge as we have beaten so many others as an Irish nation. I’m very proud of the fact that in our history, time and again when Ireland has faced a challenge with a common objective, if everybody rolls up their sleeves, puts their shoulders to the wheel as they do and as they want to do, provided their contribution is recognised and is fair, we’ll beat this, and everybody will be happy to contribute to seeing that our country is prosperous and our children have opportunities when we’re long gone.”
You have any number of paid and unpaid advisers, including your wife, Fionnuala, a former communications consultant. How do you manage to assimilate a variety of opinions in order to separate best advice from poor advice?
“My wife is my wife, she’s not . . . She’s given of herself completely to our family and to working with her husband and so on. I think at the end of the day it’s instinct, belief, heart, a little bit of soul in there. You say, like, ‘What is the right thing to do here?’ At the end of the day you’ve got to make your own mind up.”
Scriptwriter and Twitter funnyman
Who, dead or alive, would be at your dream dinner party – apart from, obviously, Garth Brooks?
“Garth would supply the music in the next room. I think I’d have Julius Caesar there. I’d like to ask him a couple of questions. And I’d like to have Mandela there, and maybe that man from Nazareth, to see how things are, as well.”
Dustin the Turkey
Will you bring me to the White House with you for Paddy’s Day? I want to apologise to Obama’s kids for the brutal time they had over here.
“Dustin, in spirit, I will be happy to convey your good wishes to the Obama children if I have that opportunity.”
Pakistani Irishman, living in Westmeath
Can you make sure there is legislation fit for purpose to protect the new Irish and people at risk of racial abuse? And can you tell me have there been any prosecutions for racial abuse, given that reporting of such abuse has gone up in the past six months?
“A small number. This is about immigration and integration. And we have very clear plans in this regard. Irish people generally take a very dim view of people who either intentionally or unintentionally cause concern and stress for people. The non-national people have made a great contribution to our country and society, and we are very happy to follow through rigidly, carefully and cogently on having an integrated society.”
Do you intend to take a job in Europe after your time as Taoiseach is over? If so, what do you have in mind?
“No, I don’t.”
Broadcaster and business woman
What is happening with Seanad reform?
“Decision made about the Seanad, decision accepted about the Seanad. I’ve sent over the heads of Bill to the Committee for Procedures and Privileges to look at the implementation of the decision by the people in 1979 to give every graduate a vote in Seanad elections. Besides that I’ve sent over 25 or 30 recommendations for far more effective use of the Seanad time in terms of European legislation, what they call secondary legislation, reports, opportunities for MEPs to speak to the Senate, other notable people to speak to the Senate and so on. We’ll look at a task force for further development of the Senate in the time ahead, but not for this Government in terms of constitutional change. So a lot going on at the moment.”
Former Editor, ‘The Irish Times’
Is it realistic to expect that we will have “a new Ireland” coinciding with 2016, including a new way of doing politics, a better system of running our banks and more substantive ways of countering growing inequality in Irish society?
“I think by then we’ll have had effective reform of the banks so that they’re actually contributing to the real economy. I see new ways of financing many things. You have commercial companies applying for banking licences. You have the motor industry in many cases supplying finance from non-mainline banking sources.
“In terms of inequality, yes, I do expect to see further legislation implemented here, but also proper use of the legislation that’s already in place. The new Ireland? For 2016 what I want to see here is sensitive and understanding and authentic representation in respect of the centenaries from 2014 right through to 2024 . . . We’ve got professional historians working with Government so that’s authentic.
“For me, for 2016 onwards, it’s the new century. I’d like to think we’d be in a position to inspire the young of Ireland to move without fear on the great adventure that lies ahead. We actually can achieve – as I set out my own ambitions to be the best country in the world in which to do business – [also being] the best country in which to raise a family. And the best country in which to grow old with dignity and respect.”
Enda Kenny answered these questions in a face-to-face interview with Róisín Ingle in February 2014. He received the names of the questioners in advance but not the questions themselves