Miriam Lord: Master dramatist proposes new double act

Prospect of Kenny-Adams partnership provokes hilarity as Taoiseach ponders retirement

Taoiseach Enda Kenny:  imminent retirement was on his mind. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: imminent retirement was on his mind. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Enda Kenny pushed his way through the smiling throng.

He was the centre of attention, and he knew it.

He made slow progress up the staircase, the crowd parting to allow him through. Many wanted to shake his hand. He dispensed reciprocal thumps. Now and then, he punched the air.

A Fianna Fáil TD, fascinated, watched the Taoiseach’s entrance.

“It’s like Jesus on the way into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.”

It was the launch of The Irish Times Nealon’s Guide to the 32nd Dáil and 25th Seanad and Enda was doing the honours. The guide is statistical porn for political anoraks, telling them everything they need to know about their TDs and Senators. It’s an invaluable source of reference.

“I hope that you won’t have to produce another one for quite a long time,” quipped the Taoiseach, who spent much of Tuesday milking the feverish atmosphere around whether or when he is going to announce that he is stepping down as party leader.

Everything he says and does now is parsed through the prism of his intentions. He says something – is it a signal? He adopts a particular tone or wears a certain expression – is it a sign?

Wednesday is supposed to be the big day. The day he tells his parliamentary party to start looking for his successor. Or indicates they will be able to do this at a designated date sometime in the near future.

Although nobody is quite sure what Enda will do and Enda is not inclined to soothe their unease by telling them straight out.

But there was a poignant little cameo at the start of Leaders’ Questions. The Taoiseach entered the chamber on his own and sat alone on the front bench. As the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin asked about the protection of jobs in Bord na Móna, a chasm of emptiness stretched around the Fine Gael leader. It was as if power had already deserted him.

After what seemed like an age, two Ministers of State finally rushed in to take the bare look off the benches until Richard Bruton arrived to bring some senior heft to the line-up.

The Sinn Féin leader couldn’t resist making a crack about Enda’s slow-burn departure: a case of the ancient kettle calling the old pot black.

Adams noted comments made in Donegal at the weekend by one Leo Varadkar, one of the frontrunners in the FG succession stakes. The Minister for Social Protection said there should be no hard border between North and South and we should work to see the North remain in the single market and customs union.

“Now Taoiseach, at the risk of undermining minister Varadkar’s chance to become Fine Gael leader whenever you finally bring your long lost lonesome goodbye to a conclusion, may I say that I welcome these remarks.”

Enda looked at Gerry.

Gerry will be 69 in October. Enda, by comparison, is a mere chisler of 66. He took over as leader of Fine Gael in 2002. Gerry, on the other hand, ascended the presidency of Sinn Féin in 1983, 34 years ago.

“When as you going to join me?”

Micheál Martin snorted. “That’ll be even longer.”

Adams agreed.

“Not for a while.”

Clearly imminent retirement was on Enda’s mind on Tuesday. At least that’s the impression he conveyed in the Dáil, although he might have been doing it for a laugh. That’s the way he rolls these days: keep everyone in suspense, for the sport.

After the Sinn Féin leader gave him the benefit of his opinion on Brexit and how it will affect Northern Ireland, and the Taoiseach replied at considerable length with his own views on the same subject, Enda came up with a suggestions. Something which would occupy both of them after they step down.

“Deputy Adams, maybe we might form an unprecedentedly unique partnership when you leave. You might tell me; advise me.”

As might be expected, the very prospect of such a mismatched union gave rise to unbridled hilarity.

Enda Kenny and Gerry Adams – The Brexit Brothers.

An unlikely combination, but it was the Taoiseach himself who suggested it.

He smiled his way though Leaders’ Questions, and then Questions to the Taoiseach. In mid-afternoon, when Enda finally escaped the chamber, he strolled out the doors looking very relaxed .

“Tum-te-tum-te-tum-tum.....” Humming a little ditty to himself.

Later on, he was the star turn at the book launch in the lovely surrounding of the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square. He walked over from Leinster House, enjoying the sunshine and the sight of the frothing reporters on the doorstep, demanding a date.

He said nothing.

Unlike inside, where he spoke for nearly 20 minutes in the dying rays of the evening sunshine.

At times he sounded almost wistful, there were nostalgic recollections and shout-outs for people he worked with in government. The Taoiseach reserved particular praise for Eamon Gilmore, former Labour leader, who did what he did “in the interests of Ireland” even if it was to the detriment of his own political interests.

There was defiance too. Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe for the fourth year running, he said. “These things don’t happen by accident.”

His government don’t “have all the answers but it makes an honest effort to get it right”.

And then there is the state of politics and political discourse today. “For some is has become degraded and debased and is seen as entertainment and gossip.”

While he sat through the earlier speeches, Enda smiled at people and made funny faces, like there was a little private joke running through his head, like he was playing a game with all these people who are dying to know what he will do.

But at one point, as Stephen Collins of The Irish Times outlined some of the Taoiseach’s achievements down through the years, Enda became misty-eyed. He looked away.

But he soon recovered.

The journalists asked him again on the way out. “Have you anything to say?”

“Now, now! Now, now!” he said, before walking back through Merrion Square, shaking hands and posing for selfies with members of the public.

Then he went back to his office to sew some fresh prawns and sardines into the lining of the curtains.

For the next incumbent.