Miriam Lord: Enda’s ‘High Noon’ has all the drama of FG high tea

Last supper awaits Taoiseach if he fails to deliver on departure promises

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: “We don’t fight in Fine Gael. We are a united party.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny: “We don’t fight in Fine Gael. We are a united party.” File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

After the blackout, there was nothing to do but interpret the silence.

Time to accept the dawning reality: we’d bought tickets for the wrong movie.

It should have been High Noon.

What we got was all the drama and excitement of High Tea.

How very Fine Gael.

After countless high-octane trailers and a breathless build-up to yesterday evening’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, the much anticipated showdown between Enda Kenny and the Pretenders finally started.

It was a short feature.

The action was over in the opening scenes.

An hour later and the leading man was seated nearest the cash register in the Dáil canteen, large as life for all to see: eating chips, drinking tea and joking with his compadres. The Tánaiste’s laughter plinked off the plates, right down to Micheál Martin’s table (only a few metres away).

As he dined on a salad, having first carefully removed the yolks from his hard-boiled eggs, the Fianna Fáil leader had a clear view of the happy scene as it unfolded.

His parliamentary party had just finished their weekly meeting. Not that anybody had noticed. It was all about the future of Enda Kenny, Fine Gael and the Government, and whether or not the rebel rump itching to move against his leadership would mount a challenge.

They didn’t.

This, they would later intimate to the few people who aren’t thoroughly sick to the back teeth of this “heave”, was a great outcome for the replace-Kenny camp. As they now see it, their public opposition to his open-ended leadership has forced him to come to terms with stepping down from his job sooner rather than later.

Were it not for their brave intervention, Kenny would still be nursing the belief that he’ll be the Taoiseach helping Pope Francis to his feet in 2018 after the pontiff has kissed the tarmac at Dublin Airport.

Sniffing the air

The meeting convened at 5.30pm. Journalists gathered at junctions on the corridor from the lift to the Fine Gael party rooms, sniffing the air for scraps and steers.

But this time a tight discipline had been imposed on members. The last high-profile parliamentary party meeting was a joke, with Irish Times correspondent Fiach Kelly doing what amounted to a live-tweet of the proceedings, albeit from a remote location.

There would be no leaks last night. The politicians policed each other. Mobile phones were not offered up in the end, as had been suggested, but the media blackout was fully observed.

It was a good half-hour before the first communication was dispatched, conveniently in time for RTÉ’s David Davin-Power to get it on to the main evening news.

The disgruntled hacks took flight from their perches, deprived of the usual pickings from the political table.

One reporter managed to get through to a Senator. “I can’t talk, I’m at a meeting,” bellowed the Senator.

Another media hotshot kept looking at his phone, shaking his head. It didn’t ring.

“The trout aren’t biting today,” he whispered sadly.

The news, when it came, was less than thrilling. The Taoiseach had spoken. Firmly and frankly and without a murmur of dissent from the floor.

He would not be bullied. He will go to the United States for St Patrick’s Day. He will return. And then he will deal “effectively and conclusively” with the issue of his leadership.

Whereupon he was showered with applause.

And chants of: “Four more years! Four more years!”

Actually, not quite. But those who had been most vocal in questioning the wisdom of Enda staying in his job following last week’s Garda whistleblower debacle bit their lips. It would seem petty and churlish to protest in the face of such a definitive statement.

“Effectively and conclusively.”

No going back from that. Isn’t that right?

There wasn’t even a debate. The Taoiseach had spoken. The meeting moved on to other business.

Afterwards, the parliamentary party members was overjoyed with themselves for showing some discipline and resisting the urge to leak.

Calm

Furthermore, everyone had been “calm” and the issue had been dealt with in “a calm fashion” and now they are all looking forward to things “calming down” in the weeks to come.

Leo Varadkar rushed afterwards off to a fundraiser in a city-centre restaurant. We passed Simon Coveney in a corridor, speaking in a very earnest manner to a reporter. “Calm” and “stability” were the only two words we managed to earwig.

You’d think they were talking about the aftermath of a war.

Meanwhile, the rest of the politicians in Leinster House were feeling neglected. “I could go in there and f*** from a height tonight and nobody would care,” sniffed a Fianna Fáiler of his party’s parliamentary party meeting.

It might explain why he was heading into the bar as he spoke. “I’m only delivering a message,” he hastily added.

Gerry Adams made his way to a near-deserted Dáil chamber.

He greeted journalists as he passed. “Óiche mhaith, sisters! We’ll be having our parliamentary party meeting at seven, if you’re interested.”

No takers.

Meanwhile, Enda did what leaders traditionally do in times like this and made straight for the canteen after the heave that never happened.

“So you’ll live to fight another day, Taoiseach” we said, as Frances beamed and Micheál peered from down the way.

He recited a few lines of what may have been poetry then said: “We don’t fight in Fine Gael. We are a united party.”

The whole thing was very civilised – that’s the line. Afterwards, backbenchers marvelled at their ability to remain civilised. It was very moving.

No High Noon, but High Tea.

But if Enda doesn’t make good on his promise last night, he’ll be stabbed in the back with a cream bun, if they have to.