Miriam Lord: Enda, the Grumpy Cat of helping immigrants

With Washington speech going viral, Kenny was in no mood to talk about direct provision

An Taoiseach addresses the White House as part of an official visit for St Patrick's Day. Video: The White House

 

A viral infection has taken hold of certain people at the top of Fine Gael.

It’s gone to their heads.

They caught it in America after a trip to the White House and now they’re in the grip of it. Enda has nearly gone the full Donald at this stage, complaining about the size of his crowd and everything. It’s all the fault of the #failingmedia.

Not like the foreign press. They think he’s great.

They are Enda’s new friends. Last week Donald Trump declared that Enda is his new friend.

At 10.30pm Irish time last Thursday, the Taoiseach made a speech in the White House. It was at the end of a long day beginning with a breakfast love-in with vice-president Mike “Top of the Mornin’!” Pence, followed by lunch on Capitol Hill with “Friends of Ireland” from the US Congress and House of Representatives, and then an evening return to the White House for the shamrock-presentation ceremony.

Great line

It was at that third engagement where Kenny made his remarks about St Patrick being an immigrant – a great line. He spoke very eloquently about the huge contribution Irish immigrants have made to American society down through the years. He also made the same point in his speech to the politicians at the lunch and it wasn’t lost on his audience. And good for him for saying it.

Nevertheless, the mercurial Trump was still his new pal later that evening at the shamrock ceremony. One wonders if the Taoiseach’s elegantly veiled contribution made any impact on the US president or his close circle of mainly Irish-American advisers.

In his address, Trump was equally as gushing as Kenny about the great role played by the Irish in building modern America.

This happened on the day the president’s revised immigration and travel ban aimed at people from a number of predominantly Muslim countries was due to come into effect, although the Taoiseach didn’t raise the issue of Trump’s broader immigration policy face-to-face with him. But he made a powerful case in public for, primarily, the immigrant Irish – as taoisigh do every year – with Trump standing next to him.

‘Lecturing’ Trump

It was picked up and in one case interpreted as Enda Kenny “lecturing” Donald Trump.

Not from where we were standing. Not a hint of it – Enda was the epitome of courtesy. He quietly made a quiet point and many are glad he put it on the record.

Then a clip from the speech went on Channel 4. It was picked up, gained legs and suddenly it went “viral”.

Thirty million views, apparently, by the beginning of this week.

That’s enough to turn anyone’s head.

Enda has become our own Grumpy Cat.

Or Sneezing Baby Panda.

And he’s loving it.

Since the weekend, his spokespeople have been complaining bitterly that their man’s greatness went unrecognised by the media back home. Thirty million video views later and a mention in the New York Times (Irish papers please copy) and they’re losing the run of themselves entirely.

American triumph

Yesterday, during the Order of Business, even Bríd Smith of Solidarity-People Before Profit recognised the Taoiseach’s American triumph.

“First, we should acknowledge that today is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and we should acknowledge the Taoiseach’s new global status as the champion of immigrants,” she said, tongue vanishing firmly into her cheek.

“You had 30 million-plus hits for your speech in Washington,” she pointed out, as Enda graciously smiled and nodded from across the floor.

Now that he is not only a friend of the Donald, but a friend of the immigrant too, Smith thought it a good idea to invite Enda to “co-sign a motion that has already been signed by 36 deputies to end direct provision in this country”.

The TD for Dublin South Central reminded the Taoiseach that the former judge Bryan McMahon described it “as a deplorable system, one in which people are like ghosts and where they are dehumanised and depressed”.

She also reminded him that during the recent Dáil debate on the Tuam babies issue, he stood in the Dáil and hoped that in 20 years’ time another taoiseach wouldn’t be standing in his place having to apologise for the way people are being treated in institutions here.

It could happen.

‘Dehumanised’

“I am concerned that if we do not set out to end the inhumane direct provision system we will be looking at a generation of children who were raised under those conditions who are dehumanised, depressed and ignored. Could we get cross-party agreement to dedicate some time to discussing this very fundamental and important issue and to seek to find a way to implement the decision of the committee to end direct provision?”

The Taoiseach immediately addressed her question. Sorry, her comment about him going viral.

“The matter to which the deputy referred might not have been reported at home. I understand the number of hits has gone beyond 50 million at this stage. That speaks for itself.”

Not that anyone is counting, you understand. But when you add up the Channel 4 Facebook thing, and then this site and that site . . . you get 50 million in no time.

On-message

They must be working very hard in the Taoiseach’s office. Most Fine Gael TDs seem to be on-message now too. They were going around yesterday complaining about the grave injustice done to their leader by the #crookedmedia.

He was quite the Grumpy Cat yesterday.

Richard Boyd Barrett demanded to see some action on the direct provision front.

Never mind his speech in America about cherishing the immigrant. “What about in your own back yard?” asked Smith.

But Enda was dreaming of getting up there with the greats, like Meryl Streep or Sneezing Baby Panda. But not Downfall. Don’t mention Downfall.

His reply was rather odd, until one worked out he wasn’t referring to direct provision.

“That speaks for itself. People are listening somewhere else. But that’s neither here nor there.”

Total bravery

Which it isn’t, unless you happen to be Enda Kenny and feeling like Grumpy Cat because nobody at home is recognising his total bravery in the Oval Office, sorry, at the shamrock shindig, and singing his praises from the rafters.

Instead, they are merely saying that he did the usual good job for Ireland that he does when in the US and that he seemed to get on like a house on fire with Donald Trump as opposed to that Merkel one. Trump wouldn’t even shake her hand.

He finally addressed the question.

“Minister of State Deputy Stanton is doing great work in respect of the McMahon report and I think he would be happy to come to the House to discuss the work that has been completed and remains to be completed in respect of the McMahon report on immigrants and direct provision. I will ask the Minister of State to contact you.”

Although it’s neither here nor there.

Not when you’ve have 50 million hits, and counting.