Taoiseach slips back to the Seanad and butters them up
Just to show that meant business, Enda had his little notebook with him and scribbled furiously throughout the session
Enda Kenny: “I don’t really have any interest in some of the bombastic triumphalism I might have heard in various quarters in the past few months.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzimons
Enda came into the Seanad with a pound of Connaught Gold in his pocket.
He took a swig of water and smiled before larding it in lumps over the gratified senators. You could see some of the Fianna Fáil contingent wanted to gag, but they kept their composure.
“I come in peace, not in war” he soothed, slicking butter across the smiling ranks of the vindicated. He had little choice, having just lost his personal battle to abolish the Upper House.
In reality, he had been forced to the victor’s tent to discuss terms of surrender. Enda said he was “glad to be back” in the chamber, sounding like a man returning to a favourite haunt after an unavoidable absence – rather than a Taoiseach paying only his third visit to the place since assuming power two and a half years ago.
(And one of those trips was to explain why he wanted to wipe them off the political map.)
Never mind. All friends again. And the senators had the elusive Enda all to themselves for two whole hours.
Although by the end of the debate, it was clear that the Taoiseach’s surrender was far from unconditional. By then, though, it was too late.
He soothingly told them he was among them in the name of reform. He was there to listen. “This is an opportunity for you to speak your minds.”
Twenty four of them did just that, throwing out lots and lots and lots of helpful suggestions about how they could make themselves more meaningful.
Is there anything to be said for another task force?
The Taoiseach’s humble approach worked wonders. He was treated to a love-in. With the amount of licking that went on, members of the public gallery must have thought they had stumbled upon the Irish qualifier for the World Lollipop Championships.
No. Enda was all ears, but eager to move on. “I don’t really have any interest in some of the bombastic triumphalism I might have heard in various quarters in the past few months.”
Some of the members looked a bit hurt at that, but the Taoiseach quickly repeated he was there in peace.
Darragh O’Brien, Fianna Fáil’s leader in the House, was the one small pocket of resistance. There would be no “bombastic triumphalism” from his side of the House, said Darragh, welcoming Enda’s remarks while pithily observing that he insisted a few weeks ago that the Seanad is unreformable.
“The people rejected the Taoiseach’s proposal. To use the Taoiseach’s own phrase, Paddy does like to know the story. Paddy knew the story and saw through some of the very cynical and dishonest methods that were used, in particular by the Fine Gael Party in this campaign.”
O’Brien then kicked off the list of suggestions.
Just to show that meant business, Enda had his little notebook with him and scribbled furiously throughout the session.
The Fine Gael leader, Maurice Cummins, referred to the marvellous debates they have in the Upper House, then he suggested a task force and a road map.
“Let us do what we’ve been paid to do” pleaded Taoiseach’s nominee, Jillian van Turnhout.
Not that anyone really knows what that is, which is why we were there in the first place,
Labour’s Ivana Bacik said they should be paid less and have “greatly reduced sitting hours”. That was a head-scratcher. Fewer hours? They’re hardly there as it is.
Feargal Quinn heaped Enda with praise. The Taoiseach’s decision to come before the House “was a measure of the man and it underlines the dignified manner in which he accepted the people’s verdict.”
Quinn was pleased to note the referendum campaign was “never personalised”. He wouldn’t have noticed the sarcastic curls that twirled around nearby lips.
Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune brought up the use of the Seanad as a safety net for defeated Dáil candidates. “Like Senator Bacik, I wasn’t successful and I’m in this House now.”
In auctioneering parlance, that’s known as trading down. But you still have a foot on the property ladder.
Her party colleague, Hildegarde Naughton, a newcomer to the Seanad, suggested the House should sit in various places around the country.
They could call it “The House They Couldn’t Kill Tour.”
Fianna Fáil’s Labhrás Ó’Murchú was delighted with the Taoiseach’s “gracious contribution”. Then he praised Fine Gael’s Maurice Cummins for being a fair leader of the House. Everyone applauded.
Taoiseach’s nominee Katherine Zappone, a leading light in the retention fight, thanked Enda for turning up and urged him to respond to the “people’s clarion call for reform”.
“Keep faith with what the people voted for,” she said.
What did they vote for? Some might argue it was the two fingers to Enda and his government. He won’t want to keep faith with that outcome.
Prof John Crown lauded his “very considerable grace and statesmanship” in coming to address them.
Like he had a choice.
Grasping the nettle
Fine Gael’s Katherine Noone congratulated Enda “for grasping the nettle of political reform.” We suspect Enda was wearing gloves when he did it.
Fianna Fáil’s Marc MacSharry apologised for calling him a clown while Terry Leyden took the opportunity to publicise his new Bill on Seanad reform. He got Enda to autograph it.
Labour nominee Mary Moran thought more MEPs should be brought in to address the House. Her sister, Emer Costello, is one. Fine Gael’s Cáit Keane wanted affiliated Senators to have as many assistants as independents.
Pat O’Neill (FG) suggested the House consider the treatment of ethnic minorities and recommend legislation. “The Taoiseach said he comes in peace; we say, ‘HOW!’ he concluded, obviously a fan of cowboys and Indians in his youth.
They queued up to garland the reforming Taoiseach.
Enda replied. He read a litany of reform proposals that haven’t come to anything. Then pointed out the large number of different suggestions he had just heard. Seanad reform is not easy to achieve, when all the implications are explored.
“I’ve taken notes of everybody’s comments” he said. They’ll “engage further again”.
And that was it, really.
Afterwards, one Fianna Fáil Senator was delighted with the contribution he didn’t make.
“I knew we’d get nowhere. And I’m glad I wasn’t one of those people who lined up to kiss his ass after that final speech.”