Miriam Lord: Breathless Enda is gone in 60 seconds
Opposition leaders knocked for six by the wash churning in Kenny’s wake
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the launch of the Fine Gael general election campaign at the Alexander Hotel, Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
In and out of the Dáil in less than a minute. After months of dropping hints, Enda Kenny burst from the blocks and was gone, leaving a bewildered collection of TDs behind to pick up their jaws from the chamber floor. Just the formal election announcement, a couple of cursory lines wishing everyone the best of luck and a hurried snippet of Irish poetry.
No wonder he sounded breathless. “Tá Lá le Bríde caite. Tá an t’earraigh taghta. Caithfidh mé mo sail a ardu.” “St Brigid’s Day is past. The spring has arrived. I must raise my sail.”
Then he motored out at speed. Opposition leaders were knocked for six by the wash churning in his wake. They rushed to launch a protest, but their rapidly inflated indignation was useless. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste had moved on and the Dáil chamber was closed for business until March 10th.
Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams shook their heads in disbelief and left. “A pathetic end to a pathetic Dáil,” snorted Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin as he headed up the steps. Retiring TDs, looking around for one last time, pottered aimlessly around the floor. Ruairí Quinn bowed out quickly. Joe Higgins, still standing in his old seat, stared at the Ceann Comhairle’s chair, as if he might yet be called upon to speak. Pat Rabbitte wandered about before stopping for a brief word with the outgoing Minister for Foreign Affairs. Charlie Flanagan, like most of his Cabinet colleagues, was still sitting down, processing the events of the previous minutes.
But in no time at all Leinster House emptied of politicians. All that remained were the ones who have no personal campaign to fight any more. They walked the corridors. They went to the canteen. They went to the bar. They looked lost. For everyone else it was game on.
Straight to Government Buildings, where Enda and Joan had a last hurrah for the cameras before he departed for the Phoenix Park to ask President Michael D Higgins to dissolve the Dáil. Some journalists were recording the scene on their iPads for live streaming on Periscope.
Comments from people watching it flashed on their screens. Kenny and Burton arrived on the steps where they had launched and rehashed so many programmes and plans over the last five years. A comment popped up on the tablet wobbling overhead in front of us. “Corrupt f*****s,” it said.
“Are you going to be back in office together?” shouted the journalists. Neither Kenny nor Burton replied. They shook hands. It was a little awkward. “This is not goodbye,” gurgled Enda to Joan, who gave a little laugh. Then the Taoiseach barrelled with exaggerated purpose to his car, leaving the Tánaiste on the steps. “Bye bye,” said Joan, quietly. The motorcycles took off, followed by the car. She gave him a little wave. “This Government has worked very well together,” said the Tánaiste. “It has been a very united Government.” The chap in front pointed to the latest comment on his screen: “Give her a slap.”
Sinn Féin rolled up to Government Buildings at 11am. They walked slowly up Merrion Street, taking up the full width of the footpath, stopping halfway so a handler could give them each a placard.
They posed with trademark chutzpah on the road right in front of the main gates. The two policemen in the security box inside didn’t appear to see them.
Adams was very modest in his expectations. “We’ll go out and give it our best effort,” he said. “We’ll see how we get on.”
When, inevitably, pressed about former IRA chief Thomas “Slab” Murphy, the former IRA chief he calls “a good republican” and who is awaiting sentencing for tax evasion, Adams said snippily: “I can only say ‘Nothing at all’ once or twice.” He added: “He isn’t, to my knowledge, standing in the election, is he?”
Then an admobile featuring a large photograph of Micheál Martin stopped in the traffic in front of the group. The TV cameras swung around immediately. Back in Leinster House, where the Seanad would finish up later in the day, the members were busy doing what the TDs didn’t get a chance to enjoy – paying lavish tribute to each other. And out in the car park we realised that some people will always be with us in Leinster House.
On so to Fianna Fáil, where the smell of fresh paint in their election headquarters was overpowering. Martin made a speech from the platform, in front of a backdrop in various shades of green, but with no sign of a party logo anywhere.
“This idea of a fairer society is embedded on the doorstep,” he declared. Afterwards he went out to pose before the admobile, fresh from its photobombing of the Shinners on Merrion Street.
“He looks like he’s just got off a sunbed,” said a passerby, looking at Martin’s tanned face. No rest for the wicked.
Burton was doing her thing at Labour’s headquarters overlooking the Liffey – a seventh-floor suite of offices with a stunning view of the half-built building once earmarked for Anglo Irish Bank’s headquarters. Staff were eager to point out that the resumption of construction was a sign of the economic recovery.
That recovery, said deputy leader Alan Kelly, is spoken of by all the opposition parties. “It has to be pointed out at all times it is our recovery that they’re talking about,” he said. “Eh, is it not the peoples’ recovery?” asked a journalist.
“Well,” harrumphed Alan, removing his foot from his mouth, “it’s the people’s recovery but it’s this Government who created that recovery.” Harking back to an interview he gave at the weekend in which he indicated that nobody was the boss of him, he stressed that Burton was very definitely the party leader. Whereupon his leader very sweetly turned up the burner. “To be honest, he’s an incredibly obedient employee. Employee? Colleague!” Kelly blushed from ear to ear.
The Paschal Mobile
The Taoiseach turned up an hour later in a city centre hotel with his entire Cabinet and his most photogenic Dublin candidates. They were all very excited. The Ministers huddled together at the back of the room before the off. But where was Paschal Donohoe? Ah, here he is. “Hello everybodeee!” he smiled cheerily to his Cabinet colleagues. “The Paschal Mobile is on site now!” Enda hurtled through a side door, bang on time.
Leo Varadkar slinked in, late. Afterwards, we overheard him talking to Frances Fitzgerald, explaining his tardiness. “He actually started on time!” he said of the notoriously unpunctual Taoiseach. “I know, absolutely!” marvelled Frances.
Enda spent 10 minutes saying, in every way possible, that the recovery must be not be put at risk. But he got tied up in knots when the dreaded “fiscal space” figures came under scrutiny. He offloaded to Michael Noonan, who talked everyone into submission. All the Ministers had left their chairs, instructed by a handler to donut their leader. They stood around him, hands joined low down, like a defensive wall protecting their assets before a free kick. The room was packed. But Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton looked very cool at the top table. Things must be going well for the regular Dublin Bay North poll-topper. The message on his coffee cup? “Note to self. I’m hot!”