Beaming ‘Dr Kenny’ receives honour at NUI Galway
Former taoiseach accepts tribute to value of public service and rules out presidency
Enda Kenny with first-year students Seán Reynolds and Ellen Healy at NUI Galway where he received an honorary doctorate in laws. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
“Do you like my cap?” beamed Enda Kenny as he stepped out on to NUI Galway’s quadrangle in university robes.
Unrelenting Atlantic rain had cleared, and it seemed as if he had brought the sunshine with him from south Mayo when he arrived to receive an honorary doctorate in laws from the National University of Ireland (NUI).
Hosting the event, which is described as a tradition afforded to heads of government, was NUI Galway, where Mr Kenny had briefly studied. Outside the university, a small protest had been staged by members of Galway Alliance Against War over his government’s use of Shannon Airport for US military flights.
“I consider this as a very significant honour for public service, because that is what it is about,” Mr Kenny told journalists.
“I spent 46 years now in public life, be it through teaching and through politics. In many ways you can say ‘should one have an honour like this bestowed upon them’, but I see it on behalf of the people as a measure of service to public duty,” he said.
So how is life as a former taoiseach, he was asked, and did he think he might reconsider his decision not to run for the presidency next year?
“The quality of my time is different,” he said. “It is a situation where obviously the country has moved on. I have paid tribute on many occasions to the service and the decisions made by Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte as graduates of this university, and as members of the Labour Party serving in government from 2011 when our reputation was in shreds and our economy was shattered, and took really difficult decisions . . .”
“And I give credit to the people for putting up with the sacrifices that they had to put up with, and to see the results in such a short time is truly astonishing in European terms.
“I have already made the position very clear,” he responded when asked about the presidency. Last year, he said after a Fine Gael think-in that he had no interest, and he had not changed his mind.
“Obviously the presidential election is due next year,” he said, and there was a very brief pause . . . but no surprise.
“I have no interest in contesting the presidency for Áras an Uachtaráin. I believe that Michael D Higgins, as uachtaráin na hÉireann, is doing a superb job there and I wish him every success with the decision he must make in due course,” he said.
So does he think Mr Higgins should run for a second term?
“It is a matter that is entirely for the President,” Mr Kenny said.
And then he was off, smiling again, with NUI chancellor Dr Maurice Manning, to join a procession from the quadrangle to the conferring ceremony, rain still holding off and a clear break in the clouds.