Cabinet whip-round marks Enda and Noonan’s retirement
Taoiseach gets emotional at Farmleigh dinner suggested by Varadkar and Donohoe
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan were honoured at the event. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Cabinet colleagues of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan organised a farewell dinner for them on Thursday night, surprising both men with gifts purchased following a ministerial whip-round.
In an emotional speech, the Taoiseach directed his closing words at his successor. “This is a wonderful country” he said, choking up. He paused and pointed to Leo Varadkar. “Look after it!” Then he sat down and got a standing ovation.
When the shock UK election exit poll came through on Thursday night, the entire Cabinet was together in Farmleigh House. At 10:01pm, phones began buzzing and beeping around the room. One Minister said: “It was like the stock exchange, the way all the mobile phones suddenly started going at the tables.”
The dinner was suggested by Taoiseach-in-waiting Leo Varadkar and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe, who organised and took up the €100-a-head collection.
Ministers and those “super-junior” Ministers who sit at Cabinet attended with their spouses and partners. The event began with a drinks reception followed by dinner. There were speeches from Mr Varadkar, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and the two outgoing political heavyweights.
Martin Fraser, Secretary General of the Taoiseach’s Department, was also involved in planning the dinner and he sourced the two sculptures presented to the guests of honour.
“Enda got a branchy thing with butterflies on it and Michael got what looked to me like a big handbag with no handles on it,” was how one Minister described the pieces.
The Tánaiste spoke about Enda Kenny’s long career and remarked that behind his trademark good humour lies the steely personality of somebody who gets things done. Mr Varadkar’s speech was full of praise for his predecessor and laced with humour.
Ministers contacted by The Irish Times were unanimous in their verdict that Mr Varadkar, the man who hands out prized Cabinet jobs next week, was “excellent”.
Mr Noonan, stepping down as Minister for Finance on Wednesday and retiring from politics at the next general election, recalled a trip to Rome when Angela Merkel rapidly approached him. He felt rather important, until Merkel asked him “where is Enda Kenny?”
Noonan finished by saying he has worked with many taoisigh over the years and in all that time, his best day was when he rang Mr Kenny to tell him that the Troika was leaving Ireland.
Enda waxed nostalgic about his time in politics . He was close to tears on occasion, particularly when he spoke of the “sacrifices” made by the Irish people which allowed him take tough decisions. “The country wouldn’t be where it is today without them.”