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Miriam Lord: Opposition easy on Enda preparing to get off bus

New FG leader will probably charge on to political pitch like a sub on All-Ireland day

After six years as Taoiseach, Enda Kenny takes Leaders' Questions for the last time in the Dáil on Wednesday.

On Friday, a new Fine Gael leader will be installed.

The House goes into recess next week. The break will give the incoming leader time to settle in and get stuck into the hiring and firing. He (Leo Varadkar or Simon Coveney) must also announce his arrival to Fianna Fáil, purveyor of vital underpinning services to the Government.

A tricky business, the exercise is likely to be conducted in a style football aficionados call “handbags.”


Fianna Fáil’s minority support is keeping Fine Gael in power – a state of affairs neither side enjoy. And so the incoming FG leader, hoping to be taoiseach with their grudging acquiescence, will probably charge on to the political pitch like a second-half sub on All-Ireland day, signalling his presence to his marker with a buffeting series of hefty shoulder charges.

There will, of course, be a bruising retort from Fianna Fáil, possibly in the person of their buffeter-in-chief, Barry Cowen. Or Willie O’Dea.

The personnel changeover will necessitate a re-examination of the confidence and supply agreement between the two parties, so everyone is clear about where they stand in the post-Enda phase.

There was, naturally, another exasperated call for him to remove the Garda commissioner from her job

Depending on how much grandstanding the parties want to do, the process could take longer than a week, in which case Enda might be prevailed upon to continue in a caretaker role until the supporting framework is thoroughly checked and Barry dramatically pulls back from the brink at the 11th hour.

Pole position

However, barring any major hold-ups, a new taoiseach should be in place by June 13th. Which means Wednesday is Enda’s last day in pole position in the chamber.

Even so, he went about his business as usual on Tuesday, in a session where four constants from his tenure were aired again by Opposition leaders. There was, of course, the mandatory row over the ordering of the week’s Dáil business, with abortion central to the dispute.

There was, naturally, another exasperated call for him to remove the Garda commissioner from her job. And much more seriously, the Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour leaders all posed questions about serious shortcomings in the State's child protection system highlighted in a report by Geoffrey Shannon.

There were familiar exchanges between them and the Taoiseach, as they outlined some of terrible examples of how the system failed young children and he said he was upset too by the reports and would do all in his power “in so far as my tenure continues here” to ensure vulnerable children received the protection they needed from the Garda and State agencies.

“This is not about zero accountability, this is about full accountability,” declared the Taoiseach, adding he wanted to speak as soon as possible to the Ministers concerned, to Prof Shannon and to representatives of child support agency Tusla and the Government.


His opposite numbers remarked that didn’t doubt his sincerity in this matter, adopting a far less combative tone than usual. They didn’t vent their anger on him, as head of Government, in the way they would most certainly have done if he was still in control.

But he isn’t any more.

When the evergreen subject of the Garda commissioner was given another outing by Solidarity’s Mick Barry, Enda gave his beloved tin can a few final kicks down the road and said the question of what Nóirín O’Sullivan did or didn’t do wasn’t his concern any more as there was an eminent judge and a tribunal of inquiry all set up and ready to deal with the matter.

People of a suspicious frame of mind might think this strange outbreak of carelessness to be more than coincidental

The Cork TD attempted to get a response from the Taoiseach by telling him that the ongoing controversy over the commissioner’s continuation in her job would become “a legacy issue” for him, but the retiring Taoiseach didn’t bite.

“There has been lots of talk this week about legacy. This is all part of your legacy, Taoiseach, and it is far from perfect. Are you going to continue to keep the Garda commissioner in her position and allow the further undermining of the Charleton tribunal?” he asked.

Posterity or not, Enda isn’t in the least bit curious about the strange cases involving top members of An Garda Síochána losing phones which could prove crucial to Charleton’s investigations, or the mislaying of Sim cards which would be of equal value in assisting the judge.

People of a suspicious frame of mind might think this strange outbreak of carelessness to be more than coincidental, but not the outgoing Taoiseach. That, conveniently, is tribunal business now.

Meanwhile, another scrap over decisions reached on a cross-party basis by the Dáil’s business committee blew up. This time, it was over the composition of the special committee examining the constitutional ban on abortion.

Family disaster

The business committee agreed that there could be no substitution of members (something which happened regularly during the contentious committee meetings on water charges) once the line-up of participants was finalised.

Bríd Smith and Ruth Coppinger strenuously objected to this, pointing out that they had strong views on the issue and would like to take part on a rotating basis.

Being thrown under a bus in the political world is a regular occupational hazard

Furthermore, remarked Smith, substitutions had to allowed “because a member could become ill, have a family disaster or fall under a bus”.

This is important, she repeated later on, “because anyone can fall under a bus”.

As TDs bickered over the business committee’s decision not to allow substitutions, Micheál Martin got to his feet in exasperation. He’s fed up with a few members disagreeing every week with with the committee’s majority decisions.

“I don’t want to get involved in this...,” he began.

“Then sit down,” shouted Gerry Adams.

As for people falling under motorised vehicles: “Being thrown under a bus in the political world is a regular occupational hazard,” said Micheál.

“Particularly in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael,” laughed Richard Boyd Barrett.

Enda smiled ruefully to himself.

He might think he was thrown under the bus, but he wasn’t.

He wasn’t even thrown off it.

He pressed the bell and got off at a stop of his choosing. And very few departing prime ministers can say that.