Miriam Lord: Songs in air as Kenny’s critics slam into reverse

With the Taoiseach in Berlin, Frances Fitzgerald hosted a musical Leaders’ Questions

The Taoiseach travelled light to Berlin. He left the knuckledusters and thumbscrews behind with his enforcers, just in case they might need them again.

Very unlikely.

A fella doesn’t remain in charge of a political party for 14 years, survive a coup attempt along the way and claw his way to a second term as head of Government without learning a thing or two about survival.

But after some poor judgment calls last week, murmurings of discontent about Enda Kenny’s leadership became uncomfortably loud.


A number of backbenchers publicly voiced concerns about him getting too comfortable in Government Buildings. A few did so tentatively, as if extending a toe to test the water. Enda and his people quickly put the frighteners on.

They slammed into reverse, like tipsy motorists spotting flashing blue lights in the distance.

The Chief Whip performed a spectacular handbrake turn. Then she went on radio and warbled a jazz number during a TD's singalong session on the lawn in RTÉ.

And the media got it in the neck for misunderstanding and misinterpreting when they only thought they heard when certain politicians talked freely to them out of the other side of their mouths.

Enda flew off to Germany on Tuesday. Frances Fitzgerald took Leaders' Questions in the Dáil. Around Leinster House, the fraught atmosphere of the previous week appeared to have evaporated.

Members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party members (not to mention interested onlookers waiting in the slips to field flying leaks) didn't want to predict how things might go at tonight's much anticipated meeting.

But confidence motions in or against the Taoiseach were not expected. Pat Deering, one backbencher still sticking to his opinion that Kenny should consider a quick exit, didn't exactly have colleagues queuing up to talk to him about his views when he was dining in the canteen.

Knuckleduster brigade

Perhaps they feared word might get back to the knuckleduster brigade.

There were a few quips about "Kexit" doing the rounds. Will it be declared at tonight's meeting? This was a reference to Kerry TD, Brendan Griffin, the most forthright of the small band of disaffected TDs to go public, who said that Enda should pull the plug on his leadership before the autumn.

Had the Taoiseach been in the Dáil for Leaders’ Questions, the session would have had a much sharper edge to it.

As it was, there were only two direct references to Fine Gael’s recent travails. Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly wasn’t impressed with the Tánaiste’s response to media reports that some Emergency Department units in hospitals could be closed as part of a national reorganisation of emergency departments.

Frances Fitzgerald stressed nothing has been decided.

“While I respect what the Tánaiste has said, it might be that she and her colleagues have given over their weekend to speculating about internal party matters” suggested O’Reilly.

Mick Barry, meanwhile decided to ditch the usual outraged approach of the Anti-Austerity Alliance in favour of a more light-hearted approach to the political situation.

“The Government whip went on the radio on Saturday and sang a song. It was a fitting way to round off what was a most musical week in Dáil Éireann” began Mick, looking mightily pleased with himself, reading his script like it was a school essay and he was the cleverest boy in the class.

"Did not half of your Cabinet spend the week accusing poor Minister Shane Ross of not showing sufficient R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the views of the Attorney General? The stage trapdoor opened, and as Joe O'Toole went hurtling down, he could still be heard singing out, 'A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.' "

Brendan Howlin rolled his eyes. "Hilarious" he harrumphed. But musical Mick was on a (drum) roll.

Final curtain

“As for the Taoiseach, well the Taoiseach, like Sinatra, he did it his way, and now the end is near and, if Deputy Griffin has his way, he soon will face the final curtain.”

Not many people were laughing. But then, Deputy Barry, after a very long lead-in, hadn’t dropped his punchline.

“Tánaiste, my question to you today concerns water charges . . .”

The place erupted.

Deputies fell around the place. Because for now and forever and for always, it was back to water.

The Cork TD then moved from music to melodrama, using the story of "unsinkable Titanic" to illustrate how the Government's "good ship water charges has crashed into the iceberg of mass non-payment."

The Titanic reached a tipping point, as surely as the rate of non-payment is reaching one too.

“I thought you were going to break into song there in your introduction” remarked Fitzgerald.

"Turn behind you" shouted Paul Murphy, pointing to songstress Regina Doherty.

Mick then turned his attention to the new commission established to look into the charging system.

"Now, the song you might want the new water commissioners to sing is Silence is Golden".

Micheál Martin perked up. "Simon and Garfunkel" he cried, adding triumphantly: "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

He was very giddy. Something to do with the VIP visitors who pitched up in the chamber – a large group from the Irish Caucus of the Californian State Assembly. It turns out they were accompanied by the Irish Consul General to California and the clue is in his name: Finbar Hill. He's a Corkman who made good in America and Micheál was only short of blowing kisses up at him.

Then the TDs moved on to discuss the business of the day. The Chief Whip announced a slight change to the voting schedule.

“Can we hear the explanation, deputy, please” asked the Ceann Comhairle.

Sean Sherlock looked over at Regina. "In the key of G."

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord

Miriam Lord is a colour writer and columnist with The Irish Times. She writes the Dáil Sketch, and her review of political happenings, Miriam Lord’s Week, appears every Saturday