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Thursday, April 03, 2008
IT SHOULD have been Bertie Ahern’s moment in the spotlight, but Brian Cowen managed to walk away with yesterday’s Leader’s Questions as easily as he is set to take the Fianna Fáil crown.
Mr Ahern entered the chamber for Leader’s Questions to dutiful, though hardly rapturous applause from colleagues, and took his seat while Enda Kenny attempted a respectful farewell to his long-term foe.
Then, suddenly, Mr Cowen appeared at the top of the central steps and all eyes focused on him as he swept towards the front bench.
His cabinet colleagues rose as one to make room for him to pass in front of them going to his seat on the left hand of the Taoiseach, but it could well have been a standing ovation marking the inevitable handover of power.
As the heir apparent nestled in next to the outgoing leader, Mr Kenny continued his oration in the manner of an undertaker struggling to find something nice to say about an unexpectedly sudden client.
Most commentators had predicted this Leader’s Questions would be an anti-climax given the expectations heaped upon it since Mr Ahern’s former secretary Gráinne Carruth’s incendiary testimony had exploded in the Mahon Tribunal.
However, no one had expected it would become Mr Ahern’s political wake.
As befits such occasions, no one wished to speak ill of a career that was now clinically dead.
The righteous fury Mr Kenny and Labour’s Eamon Gilmore had promised to pour down on the Taoiseach’s head regarding his wayward evidence to the Mahon tribunal was replaced by faint praise.
Mr Gilmore decided to drag the real world back into the chamber with questions over the cancer misdiagnosis scandal, but once he had dealt with those the Taoiseach returned to the matter at hand and effectively bade farewell to the arena he has dominated these past 11 years. He submitted himself to the "verdict of history" as he put forward the twin achievements of peace and prosperity as his real legacy.
Though given the reason for his early exit from the stage and the subject that has dominated national politics and his personal life for the past 18 months, he could not resist a final attack on the Mahon Tribunal.
"There is a chamber outside of this House that does not have the same fairness of this establishment," he told fellow TDs.
As he resumed his seat, the applause that greeted him was much warmer than when he had entered, with almost all Labour TDs joining in, while Fine Gael was split down the middle.
Mr Kenny had a particularly difficult time making up his mind as he settled on a compromise action that saw him briefly drum the tips of his fingers together in a manner slightly reminiscent of Stevie Wonder.
With that the Ceann Comhairle rang his little bell and it was order of business and business as usual as the chamber hastily emptied, leaving the fading Taoiseach struggling to be heard above the hubub as the corridors of Leinster House echoed with the intrigue of the day past and that of the frenetic days ahead.
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