The Independent Alliance was highly “relieved” when an “arrogant, tribal”, and “tetchy” Enda Kenny departed as taoiseach in June, super junior minister Finian McGrath has said, writesDaniel McConnell.
“He used to get up our noses,” Mr McGrath said in an interview with the Irish Examiner.
“On a political level, he had that old Fine Gael attitude; arrogant, talking down to the little people — these Independents — so there was that element of that. Sometimes that would cause dissent, particularly in the early few weeks.”
Mr McGrath, who sits at the Cabinet table, said he and Mr Kenny could interact personally, but on political matters he found the former taoiseach to be tribal in his attitude to his coalition partners.
“There are two sides of Enda. There is the personal side of him and, would you go for a pint with him, and the answer is yes,” Mr McGrath said.
He also confirmed that Mr Kenny’s delayed departure did impact on the work of Government, which led to a lot of frustration.
“I do know that some colleagues at Cabinet were holding back business, which did bring a bit of instability,” he said.
“To be honest with you, we were relieved when Enda announced that he was going and then we could focus. After the election, we couldn’t wait to get in and get the new Taoiseach in place and get on with the job. We are now in that space.”
Mr McGrath said the departure of Mr Kenny brought with it a new more inclusive dynamic at Cabinet, which hangs on the “axis of power” that exists between the current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.
“Basically, the axis of power is Leo and Paschal, whereas before you had Kenny but you’d listen to Michael Noonan for the serious stuff,” said Mr McGrath.
“You listen to Leo and you listen to Paschal, there is a strong double act. They don’t mind disagreeing with each other. The previous taoiseach would get a bit tetchy. Leo gets told, like we all do, to wait and see, but all done in a nice way.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Mr McGrath paid tribute to the ability of Mr Varadkar, whom he called “sound as a pound”.
“Leo’s intellect makes a big difference at Cabinet,” he said. “What you see with him is what you get. I have regular debates at Cabinet, lots of differences of opinion. He wouldn’t see that as a threat to the party he leads.
“He doesn’t see it in those tribal terms, but half the Cabinet would, and they would get offended. Leo doesn’t feel threatened by questions, as he is confident.”
Mr McGrath also admitted that he and his fellow Independent Alliance members Shane Ross, John Halligan, Seán Canney, and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran often “kill each other” but remain committed to delivering on the Programme for Government, which he said “has the Alliance’s fingerprints all over it”.
“The five of us, the glue that keeps us together... We are very different but what keeps us together is that we agreed on our own programme and I often say this to the Taoiseach, we get on very well personally,” he said.
“I am very good friends with Shane personally. We kill each other sometimes on political issues, but personal relationships help greatly.”
Mr McGrath paid warm tribute to Mr Noonan, who he said was instrumental in keeping the coalition together during some of the most extreme rows.
“I used to call him the Clint Eastwood of the government,” said Mr McGrath. “He used to come in and calm us all down and then still get his own way.
“When we were fighting for an extra junior ministry, he listened to us and came up with the idea of the rotating ministry and we all walked out of the room, problem solved.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.