Standing on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill lawn just after 9.30pm Irish time, the Fine Gael leader spoke about the “great honour” he and the country have been given in being allowed to plant an Irish oak tree on the hallowed grounds to mark Ireland’s centenary events.
Beside a similar tree placed in 2014 in the memory of Anne Frank, Mr Kenny told onlookers he was “conscious of the symbolic value of planting a young Irish oak that will grow and mature here on the grounds of the world’s great monuments to democracy”.
While the event was meant to be a highlight in Mr Kenny’s two-day US visit, alongside a trip later last night to the House of Representatives for a motion commemorating the Rising, circumstances back home overshadowed matters.
Speaking to reporters about the reason for the trip, Mr Kenny was instead forced to answer domestic questions on the O’Higgins report controversy and the first Dáil vote defeat of his new Government.
While he insisted the developments are not going to tear up the political roots put down just two weeks ago in a bid to ensure a stable Government, the issues mean the new minority arrangement feels far less sturdy and less likely to “grow and mature” than the Irish oak he was so keen to eulogise.
Responding to questions on last night’s expected decision by the Dáil to back Fianna Fáil’s bill to cut interest rate costs for variable mortgage holders — a vote that occurred at the same time as the tree-planting ceremony and designed to take advantage of the Government no longer holding a majority — Mr Kenny said Fine Gael would have to accept the result.
In a move that is likely to cause a fresh clash with Fianna Fáil, he claimed the Central Bank simply does not want the new powers and that, in future, attempts to embarrass his Government with controversial bills in the Dáil may be blocked by a new “pre-legislative scrutiny” system.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny said he still has “100% support” for Garda commissioner Nóirín O Sullivan and denied it was a case of “Groundhog Day” for his party two years on from the ‘retirement’ of her predecessor, Martin Callinan.
While stressing Ms O’Sullivan is “first class”, he appeared to accept the latest Garda problems need to be tackled, saying he is “quite sure” the commissioner will “put into the public domain what she’s legally entitled to” if the “opportunity arises”.
Throughout Mr Kenny’s two-day visit to the US, issues have increasingly overshadowed what should be a significant moment for the new Government.
Asked about the prospect of Donald Trump being elected US president, Mr Kenny called him “provocative” but someone who “Ireland and the world will have to work with”.
Although the formal ceremonies have been warmly welcomed as another step towards acknowledging what happened 100 years ago, the modern day dramas facing Mr Kenny on his return mean the real historical milestones may be only just beginning.
While planting the tree last night, Mr Kenny quoted Seamus Heaney in an attempt to acknowledge the honour being bestowed on those who lost their lives. “Nothing in nature is more like ourselves than a tree, standing upright, caught between heaven and earth,” he said.
As the last 24 hours have shown, while the image is true for those who died 100 years ago, for the Taoiseach’s sought-after minority Government, it is more a case for him of being caught between heaven and hell.