Gerry Adams’ claim was a startling contribution, writes Michael Clifford.
ENDA KENNY signed off as taoiseach by saying he hoped he’d made a modest contribution to the country.
He has, of that he can be assured. He has made a contribution, and it was pretty modest. On the day he left frontline politics, 42 years after he first entered the Dáil, he was entitled to at least some plaudits. And that, for the most part, he received.
Completing his farewell speech, Enda referenced another man of the West, Michael Davitt, offering “fond thoughts” and “fullest forgiveness” to friends and opponents in the business.
Days like yesterday are not about raking over a long-standing politician’s legacy. That job, as Micheál Martin observed, is not for colleagues or columnists but it is the “perspective of time that will decide his legacy”.
Yesterday’s set-piece in the Dáil was about bidding farewell to Enda Kenny, the person behind the politics. As Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan noted, it is difficult to separate the person from the party.
She did just that thereafter, saying Kenny was “personable, friendly, approachable, had great energy, and a great sense of humour”. It was a contribution of considerable grace for one who represents the opposite end of the political spectrum from the outgoing taoiseach.
The speeches went on for an hour, but didn’t drag. Most were infused with the kind of human quality one finds in old soldiers from opposing sides who on a ceasefire acknowledge that they have in common, through their daily lives, more than that which divides them. Hence Gerry Adams was able to acknowledge that he will miss Kenny.
“I will miss your entertaining tales on meetings you had and meetings you didn’t have,” said Adams, referring to Kenny’s yarns about encountering men with two pints and what not, and his misremembered meeting with Katherine Zappone last January that never happened, and actually expedited his exit from the job.
Adams also made the startling suggestion that “Enda Kenny is probably the best leader Fine Gael ever had”. The most electorally successful, sure, but the best?
Eamon Ryan got in a spake for Kenny’s late life conversion, as he saw it, to appreciation for nature.
Michael Healy-Rae noted that the departing taoiseach will have more time to spend in “a very important place, Kilcummin outside Killarney, Co Kerry”.
It was all knockabout stuff in which Kenny’s human qualities and undoubted capacity for hard work was flagged, without each contribution descending into unwarranted hagiography.
The only graceless note was struck by Ruth Coppinger of the Solidarity party. She used the occasion to attempt some crass electioneering, expounding on a current, albeit harrowing, story about a young pregnant woman’s plight under Irish law.
The tenor of her pitch was such that Ceann Comhraile Seán Ó Fearghaíl felt compelled to intervene with the comment that the issue was way outside the business of the day. The humourless contribution would make you nostalgic for Joe Higgins who is as opposed to Kenny’s politics as is Coppinger.
The lightest note of the day was struck when Ó Fearghaíl called on Shane Ross to speak. A groan rippled through the House, followed by laughter, as if the deputies had surprised themselves with the sound of their own low expectations.
Ross lauded Kenny, and well he might on the day that he secured a terrific feat of parish pump politics by having his Stepaside Garda Station reopened.
“It is undoubtedly true that morale in the country is higher now than when he took over,” noted Ross.
And so it is, but therein lies the real issue that will dog Kenny’s legacy. How high could morale be today?
Kenny, as many observed, steered the ship of State through a perfect economic storm when he took over as taoiseach. The course had been mapped out by the outgoing administration, but Kenny kept a steady hand on the bridge.
As Brendan Howlin pointed out, Kenny brought a sunny disposition to his office at a time when darkness was all around. Such superficiality mattered at a time when despair hovered around the next set of figures.
His big problems manifested themselves on arrival in calmer waters. With the troika gone, the man appeared to have been left all at sea.
Still, yesterday was about giving him his due. He can, unlike some of his predecessors, depart with nary a cloud hanging over him. He was entitled to his hour in the sun.
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