“Illegitiminon carborundum”: The Taoiseach had just been asked by Galway Independent TD Noel Grealish if he had any advice for his successor in the job, and he jokingly offered the dog-Latin phrase which roughly translates as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”, writes Lise Hand.
Light-hearted as the exchange was between the two men, it was a telling phrase all the same because it revealed one of the main characteristics of a politician who had weathered 42 years in politics, including 13 elections, 15 years as party leader and six years as Taoiseach.
Even his most adamantine foes would acknowledge Enda Kenny’s ability to rebound after knock-downs or put-downs or setbacks.
It was advice quietly digested by the two Cassius-like lean and hungry contenders Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar who were sitting a few feet away, but both looking as if they wished to be anywhere else as their boss stepped into the ring for what’s likely to be his final bout of Leaders’ Questions.
At first, it seemed as if it would be a ho-hum business-as-usual session, although unusually for an increasingly sparsely-attended parliamentary set-piece, every Fine Gael minister bar Michael Noonan was present and correct along the front benches. Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin quizzed Enda at length on the selling of AIB shares. But then when Gerry Adams began to grill him on the same theme, Micheál decided it was time to have some fun.
“Taoiseach, don’t mention the Northern Bank,” he loudly advised Enda, referring to the £26.5m heist allegedly carried out by an IRA gang in 2004. Guffaws broke out around the (non-Sinn Féin) sides of the Dáil chamber. “I didn’t mention the Northern Bank,” Enda promptly repeated three times to the Sinn Féin leader.
They were all beginning to get a bit giddy, when an unamused Clare Daly brought them all back down to earth with a thud. “When the dust settles, your legacy will be stained by the manner in which you handled the departure of the previous garda commissioner, a stain which has obviously cast a shadow over your willingness or ability to deal with the present one,” she declared sternly. “I feel bad for you because of this.”
Oh dear. It looked as if the Taoiseach’s swan-song was going to end on a bum note. But then on comes Noel Grealish with a flourish, channeling his inner Gaybo. “Will you outline what you consider to be your greatest achievements? Also, what are your biggest regrets?” he asked, before wondering aloud what advice Enda would give Leo or Simon on his way out the door.
All sides roared. Clare Daly and her trusty sidekick Mick Wallace left in silent high dudgeon at this outbreak of cross-chamber chumminess. Communications Minister Denis Naughton laughed and shook his head. He was scarlet for Noel.
“How long do I have, Ceann Comhairle?” requested a jolly Enda.
“Three minutes is sufficient,” suggested Barry Cowen, ready with the boot.
“I have absolutely no regrets about having appointed Minister Simon and Minister Leo Varadkar. They are two fine young men,” he gestured towards the duo who were only morto at the sudden attention being drawn to the election elephant in the room. “What about the rest of them?” sniped Dara Calleary, as more rowdiness broke out.
Then Enda decided to take a short trip down a memory lane which another minister would prefer to forget. “They might not have been my supporters when my friend Richard took to the field some years ago.” Everyone enjoyed the discomfiture as the Taoiseach got one last kick in at the unfortunate rebels.
Noel was on a roll. “Denis Naughten and I put the fear of God into Simon and Leo a few weeks ago when we sent them a text message saying that the Taoiseach was going to announce the following morning that he would step down one week after Mayo wins the All-Ireland final. Denis was telling me poor Leo was crying in the corner, saying he will never get the job of Taoiseach,” he crowed. Even Leo laughed at that. As did Simon, most heartily.
But then life moved on, as life does. The Order of Business began, and Enda’s team drifted out of the chamber. “They’re like the primroses, melting off the ditch when the hailstones come,” observed Mattie McGrath.
The chamber was much quieter by the time that Enda wrapped up his final Taoiseach’s Questions. “You won’t have me to deal with for too long more,” he told the Leas Ceann Comhairle in a (probably) unconscious echo of Richard Nixon’s bitter exit line to the media in 1962 as he bowed out of politics, only to be elected president four years later.
Perhaps Taoiseach Leo or Taoiseach Simon should put a big red circle around 2021. Just in case.
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