Austerity bites, as Enda Kenny found out yesterday.
The annual gathering of British and Irish parliamentarians is usually a swanky affair, but this year found itself in reduced circumstances — a rather chilly sports hall in Letterkenny to be exact.
If the intention was to present a “we feel your pain” image to the world, it certainly worked better than expected — because not only did they feel the pain, they heard it as well.
The thinness of the breeze-block wall and proximity of the demonstrators on the other side of it, meant that at numerous times throughout the 30-minute speech, the protesters threatened to drown out the Taoiseach’s keynote address in the hall.
Instead of hearing the soothing words of Kenny, the British MPs, lords, baronesses, and viscounts present instead got a full blast of such unfamiliar Fine Gael slogans as: “The banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”; “Enda Kenny hear us clear — we won’t pay your taxes here!”; and the more general “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
There were only about 70 protesters, but what they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in colour and volume, with hunting sirens and loud-hailers providing an unusual back-beat for Kenny’s attempt to talk up the economy.
One demonstrator sporting a Spider-Man outfit explained his choice of costume: “It’s because more people believe in Spider-Man than believe in this Government anymore.”
The sports venue also meant that the Taoiseach was flanked by two basketball hoops during his keynote address, but the climbing wall on the other side of the hall had been partially obscured by curtains — perhaps, so as not to give Spider-Man any ideas if the protesters succeeded in their quest to storm the building.
The questions and answers session that followed the speech was kicked off by Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín who, referring to the noisy demonstration, expressed his solidarity with what he dubbed “the elephant outside the room”.
Kenny, keen to win back the attention of his British audience, referred to their Queen Elizabeth as “Her Majesty” four times (even though other monarchs and presidents mentioned did not receive their own lavish prefixes), and the Taoiseach revealed that he had first joined the inter-parliamentary body as a backbencher because he was worried Westminster “thought the Irish had horns”.
Unfortunately now the British know the Irish really do have horns — even if they are just hunting horns.
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