FERGUS FINLAY: Enda Kenny will be remembered as being bigger than sum of his parts

There may be a few moves in Enda yet — a tango with Angela, a cha-cha-cha with the entire
European Council, writes Fergus Finlay

SO, WE’RE getting to the sharp end of Dancing with the Stars. On Sunday it was Teresa Mannion’s turn to leave the show, after the first dance-off in the series. After a long love affair with the BBC version of the show, I had missed the dance-off as a feature of the competition, but when it came, I didn’t want to see Teresa in it.

She’s not just a great competitor, and someone who has learned how to dance from scratch. Teresa Mannion is also a great reporter. She earned worldwide fame, of course, for her live-on-air reportage from Salthill during Storm Desmond.

But I remember an interview she did that she has probably forgotten herself.

She interviewed my daughter Mandy, and her then boyfriend, about their relationship. They were filmed walking hand in hand, chatting and cuddling, and describing each other on camera.

Nothing remarkable about any of that — they were both young adults — but because Mandy and her boyfriend have Down syndrome, the interview caused a bit of a stir, and opened up a conversation about relationships, sexuality, and disability.

Naturally, this being Ireland, not everyone approved, and there was the usual flak. But Theresa made sure there was nothing exploitative in the piece.

She told a true story with empathy and sensitivity, and she highlighted an issue that is too often swept under the carpet.

She broke ground as well — I think that was the first time RTÉ ever carried an interview with someone with an intellectual disability about being in love.

So Theresa has always been one of my heroes. As I watched her do her last dance last night, I hoped she was really proud of herself.

And of course I’m going to be devastated if and when Des Cahill is voted off. Now there’s a man — overweight, middle-aged, two left feet, and yet week after week he’s giving it his all.

What he lacks in skill he makes up in determination, and he covers up a multitude with humour and charm. Every time I’m inclined to chuckle or sneer, I have to remember that if that were me up there, I’d make him look like Rudolf Nureyev.

Des Cahill may be one of the most under-rated broadcasters we have. He hides a considerable intelligence and no small amount of work and preparation behind his “aw shucks” personality. His aim, it has always seemed to me, is to make a difficult job look like anyone could do it.

To be honest, I don’t know how it’s possible to combine a busy day job with a dance competition that exposes you to live television — especially when you’re not a great dancer to start with. But along the way, he has become a legend for portly old chaps everywhere.

Enda Kenny will be remembered as being bigger than sum of his parts

It’s probably an odd thing to say, but thinking about Enda Kenny over the weekend, he’s a bit like the Des Cahill of politicians. He too has achieved an awful lot more than his affable, lightweight personality suggests — to the point, in fact, where he has earned a pretty decent place in history.

I can still remember one of the first interviews he gave when he became a candidate for the leadership in 2001.

He was running on a slogan of “electrifying” Fine Gael, but in that interview he appeared to be the one in shock, devoid of ideas, and unable to offer anything except platitudes. He was well beaten in that context by Michael Noonan, and then unceremoniously dumped from the front bench, without attracting much sympathy.

When he did inherit the leadership, he probably spent his first couple of days reading the obituaries of Fine Gael published in all the newspapers.

The only reason, it seemed, that he was trusted with the leadership of the party was that it was a dead duck anyway. Its vote had collapsed, and Bertie Ahern was on his way to becoming the most popular taoiseach we had ever seen.

Somehow, Enda hung in there. Somehow he began to rebuild, and eventually brought his party to its highest ever standing.

Along the way he faced a revolt — a highly unusual revolt in Irish politics because it was led by his front bench, who publicly sneered at his lack of capacity. I heard him described recently by Ivan Yates as ruthless in the way he reacted to that revolt.

Enda Kenny will be remembered as being bigger than sum of his parts

 

Yes, he was ruthless in the way he saw it off, but he immediately reappointed some of the ringleaders to the front bench (the same ringleaders who are now the prime candidates to succeed him). And of course, the moment he became Taoiseach he appointed the man who had dumped him, Michael Noonan, as minister for finance.

When all is said and done, Enda Kenny will be remembered, I think, as being bigger than the sum of his parts. He’s never claimed to be an intellectual, but he led his country back from the brink of collapse to a robust and healthy condition.

And he’s never claimed to be a charismatic leader, but he has displayed people management skills worthy of Joe Schmidt.

Enda will be off shortly to take part in what looks like his last dance — possibly a paso doble — with Donald Trump.

We’ve all become familiar, thanks to ‘Strictly’ and Dancing with the Stars, with the tension of the paso doble. Originally modelled on the Spanish bullfight, it’s supposed to be a dance with electricity from start to finish.

Hopefully the man who wanted to electrify his party will give us a bit of that now, in his swansong performance.

It’s a bit of a no-win gig, this one. Most of us, I think, accept that Enda has to go to the White House. The extraordinary access that Ireland has to the corridors of power in the US will be very hard to get back if we ever give it up.

But none of us want to see our Taoiseach pandering to this astonishingly divisive figure.

Enda Kenny will be remembered as being bigger than sum of his parts

 

Donald Trump looks more authoritarian — even totalitarian — every day. Managing relations with someone like that, and managing to convey a sense of how much we disagree with the rhetoric and the policies, is going to require skill and directness.

Maintaining the dignity of a small country that believes in human rights, while also protecting the special relationship we have with a country that is vital to our interests, is no small task.

That’s why the paso doble is the right dance for this last sell-out performance, if that’s what it turns out to be. Enda needs to get the right blend of dark and light, and to combine a lot of fancy footwork with an air of reproof.

Of course, if he pulls it off, we may discover that the audience saves him from the dance-off. There may be a few moves in Enda yet — a tango with Angela, a cha-cha-cha with the entire European Council — who knows?

Just like Des Cahill, it might be too soon to eliminate Enda. But he has to know that every dance from now on has to be better than the previous one. It’s the only way to keep going to the bitter end.


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