‘No need for men in grey suits to knock on the Taoiseach’s door… He knows the game is up for him’

As heard on Today with Sean O'Rourke

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“It’s the little things that trip you up.” It’s a phrase that’s being repeated across print, broadcast and online media in recent days, as Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, finds himself under increasing pressure to outline a timeline for his departure. On Today was Sean O’Rourke, it was Harry McGee’s turn to pull it out of the bag.

The phrase itself was coined by former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, referring to how a seemingly ‘little things’ – rather than big issues like the economy, the health service, or international relations – can emerge out of nowhere, gather momentum, and bring your political career to an end.

Whether our current Taoiseach’s travails can be said to emanate from a ‘little thing’, well, that’s for each observer to decide. Whether they have come out of nowhere, that’s possibly a little more difficult argue.

But that argument was certainly played out this morning on Today with Sean O’Rourke, as the pace of events has ratcheted upwards. Opening the show, deputy Fine Gael leader, James Reilly, and his party colleague, Noel Rock, had their say in the company of Micháel Lehane and Brian Dowling, from RTE’s political staff, discussing how things might transpire over the coming days and weeks, and the shadow-plays going on in the hallways of Leinster house and beyond over who will fill the power vacuum.

And an hour later, Harry McGee, political correspondent of the Irish Times, joined Sean for an update, and gave his perspective.

“He will name the time of his departure and he will be allowed the political equivalent of a lap of honour, and I presume it will include his last visit to the White House for the shamrock ceremony.”

But Sean O’Rourke was quick to come back, “Why should he? As Margaret Thatcher once said, this is a cruel game.” In other words, why shouldn’t he go immediately? And the response? “Well, the succession will take at least a month. It’s a convoluted process in Fine Gael, as it is in most parties,” replied Harry.

PolItics is, as Mrs Thatcher said, a cruel game. It was an astute observation, up there with that of a previous British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, lamenting the fact that “a week is a long time in politics.”

Harold Wilson, of course, lived in an age before the 24-hour news cycle, the torrent of Twitter, the buzz of Whatsapp groups, pushing the agenda forward at a relentless pace. If the last fortnight has taught us anything, it’s that a few hours can be an eternity in modern politics.

And by the end of today’s show, journalist and political commentator, Lise Hand, spoke to Sean O’Rourke from RTÉ’s Dáil studio, where she has been taking the political temperature.

“There is a sense here today that it is all over bar – and including, perhaps – the shouting, and a quiet calm has descended now…. There is a sense that there is no need for men in grey suits to go and knock on the Taoiseach’s door today or any other day. He knows that really the game is up for him. And he has been given the latitude of a few days to get his affairs in order and figure out the date of his departure. But there is a sense that the window for that is very narrow and he will have to make his intentions known, probably by Monday or Tuesday of next week.”

Maybe not such a cruel game, after all?

Either way, given the pace of events, RTÉ will be on hand to keep you up-to-date. But in the meantime, take a listen back to Harry McGee, Lise Hand and the rest of Sean O’Rourke’s guests this morning by clicking here.

© The Listener 2017

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