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Sinead Ryan: Fionnuala not mad about spotlight ...but she can be Enda's best asset

DURING a trip to France in 1961 US president John F Kennedy introduced himself to a roomful of ardent listeners as "the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris".

He was under no illusion which of them the crowd was wowed by -- and rightfully recognised who stole the limelight.

I reckon Enda Kenny will be taking a leaf out of JFK's book before long as his greatest asset was unleashed in Washington last week: his wife Fionnuala.

Just as Barack Obama -- soon to visit our shores with the lovely Michelle -- frequently defers to her and refers to her popularity with groups he's addressing -- showing a healthy self-esteem and ability to showcase his partner -- while knowing full well he alone has the authority of office.

Meanwhile, Enda probably doesn't even realise what's hit him once Fionnuala hits the ground running.



composure

While until recently entirely in the background, she'll now have little choice in the matter -- what with a royal visit, a papal visit and the golden couple of America all arriving within spitting distance of each other -- and no better woman to handle it all with aplomb and composure.

Fionnuala has already shown great fortitude and patience -- after all, didn't she wait 10 years for Enda's proposal, God help her.

Lovely photos emerged from the White House of herself having a natter with Michelle -- if you forgive the obligatory Oirish green gunas, they looked charmed with each other.

And why wouldn't they? Both smart, sassy, intelligent and competent women who gave up their respective careers to become what Michelle terms "Mom-in-Chief", they cleverly decided not to compete with their spouses -- although I imagine either could do the job perfectly well.

We're not really used to the 'first couple' concept here -- I think we always thought it a bit twee. Certainly, presidential spouses have generally been kept in the shadows, and wives of Taoisigh have rarely been trotted out except for State occasions. Bertie didn't even have a spouse standing by him for all his years in power (except famously in Rio, where he found himself erroneously married to Celia for the duration of the official trip).

But I spot a different tone just a bare couple of weeks into Enda's leadership. In a glimpse of things to come, on Enda's first day in the Dail, Micheal Martin mentioned Fionnuala in glowing terms. She was, after all, formerly a press officer for Fianna Fail.



swipe

"Perhaps if she was still with you, you wouldn't be in the position you are," sniped a delighted Enda as his bum settled into the big chair on the Government benches.

It was a swipe at the Opposition, but left us in no doubt about his feelings for his wife. He is clearly delighted with her -- and still in love. But any decision to act as a photo-op will be hers alone.

Fluent in French, and the only person in recorded history to stand her ground and get an apology from Charlie Haughey over some slight or other, Fionnuala is not only a force to be reckoned with, but perhaps should be the one deployed to handle Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel when they get fresh with us over the bank bailout.

By all accounts she's not mad about being in the spotlight, but if Enda's clever he'll beg her, on bended knee if necessary, to turn up at anything where he's expected to give a good account of himself.



honeymoon

Mrs Kenny will come into her own during these important visits in the summer.

She'll manage beautifully -- PR, after all, is her forte as is keeping the media in check (she handled RTE press during her stint there).

But I hope it doesn't end there. We need to see more of this lady, and find out what she's really like.

That way, even if their own honeymoon still isn't over, she might manage to lengthen Enda's with the electorate.