Maelstrom in the muck as Kenny ploughs a not-so-lonely furrow
Even heckler could not distract the Taoiseach, writes Lise Hand
IT looked as if Taz the Tasmanian Devil was running amok at the Ploughing yesterday. A mini-tornado of rolling arms, legs, uniformed gardai, handy-looking plainclothes fellas with ear-pieces, frantic photographers and TV cameras, jostling TDs, stalking reporters, curious kids, groups of faithful followers and pockets of disgruntled citizenry was spinning and whirling at top speed along the walkways.
And in the epicentre of the maelstrom was the Taoiseach, striding along and deploying his own brand of semaphore (high-fives for the nippers, pat on the arm for the women, thump on the arm for the lads) as he barrelled through the crowd.
"What's going on?" wailed one woman as she suddenly found herself caught up in the whirring cyclone and propelled in an unintended direction. Only moments before she had been peacefully minding her own business and looking at some machinery.
It's a recurring peculiarity of the Irish electorate that they will spot a politician bearing down upon them and share a string of uncharitable observations on the approaching individual. But as soon as the person passes, out will stretch a hand and a polite greeting: "Howarya, Taoiseach?"
And so it was yesterday as Enda bustled about the stands and fields in Ratheniska, apart from one leather-lunged lad, Shane Fallon, who was taking loud exception to his plan to axe the Seanad.
"You're like a spoiled f**kin' child. It's your way or no way," he roared as the Taoiseach sped past, muttering: "It's your choice."
He had arrived on the site at 11.30am, going straight to the fields to inspect the ploughing and chat firstly to World Champion Ploughman John Whelan, and then to Gerry King, who told him that his two plough-horses, Pika and Keo were French horses.
"They don't understand English, so I had to direct them in French to go a gauche and a droit," he told Enda.
"Could you not change their names to something like John and Mary?" asked Enda. "The Finance Minister always likes to use John and Mary when he's giving examples in the Budget," he confided.
Then he headed for the Fine Gael tent, situated in a prime position close to the Ploughing headquarters. He was introduced by an ebullient Charlie Flanagan, party chairman and local TD, who issued Fine Gael's first pre-election promise.
"I notice today we're serving Rich Tea biscuits and coffee, but by the time we've got this country back on its feet, it'll be chocolate biscuits and bacon and eggs for everyone in the morning," he vowed in what could yet prove to be a rash(er) pledge.
A short while later, he gave a brief press conference, in which his answers to various questions were as woolly as a field of merino sheep – except when he took a swipe at the news that another horde of doubloons had been discovered in the home of bankrupt developer Tom McFeely.
"All of that smacks of what happened during the so-called Tiger years when you had profligacy and greed and money sloshing around in so many places," he declared.
Afterwards, he set off on a two-hour Tasmanian Devil-style walkabout. "Oh my god it's the President!" squeaked one schoolgirl excitedly. Well, he isn't exactly Niall Horan from One Direction, in fairness.
He was in and out of more tents than a crate of beer at the Electric Picnic and threw himself into a few photo-friendly stunts, such as joining a cookery demonstration (the only sort of demo he saw all afternoon) to be taught how to make a sugar net by Neven Maguire, and climbing up into the cab of a big Renault truck and admiring huge tractors.
"How much is that one?" he asked, pointing to a shiny blue one. "About €100,000," came the reply.
"We'll take six," he said cheerfully as an aide quietly confiscated his credit card.
The Taoiseach spent ages watching the big hit of this year's machinery, the Lely robotic milking machine, a flash-looking gizmo which attaches itself automatically to the cow and milks away merrily.
An inquisitive cow ambled over to the entourage for a closer look. "What would you name her?" he was asked. Behind him, sotto voce and unheard by the Taoiseach, Charlie Flanagan muttered: "Lucinda."
Oh dear, relations must be positively Friesian between the chairman and the rebel.
A few minutes later, the chap explaining the whole procedure said that it was all for the benefit of the animals.
"The cow is queen," he proclaimed. Just try telling that to Charlie.