Simon hugs a pig while Kenny cops an eyeful
Ministers ploughing their own furrow as they deal with the Ratheniska festival
Published 24/09/2015 | 02:30
It was still half-dark, the cocks were only mulling over having a crow, but the Agriculture Minister was impressively bright of eye and bushy of tail. "I've been down looking at the pigs," he chirped.
No. Go 'way. He was having a laugh, surely? No politician on the planet would place himself anywhere in the vicinity of a pig this weather, in the light of David Cameron's porcine pickle. Sure the TDs were even avoiding the morning fry in the Dáil.
"I posted a photo on Twitter," he offered helpfully - in fairness Simon Coveney is an obliging sort of chap. And sure enough he had. A lovely pic of him cradling a dotey wee pig. And all the while the penny was hanging suspended in mid-air, having failed to drop. The minister looked as innocent as a newborn ba...oh, never mind.
But Simon was having a mighty time, and intended to spend the whole day whizzing between over 60 stands within what could be termed the sprawling rural metropolis that is the Ploughing. With 800 acres of tractors and ploughs and diggers and saws and livestock, it's exhausting, exhilarating or - for anyone who thinks Husqvarna is the new fragrance from Chanel - utterly bewildering.
The Taoiseach loves the Ploughing. For the last few years, Enda has more or less refused to go home until he's toured the stands and also clambered up into the cabins of a variety of large pieces of farm machinery.
But he seemed a bit subdued this time when he arrived on the site at 8am. Enda and several ministers were announcing a €30m investment programme for rural towns and villages, which sounds like a lot but isn't really, given the acute decline in the quality of life in many of them.
"€30m is a recognition of potential," Enda explained, leaving all and sundry none the wiser.
Maybe the Taoiseach was downcast because he was on a strict timetable - he had to be back in Leinster House to take Leaders' Questions at noon, then he was scheduled to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and then fly to Brussels for an emergency EU Council pow-wow on the refugee crisis. And all before dinner.
So he set off on a whistle-stop mini-tour, ducking in and out of a succession of tents, including the ICMSA (which went smoothly, despite the disgruntlement among members regarding slumping milk prices).
However, he did cheer up outside the Macra na Feirme tent when asked to pose with their calendar featuring comely young farmers - men and women - in various states of déshabillé. Standing happily beside Miss November, Marita Kelly, Enda held aloft one image featuring a lassie who had swapped her top for a hurley (though the shot was of her unclothed back, this being the Ploughing, not 'Playboy'). But the Taoiseach was lending his support for a good cause -the Macra calendar was put together to raise funds for mental health awareness.
He wrapped up his lightning visit with a trip to the competition fields; leaning on the wheel of a tractor, he closely quizzed World Ploughing Champion Eamonn Tracey about the soil and the furrows and the competitions, before hopping into his car and departing.
Back in the Fine Gael tent on the site, Michael Noonan was also keeping a bit of a low profile, choosing to work the room quietly rather than climb atop a soapbox and rally the faithful.
"It's great to see so many people in such great form," he reckoned. "It's our policy objective to have the recovery inside the door of every family in the country."
Conversely, the politician in the best form yesterday was the Tánaiste, even though she arrived at the Ploughing on the same day that a poll of farming households revealed that not one person surveyed would vote for Labour in the next election.
Joan and her deputy leader Alan Kelly fielded questions. "Why do farmers hate you so much?" asked one reporter. "Well that's Minister Kelly's responsibility, so I'm going to ask him to answer, because up to now I thought farmers loved Alan," she said, airily throwing the hospital pass.
So he gamely ran with it. "I think if you isolate it out to certain Labour party deputies in rural Ireland, we've a lot of support in the agricultural community. They're votes for the candidate and for the party."
(And Alan may have had a point. Later as he passed two young fellas, one said to the other: "That's the lad that's giving us the hundred euro").
The duo were encircled by various rural Labour TDs nodding in fervent agreement, including Kerry's Arthur Spring, who was sporting a grey tweed cap. A hiss rose from a chap a few feet away, evidently one of his team. "Lose the cap". The TD removed the chapeau.
A short while later, the cap was on the noggin of Waterford deputy Ciara Conway during the walkabout. "He's not getting it back - I can feel the Kerry cuteness seeping into my head," she exulted.
Despite the dismal showing in the farming poll, Joan herself got a great reception as she strolled about. She posed by a pen full of sheep, as a press officer anxiously scanned the enclosure. "Just making sure there are no pigs in the picture," she muttered.
Joan met a girl holding a pretty little rabbit, and paused to give it a cuddle. "What's its name?" she asked, as every journalist prayed the answer would be 'Pat'. Alas no. "Tyrone," said its owner.
In the ICA tent, the MC welcomed Joan. "There's a prize of a free night in a Select hotel if you can name the best political party," he announced. "LABOUR!" roared the women in unison. So all Labour have to do to win votes is give away free stuff. Oh, wait ...