Monday 24 October 2016

Kevin Doyle: How Enda took the inside track - and went with a short and sharp campaign

Published 04/02/2016 | 02:30

President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Aras An Uachtarain where the Dail was dissolved. Photo: Steve Humphreys
President Michael D. Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the Aras An Uachtarain where the Dail was dissolved. Photo: Steve Humphreys

After leaving the country hanging for weeks and months it now seems that Enda Kenny is in an awful rush.

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His arrival in the Dáil chamber first thing on an early spring morning had been long flagged but few expected it to be so brief.

He told those present, mostly Fine Gael and Labour Party TDs, that he was there "as a courtesy" and then vanished out the door with Tánaiste Joan Burton in tow.

Such was the speed of the exit it took a few seconds for the Opposition to actually realise he was gone and they complained in vain that they never got a chance to reply - but the Ceann Comhairle was helpless. Mr Kenny had scarpered.

And so the tone for the General Election campaign was set.

Last September the Irish Independent ran a story on the front page with a headline that read: "FG plans to limit role of Kenny in election."

And within the first few hours of Election 2016 the substance of that article was proven true.

Fine Gael sources will openly talk about how Mr Kenny is a good party leader and even a decent Taoiseach but his major Achilles heel is performing for the cameras.

He feels the pressure of the spotlight as was evident during his recent televised speech from the Fine Gael Ard Fheis.

It's a bit like the football captain being able to rally the team in the dressing room but failing to do the pre All-Ireland round of media interviews aimed at getting the fans, or in this case voters, hyped up.

This is Enda's All-Ireland. His chance to make history with back-to-back titles for the blueshirts.

He told his parliamentary party on Tuesday night to go forth onto the doorsteps with confidence.

But it's obvious that Mr Kenny won't be leading from the front.

He has called one of the shortest campaigns ever, thereby limiting the scope not just for debate but also for mistakes. The Dáil will sit again in 34 days time.

In the interim the Taoiseach will be carefully choreographed by his advisors. We saw it yesterday when he did a quick handshake with the Tánaiste outside Government Buildings before being whisked to Áras an Uachtaráin under garda escort.

At 2.30pm he was flanked by Fine Gael's top brass as he hosted the first big press conference, speaking at length from a script about keeping the recovery going.

But his handlers then tried to limit the questions to just three journalists out of at least 30 present.

He rehashed the script in reply to the first, passed the buck to Michael Noonan after fluffing his lines on the second and batted away the third. Then he was off again. So carefully planned are his appearances that the stage in Dublin's Alexander Hotel was set up so Mr Kenny could escape through a side door onto the street. And that was it. No more Enda Kenny.

Later Leo Varadkar faced Bryan Dobson on the RTÉ Six One News which featured the leaders of the other three main parties.

Over the weeks ahead Mr Kenny will be out and about every day, talking to the public and the media so to the naked eye it looks as though he is doing the same as everybody else.

But the plan is for the Taoiseach to play a game of 'hide and seek' with the press, leaving the tricky questions to Noonan, Fitzgerald, Harris and Varadkar.

Meanwhile, the Mayo man will be very much hiding in plain sight.

Irish Independent

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