Home-town celebration of 'all things Enda' a bit smug
Enda stumbled ever so slightly as he delivered his Big Line on Saturday night. Gazing directly into the TV camera, he nailed his party's colours firmly to the marriage equality referendum mast.
"This is about you, it's about your right to say two small words, made up of three single letters - I do," he stated.
The applause sparked by this stirring declaration was immediate. However, it was more dutiful than effusive. Not particularly surprising, perhaps, given that the audience was predominantly comprised of the more veteran members of the Fine Gael troops, for whom it seems like only yesterday when homosexuality in Ireland was decriminalised 22 years ago.
In contrast, the delegates lapped up every instance of Shinner-bashing. And there was plenty of it to be had over the weekend - from the Taoiseach to Michael Ring and, most trenchantly, from Leo Varadkar.
For taking skelps at the opposition is a traditional blood-sport at such gatherings and are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser among the sort of party faithful who regard the likes of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin as untouchables when it comes to coalition-time.
And the bullets flew. The next election "will be a clear choice between moving forward; or risking the country's progress to those who wrecked it in the past, or to those whose policies would wreck our future", insisted Enda to whoops from the floor.
A little earlier during the warm-up speeches, Michael Ring had unleashed a volley of leather-lunged invective, as only Ringer could do. "We saw Micheál going out hand-in-hand with Gerry on the plinth. I never thought in this country that we'd see that happening," he bellowed in reference to a joint media doorstep held by the two leaders last month after both parties staged a walk-out of the Dáil. "Well I'll tell you one thing - Fine Gael won't be going up the plinth hand-in-hand with Gerry Adams or Micheál Martin!" he roared to the noisy approval of the room.
But it was Leo who really stuck the boot in, during a low-key address to a half-empty Royal Theatre on Saturday afternoon. "We need a Taoiseach who has faith and confidence in our own country. A true patriot like our Taoiseach, not a self-serving phoney like Mr Adams," he charged.
It was strong stuff, and sure enough, the Sinn Féin leader responded, scoffing at what he described as a display of "unbridled arrogance from Government ministers".
And Gerry may have had a point. The live televised session featuring a panel of ministers in a discussion titled 'Securing the Recovery' was smugly self-congratulatory, with colleagues vying to compliment each other on their own successes.
And there were no dissenting voices in the audience, for this was a National Conference, not an Ard Fheis, which has a programme of often hotly debated motions from the floor. Held on his home turf, it was always going to be a celebration of all things Enda. The venue was encircled by the proverbial Ring of Steel, although fewer than 200 protesters showed up for the planned demo which was overshadowed by the larger protest in Dublin.
There was a short doorstep interview with the Taoiseach before his big speech, during which he was questioned about the health of his Finance Minister - Michael Noonan's been in the wars of late and was sporting a very battered-looking left eye following surgery to remove a growth.
What with the operation and shuttling to and from Brussels trying to sort out Greece, Michael looked tired as he took to the podium, but doubtless was buoyed by the prolonged standing ovation. And he even had a sly dig at the Taoiseach, explaining how he had travelled by car from Dublin to Castlebar, without seeing a single signpost for the town - only ones for Westport. "Whoever is running the country, Michael Ring is putting up the signposts," he quipped. Even Enda, seated in the audience, laughed at the accurate observation.
But sometimes things do happen outside the control of the vigilant organisers. Wandering about the venue, Simon Coveney confessed how he had woken in his hotel the previous night to discover that his feet were soaked. "The hotel is undergoing renovations and it turned out there was a hole in my ceiling, and the rain was pouring in on top of me," he said. So the Agriculture Minister fetched the bin from the bathroom and put it on the bed to catch the downpour. "I listened to some music through my earphones to muffle the drips," he added.
Now what song could he have comforted himself with during his soggy sleep? 'Leader of the Pack' by the Shangri-Las sounds like just the ticket.