No hot water, just cold ice-cream as Joan hits the election trail
Published 17/04/2015 | 02:30
The Tánaiste's eyes lit up as an ice-cream cone was handed out to her through the window of Kitty's Cabin on John Street. "Oh, that's lovely," she smiled.
One ice-cream doesn't necessarily make a summer, but one politician eating an ice-cream is definitive proof that the voting season is well and truly nigh.
Joan Burton was taking a stroll around the sunny streets of Kilkenny early yesterday evening on a brief but unhurried canvass with Willie Quinn, Labour's candidate for next month's by-election. It's a bit of a phoney war that is under way in the constituency until the writ is moved in the Dáil (most likely next week) for the May 22 vote.
So - as yet - the lamp-posts of the Marble City are bare of posters and the streets aren't clogged with candidates importuning the citizenry. For a city as busy as Kilkenny, it was remarkably quiet - it was the twilight time between the shops closing for the day and the hens and stags revving up for the night.
But the dearth of crowds didn't disconcert local Labour TD Ann Phelan. The Rural Affairs Minister whizzed ahead, heartily greeting familiar faces and introducing them to the Tánaiste.
"You're much taller than I thought," remarked one woman. "Or are you in high heels?"
Joan offered an almost flat shoe for inspection.
Another woman gave her a hug. "You're absolutely fabulous," she told Joan. "It's lovely to meet you."
The Tánaiste was sporting the sort of delighted expression of a politician who has found herself in the midst of a happy scenario as imagined by a certain brand of beer - if that beer did campaign trails, and suchlike. She must've felt a little like Bobby Ewing in the shower when it transpired his demise had been greatly exaggerated. It was as if the whole Labour Party poll meltdown had just been a terrible dream.
But, of course, it wasn't - and the upcoming by-election and marriage equality referendum will give the battered party a chance to gauge the depth of the public's hostility towards Labour.
However, at least there wasn't a water protester in sight to curdle Joan's cone - it's rare enough for a senior member of the Cabinet to be out and about these days without being accessorised by a small but vocal demonstration. Instead, Joan encountered locals, tourists and a remarkable number of Dubs, either visiting or resettled.
Of course, not everyone was as sunny as the glorious afternoon. George Ralph, proprietor of an antiques shop, explained to the Tánaiste that business was sluggish. "People still don't have money in their pockets," he said. But Joan was determined to sip from a half-full glass. "But surely all the stag and hen parties are bringing great revenue into town?" she suggested.
He agreed. "Indeed they are, the bars and hotels are flying. But they're not buying from me," he added wistfully and undoubtedly correctly, unless drinking shots from pretty porcelain teapots has become a thing among revellers.
Another chap in the shop, a retired teacher, grumbled about pension levies.
A short while earlier, the Tánaiste had opened the shiny new Intreo centre on the outskirts of the city - a one-stop shop for those collecting welfare payments while seeking work.
She was welcomed by Kilkenny's Lord Mayor, Andrew McGuinness - son of Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness - who assured Joan she was "very welcome to the friendliest city in Europe, the hurling capital of Ireland, the tidiest town in Ireland".
At the start of her speech, Joan thanked Andrew for his welcome. "When the Labour staff recently had a staff training day, Brian Cody was our guest speaker," she said. "I'm now following his advice, so you better be very careful," she joked. Although the reference to the teak-tough and ruthless Kilkenny hurling manager may have been a half-joke directed at aspirant awkward squad members of her parliamentary family.
There were a couple of other local politicians listening to her speech - Fine Gael's John Paul Phelan and Renua's by-election candidate Patrick McKee. "I'm here to size up the opposition," he grinned. He shook hands with Joan and with Willie Quinn and the candidates cordially wished each other luck - another sign that the phoney war is still on.
As the canvass of the main street wound up, Joan posed for a photograph with a young chap. "Are you visiting?" she asked.
"No, we're here for a funeral," he explained cheerfully. Joan was lost for words. Golly. Not even Mary Lou McDonald has managed that feat.