Nicola Anderson: Labour deputy leader just can't help himself
Published 06/02/2016 | 02:30
Alan Kelly cast in the role of the gracious Master of Ceremonies, all charm and light chit-chat as he handed over the microphone to the real stars of the event.
Seriously, Labour - in what parallel universe was that ever going to pan out?
"The Tánaiste will make a keynote address along with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin. Director of Elections and Environment Minister Alan Kelly will MC the event," read the press release, apparently straight-faced, sounding the first of the alarm bells.
Abort mission. Man the stations. Iceberg ahead.
The formal launch of Labour's General Election campaign at the Bord Gáis Theatre in the Dublin Docklands was but a continuation of the 'informal' campaign we had so far seen.
So, more hurling of rocks, then, more quiet gnashing of teeth, cloaks, daggers and other unseemly things clad with a thin veneer of smiles and civility.
Those who feared a dull GE16 campaign should buckle their safety belts because just a week in and Kelly is the candidate voted most likely to implode. From his tame pussy-cat demeanour during an earlier interview with Sean O'Rourke on RTÉ Radio One, we had assumed the outgoing Environment Minister had been reined in and there would be no more startling outbursts this side of the ballot box.
But no, it appeared AK-47 was merely keeping his powder dry. Arriving at the Bord Gáis theatre with his customary swagger, Kelly stood amid the crowd and slowly knotted his tie without any embarrassment.
There was an overpowering smell of aftershave in the room as the delegates filed in.
Newstalk broadcaster Chris Donoghue slipped quietly into his seat, fresh from his ding dong with the Labour deputy leader in Tipperary the previous day.
Alan Kelly congratulated a party worker on her birthday.
"Tell the journalists your age," he invited her.
Then welcoming everyone to the launch, he said this was a symbolic part of the capital in which to hold it.
"When Grand Canal Dock opened over 200 years ago, it was during Dublin's golden period and they were the largest docks in the world."
Now it's called 'Silicon Docks', he said.
The Minister of State Kevin Humphreys, being a proud local, shook his head vehemently.
Labour would run a "strong and determined campaign that will deliver a positive result," said Kelly.
He politely handed over to Brendan Howlin, who told us that the sky is not about to fall down anymore and the banks were no longer a systemic threat to the Irish people.
And then he turned to Joan, "one of the bravest and most admirable ministers", for a rousing speech which was sung from a Government hymn sheet with a strangely familiar theme of 'a lot done, more to do.'
Alan Kelly drummed his fingers on the clear plastic rostrum, gazed out the window and read something from a large buff envelope.
His boredom, it seemed, could hardly be contained.
Joan became passionate, warning voters against 'Sinn Féin creeping in the night.'
Ged Nash raised his eyebrows and gave a mock shiver.
Alan Kelly kept his hands in his pockets.
And then it was question time.
Had he tried to threaten Chris Donoghue before going on air and sought to influence the line-up of guests, a reporter inquired.
Kelly rapidly flushed an angry crimson.
"That's an astonishing question, to be frank. No is the answer. Was I unhappy with the editorial choice, yes," he rapped out.
Joan maintained a bright and polite smile.
The situation did not go away.
Kelly said he had voiced 'concerns'. But had he verbally abused Chris Donoghue?
The minister said he did not think that was a fair question.
Joan did what she could to defend him.
She cherishes a free press and they deal with people fairly and openly. "He could have ducked maybe appearing on a show altogether," she pointed out.
During a question to Brendan Howlin on Fiscal Space, Kelly stood there truculent and fuming, clearly not friends with the room.
When Joan grew heated about housing and the need to fix up 'void' social housing, Kelly gazed at her with apparent mild amusement.
And then it was back to him again. What did he say to allegations of his arrogance?
Kelly shrugged, as if to suggest 'what could he possibly say?'
"Look, I don't think that's fair now," he said. "Everyone in this room is a different human being."
And he tried his very best to look humble about that.