Sunny Taoiseach weathers some stormy confrontations
THE UNSEASONABLY sunny weather was a tangible reflection of Taoiseach Enda Kenny's bright disposition as he spent nearly an hour in Dundalk last week meeting Fine Gael's election candidates and members of the public in the town centre.
Mr. Kenny was greeted by almost all of the Dundalk-Carlingford and South candidates, Deputies Peter Fitzpatrick and Fergus O'Dowd, MEP Mairead McGuinness, along with party supporters and officers.
The Narrow Water Bridge, the water charges and the Giro d'Italia were among the questions from the media, but the Taoiseach really came into his own when he was meeting members of the public and enjoying the good-natured slagging by his own people.
One of the first people he met was former TD Brendan McGahon. He has a dog in this fight too, his nephew John, who also met the Taoiseach. McGahon the younger was somewhat taken aback when Mr. Kenny asked him his name – the leader should have known Fine Gael royalty when he saw it.
Cooley was also well-represented at the meet and greet at the Ramparts entrance to the Marshes Shopping Centre on Tuesday evening.
Long-time party worker Eamonn Thornton presented Mr. Kenny with a 'leprechaun gold coin' from Cooley, which the Taoiseach seemed very pleased with. And he was particularly delighted when John McGuinness declared publicly that he, at 80 years old, was the oldest among the gathering.
It was around young people that the Taoiseach flourished and he seemed genuinely happy talking to Leanne English, daughter of Dundalk South councillor Linus and contentedly posed for pictures with her and also Mr. Thornton's daughter, Janet.
Camera phones were produced quicker than a Chinese factory when a gang of teenagers, most still in their school uniforms, posed for pictures with Mr. Kenny, suppressing the giggling as the flashes went off. They were up on Facebook before the Taoiseach headed down Francis Street.
In Earl Street, he was attracted to the buildings already painted pink for the Giro, including the jewellers Mint, which prompted one of the wags among the supporters to shout: Enda, if you're getting engaged again, this is the place to come for the ring!'
And then it was over to Tony McDonnell's Menswear where owner Jim and assistant Darren Guest were on hand to tell the Taoiseach about the Irish-made menswear they sell. Mr. Kenny was also told that the rugby stars Rob and Dave Kearney get suited and booted in there, which may prompt the Taoiseach's image consultants to keep Jim's number on file.
It was not all beaming sunshine for Mr. Kenny though. At the bottom of Earl Street, he was asked by Jack O'Donnell from Vincent Avenue about opportunities for young people.
Jack asked him: 'How can you justify the austerity cuts?' and went on to explain how he has been on a number of FAS courses and 'constantly trying to get a job' with no success.
Mr. Kenny explained to him how FAS has been amalgamated into Solas now and got him to pass his details to Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick to see if he can assist.
A short distance away, there was another disgruntled voter. Former council worker Frank Watters from Afton Drive was in his motorised wheelchair and berated the Taoiseach for the cuts to mobility and carers' allowances which have badly affected him.
He said he was in difficulty with his mortgage because of his disability and Mr. Kenny replied by outlining the progress he feels the government has made in the wider economy.
But Mr. Watters was not impressed and continued to engage the Taoiseach, telling him: 'I heard all that on TV'.
And he politely refused an offer to shake the Taoiseach's hand. He got his issues off his chest and Mr. Kenny can't say that he isn't aware of how cuts are affecting people.
It was onto sunnier climates for Mr. Kenny after that with a short meeting in Mr. Fitzpatrick's constituency office at Courthouse Square before the Taoiseach headed to Drogheda. There were a few clouds on the horizon during his visit, certainly, but Mr Kenny seems to find the silver lining in each.