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Thursday 14 December 2017

No mud - but plenty of muck flying around Fine Gael at the Ploughing

Sketch

International Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh pictured with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Laois. Photo: Pat Moore.
International Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh pictured with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the National Ploughing Championships in Co Laois. Photo: Pat Moore.
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

There was barely a molecule of mud available to attach itself to the Taoiseach's suit as he covered what seemed like the entirety of the bone-dry 800 acre Ploughing site yesterday afternoon.

The dearth of the substance may have been due to the absence of any decent downpours. Or perhaps all the brown stuff had decamped from Laois to Dublin and was flying in formidable quantities around the hapless heads of Fine Gael.

In fact, it wasn't just mud, but also skin and hair which were airborne, as once more Team Enda managed to transmogrify a molehill into a mountain of mutiny. Therefore instead of a tiptoe through the tulip stands, the Taoiseach was obliged to expound on Heather.

The John McNulty nomination had landed Enda up to his neck in a political morass. Backbencher and fully paid-up member of Fine Gael's awkward squad, Waterford's John Deasy had gone on the warpath on the national airwaves. And worse, the women were up in arms. Samantha Long, one of the three female candidates overlooked for the Seanad nod had resigned from the party, declaring the selection of a man was "a regressive step".

Oh dear. But that wasn't all - the candidate himself John McNulty then upped and resigned from the board of IMMA to clear the way for his nomination. And the person who appointed him, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys had landed in the spotlight over whether she had nominated him off her own bat, or under instructions from high-ups in the party.

And so although the ground in Ratheniska was firm, the Taoiseach was in the muddy trenches, dealing with a fusillade of media questions on IMMA-gate. "I have never given instructions for a minister to make an appointment," he insisted in one breath, before continuing on to explain, "Obviously it is the responsibility of the leader of Fine Gael of the day to make the choice and to make that decision and that's what I did".

Right. Well that's as clear as, eh, mud. Although having landed in Dublin at 5am that morning after a two-day whistle-stop trip to New York and Rhode Island, Enda must've been feeling a little muddle-headed.

However, he was on far firmer ground - literally and metaphorically - during the almost six hours he spent touring the massive site of the National Ploughing Championships. He started out on the ploughing fields, then headed for the Fine Gael stand on the site, where he bumped into an old pal from Mayo, Stephen 'Horse' Sweeney.

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"We were in school together - he was a few years ahead of me, and then he came back to the school as a newly-qualified teacher and taught me," explained the man called Horse. So was he a tough muinteoir? "He was a brilliant teacher. But he could be firm, too," he said.

After a spot of lunch in NPA headquarters with the inimitable Director of the festival, Anna May McHugh, he set off around the exhibits.

Nor was he likely to get lost on the way around the maze of stands, for Ann May's daughter and second-in-command, Anna Marie McHugh, kept a firm grip on his arm, like a patient mother guiding a hyperactive child around a supermarket.

And maybe it was a sign of boomier times, but he was on the receiving end of very little grief from the farmers as he walked around - not even those with a large beef about the current state of the cattle industry. In the IFA tent, one farmer, Henry Burns from Mountmellick in county Laois, complained most politely about what he regarded as the changing of the rules under the government's Food Harvest 2020 plan.

"It's like we're playing football for the first half of a game, and then we come out for the second half only to find Minister Coveney has put up basketball posts," he told the Taoiseach.

He had a grand day out. But now he's deep in another fine FG mess - one in which mud could turn to quicksand before he knows it.

Irish Independent



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