Wednesday 21 February 2018

A close shave for Kenny as he faces first protest of the campaign

Taoiseach Enda Kenny gets a trim from barber Bega el-Feky watched by local FG candidate Paul Kehoe (second from right)
in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. Photo: Mark Condren
Taoiseach Enda Kenny gets a trim from barber Bega el-Feky watched by local FG candidate Paul Kehoe (second from right) in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. Photo: Mark Condren
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Politics is a cut-throat business and Taoiseach Enda Kenny had what was perhaps his first real close shave with the electorate on the hustings in the south-east.

If previous days were marked by speeches to the party faithful and Fine Gael rent-a-crowds in towns deserted due to rain, walkabouts in Enniscorthy, Gorey and Wicklow were a different proposition.

It all started brilliantly for Mr Kenny who spotted the first good photo-op of the day in Bega's Barbers.

He sat down in the chair and asked for a shave, with owner Bega el-Feky happy to oblige.

"Well done. Thanks very much. Where are you from yourself?"

"Egypt", the barber replied.

"I met your president over in Paris and New York. Difficult situation in Egypt," Mr Kenny remarked before changing the subject.

"Do you find it difficult to shave the Wexford people?"

"No - all chins are the same," Bega replies.

This is the kind of banter Mr Kenny relishes, but things got more serious at his next stop, Walter Bourke & Son jewellers.

"How's the business?" the Taoiseach asked proprietor Mary Bourke.

"It's very hard work and the town is very dead, to be honest with you.

"It needs an injection of something and here's looking at you, Paul," she said, directing the issue to local candidate Paul Kehoe.

He mentions the Enniscorthy bypass plan, which he said would "make a huge difference" to traffic in the town.

"That's why you have to keep this recovery moving," Mr Kenny chipped in.

"Keep it going, absolutely. We understand that. Thank you for being so honest about it," he adds.

Next up was a chat about Irish Oscar prospects - Enniscorthy is of course the setting for 'Brooklyn' starring nominee Saoirse Ronan.

Cathy Keane from Galway runs a 'Brooklyn' tour and presented Mr Kenny with a sticker logo for his lapel.

The Taoiseach told her about all the State support offered to the film industry.

"When you think that Ireland has been nominated for nine Oscars it speaks for itself - the creativity and the quality of the people we have," he enthused.

Bet the Government parties wish Oscar night wasn't two days after the election.

"Make sure you go to the Springsteen concert when he sings about Brooklyn and all the rest of it and give him a free invite to come down here and take the tour," Mr Kenny suggested.

Fine Gael hopes to win two seats in Wexford with Senator Michael D'Arcy and Cllr Julie Hogan rounding off the ticket.

And the Taoiseach is willing to throw a bone to Labour here too, telling supporters: "We ask that after you finish with the Fine Gael ticket you support Brendan Howlin of the Labour Party.

"Our Government has been comprised of two parties, Fine Gael and Labour.

"We've made very difficult decisions over the last five years in bringing the country to a better place - and it is in a better place," he said.

On Mr Kenny's arrival in Gorey, mother-of-two Sarah O'Brien - who has been on the social housing waiting list for years - spotted her chance to raise the matter with the Taoiseach.

Mr Kenny responded by outlining plans to provide homes for many of those on the housing list by 2020.

"It's not that I'm asking for a whole lot. I just need stability for my kids," Ms O'Brien said afterwards.

Asked whether she was satisfied with Mr Kenny's response she said: "I'm hoping it will be sooner, with a bit of luck."

Leaving Gorey, Mr Kenny generated photo op number two, planting Blathnaid Kenny (13) in the seat of his BMW, saying "she's the boss now".

Blathnaid was thrilled and her mum quipped: "She's going to run in the next election."

But it wasn't all plain sailing for the Taoiseach yesterday. Wicklow town saw the first demonstration of the campaign - about six protesters from Right2Change standing outside local candidate Andrew Doyle's office.

One woman was particularly loud and heckled as Mr Kenny ploughed ahead with his walkabout.

"Fine Gael are a disgrace. It's the most unequal country in Ireland . . . er, in Europe," she wailed.

Then she spotted local junior minister Simon Harris and appeared to forget all about Mr Kenny.

"Simon Harris out, out, out," she roared, before cornering him to tell him she won't be paying her water charges.

"I'm well aware of what your views are," Mr Harris replied.

"What about the hospital crisis and all the homelessness and everything?" she asked.

"You have to have a strong economy to deal with all these issues," said Mr Harris, staying on message.

Last stop of the day was Newmarket Kitchen in Bray for the final photo op of a Shrove Tuesday on the hustings - flipping pancakes, of course.

Mr Kenny better avoid any major U-turns in the coming weeks or that one might come back to haunt him.

Irish Independent

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