Tuesday 20 February 2018

Enda rallies local troops as FG aims for three seats on his home patch

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Michelle Mulherin meet locals during a visit to the constituency office of Ms Mulherin in Ballina, Co Mayo, yesterday. Photo: James Connolly
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Michelle Mulherin meet locals during a visit to the constituency office of Ms Mulherin in Ballina, Co Mayo, yesterday. Photo: James Connolly
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The general was home to rally the troops for the first time since the election campaign began. "What are the issues that you're getting on the doorsteps?" Taoiseach Enda Kenny asked around 40 canvassers gathered in Mayo.

"A good response," replied one canvasser.

"Out of 65 houses, we got three negative. One was going to vote for Michael Ring."

"That's not a negative," Mr Kenny said to laughter at the mention of his Westport-based party colleague.

"In Castlebar, it is a negative," came the quick response to more laughing.

You see, in Mr Kenny's home county the campaign is being planned with military precision.

It's 'Operation: Hang on to Three Seats' in a constituency that's down to four.

And it's not a battle Mr Kenny wants to lose - it being his own backyard.

He was in Ballina to back his local candidate Michelle Mulherin, where she will face stiff opposition in the form of the other local TD - Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary.

It was perhaps not the best day to choose given that the streets were deserted between heavy rain, Ireland's Six Nation's clash with Wales, and many of the locals attending the funeral of a local GAA legend.

The Taoiseach's afternoon began with his attendance at the requiem mass for Fr Peter Quinn, one of the last surviving members of the Mayo team that won back-to-back All-Irelands in the early 1950s.

Mr Kenny is aiming to be the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to win back-to-back terms in office and his home county is key to his plans.

He didn't have to worry about the empty streets for photo opportunities - Fine Gael had Ms Mulherin's office packed with supporters who poured outside to greet him.

That's been a feature of Mr Kenny's campaign stops - in Westmeath, Kildare and Tipperary, where he has generally been met by supporters on walkabouts who are already fully signed up to the Fine Gael cause.

In Mayo, the other outgoing TD, John O'Mahoney, changed to Galway-West and the party's remaining deputies desperately want to hold on to all three seats.

Mr Kenny laid out the strategy with careful instructions on how to maximise the vote.

"Down here in Ballina and Charlestown and Swinford... they vote one Mulherin and afterwards in the order of their choice. In Erris... Westport and in Newport and Claremorris, they vote one Ring, two Mulherin and three Kenny.

"In the area allocated to my poor self, that they vote one Kenny, two Mulherin and three Ring.

"If that's followed, we've a really good chance of holding on to three seats here which would be an outstanding achievement, believe you me.

"We'll compete as a trio, as a very strong team for the votes and the confidence of the people," he added.

Perhaps conscious that as Taoiseach he couldn't be seen to pack his home county with funding for local projects, he explained: "This is the first time that [we've] the opportunity to have a head of government in the constituency. You've got to spread the benefits of the economy throughout the entire country. "It's not about any individual location."

But he added: "We look forward to the support of the people of Mayo as we've always done in the last number of years."

One supporter piped up and suggested to Mr Kenny that the party could win votes by announcing to the media that he'd appoint more women in Cabinet if he is returned to office.

"I've said that three or four times," Mr Kenny said.

Asked if she would like to be one of those women in Cabinet, Ms Mulherin replied without a nano-second's hesitation: "Certainly."

"There's not another female TD on the western seaboard of any party from Donegal down to Co Kerry other than Jan O'Sullivan in Limerick City.

"So I would imagine, considering geographical spread," she said.

Mr Kenny chipped in: "She said to me earlier if she had six months in environment she'd have all those housing estates cleared up."

Which estates were unclear, but Labour's Alan Kelly better watch his back if the Government is returned.

Irish Independent

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