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Blueshirts drop ball as they fail to boot rivals' plans into touch

IT SHOULD have been an open goal at Blueshirt Showtime.

Labour has yet to outline how it is funding its economic big ticket items -- such as the dropping of the 48pc tax rate and the €500m jobs fund.

Fianna Fail already seems such a beaten docket that nobody is paying much attention to what they say. The purveyors of the original showtime -- the glitz of election launches -- are almost irrelevant.

Fine Gael could have used its election launch yesterday to cement the party's reputation as a safe pair of hands on the economy and further push the message that has seen them top the opinion polls -- they are the party to trust. Instead, as Fine Gael outlined plans in the party's flash new election HQ, with plasma screens and a fancy stage, it all went terribly wrong.

Michael Noonan, who rarely drops the ball on economic issues, was caught out. The spinner's spin-master, Big Phil Hogan, tried to lock down a press conference where his party's polices were coming under scrutiny.

The big beasts of Fine Gael -- Hogan, Noonan, Enda Kenny, Richard Bruton, Leo Varadkar and James Reilly -- scuttled away from scrutiny like teenagers running from their mothers as they head out on a Friday night.

"Don't be asking any questions, I'll be grand -- and I have go meet the lads down the park," is the message as Ireland's little Johnnys head out the door with their jumpers stuffed with odd looking shapes which look suspiciously like beer cans.

"Don't be asking any questions, we'll be grand -- and Enda has to go to Cavan," was the implicit message yesterday as Big Phil pushed the spokesmen out the door of the first campaign press conference, their economic plans stuffed with odd-looking shapes that looked suspiciously like black holes.

"Thank you very much for this morning, but I've to cut it there," Mr Hogan said abruptly after a mere 13 minutes.

And then it all kicked off.

"You kept us waiting for 18 minutes," came the protest.

"I have to go to Cavan, Monaghan, east Meath," protested Enda.

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"The leader has a schedule and he has to keep to it," added Phil.

But they were stopped dead in their tracks, and Mr Noonan admitted under pressure that there was a hole in the party's economic promises.

He said it was "hard to be exact when you're looking so far forward".

A press flunkey was despatched afterwards to apologise.

None of the major economic questions were fielded by Mr Kenny, with Fianna Fail claiming the whole press conference fiasco was another example of attempts to hide Enda.

It should have been a tap-in for Fine Gael. But, once again, they ballooned wide. It was so bad, we think it even went out for a throw-in.