Lise Hand: Team breathes sigh of relief as Enda gets in crucial tackle
'In 2007 the people wanted show business . Today the Irish people may decide they
don't want show business'
THERE was a kind of hush in the Aviva Stadium yesterday -- the epicentre of the leafiest of leafy Dublin suburbia.
It was the kind of stillness which descends on the stands during the final dying moment of a Six Nations match, when Ireland are trailing by two points and Ronan is lining up a last-gasp penalty kick.
But yesterday this hush was different -- it was the sound of a few hundred Fine Gael supporters holding their breath.
For like the supporters of the green jersey, the Blueshirt faithful have been agonisingly close to victory before, only to have it wrested from them or ebb away as the team made stupid mistakes or gave away frees.
It was in the final week of the last general election in 2007 when it became clear that the tide had turned against them and that the hitherto unfancied FF was destined to pull off a miraculous hat-trick.
However, this time they appear to be playing with the wind to their backs and have even built up a bit of a lead. But there's no complacency, no victory vuvuzelas, no hasty counting of chickens before the final whistle is blown on Friday.
Last week at a town hall meeting in Listowel, a battle-scarred supporter had one heartfelt request to make to Enda from the floor: "The important thing now is, we've seen other Fine Gael leaders make mistakes in a run-in to an election -- don't put a foot wrong from here on in," he pleaded.
And this nervousness was evident among the troops who assembled in the Aviva Stadium for a rally yesterday afternoon.
As the crowds streamed in, one seasoned Dublin candidate fretted: "I just don't want anything to go wrong at this stage. What if something terrible happens this week?"
So it seems that both the party faithful and the candidates are waiting for the sky to fall in, for the pratfall, the banana skin, for the dagger from behind the arras, wielded by an opposition assassin which will see Fine Gael snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
And at lunchtime yesterday Micheal Martin stuck the knife into Enda and twisted it with relish, honing in on a story about the Fine Gael leader's pension and severance pay relating to his former career as a teacher.
"I just discovered this morning that Enda Kenny was due this April to get a €100,000 lump sum and €30,000 per annum despite the fact he has only been in the classroom for four years," Micheal said on Radio One. "I think that's wrong," he added, accusing Fine Gael of "rank hypocrisy" on the issue.
This is the sort of charge which gives the jitters to the ranks of blueshirts looking out for signs of too much dithering or foostering or delay.
So would Enda fumble this curveball pass from Micheal? It wouldn't be a propitious time to do so. A sizeable crowd was streaming through the doors, including the candidates from the city's northside who all arrived together on the DART.
"Would that be the Blue Line?" wisecracked one bystander. There were young Fine Gaelers hoisting star-shaped signs bearing buzzwords from the five-point plan, and the candidates' teams waving life-sized cut-outs of Leo Varadkar and Lucinda slogans and there were yellow Fine Gael flags and T-shirts and posters of all the 24 Dublin runners hanging from the balcony railing.
They even had a special MC. George Hook of Newstalk (that's the station with the slogan 'Get the news without the State-run spin') donned his blue cheerleader's outfit and did warm-up for Enda.
Referring to the party's near-miss in the 2007 election, George said: "The people wanted show business, and Kenny didn't do show business. And today we find that the Irish people in their hour of need may also decide they don't want show business," he declared to fervent but cautious applause from a crowd wary of hexing the whole bloody thing.
Finally -- after George had introduced all the Dublin runners -- Enda arrived onstage in a flurry of posters, placards, staff and supporters. Surrounded by a circle of candidates, he spoke for 15 minutes, explaining (once again) the party's five-point plan. But then he tackled Micheal Martin's criticism head-on. "This party has conducted itself with decorum and dignity in this election campaign," he said.
"But in the true tradition of those involved with the Soldiers of Destiny and the Fianna Fail party, they've descended to a new level of guttersnipe politics which I heard today by none other than the leader of the Fianna Fail party. I have not drawn one red cent from that profession in the past 30 years," he declared.
"Micheal Martin should resign his position as a teacher tomorrow morning," he counter-attacked as the crowd cheered.
And he hammered home the point by booting the ball further up the park.
"In case anybody has any illusions that the leader of the Fine Gael party is any way involved in a money situation here, I will not be accepting any pension from the teaching profession, and I hope that those who are at 50 years of age, running away from Dail Eireann on pensions of €100,000 for the rest of their lives, think about what they are doing," he concluded.
All around the Aviva room was the sound of held breath being exhaled.
Until tomorrow, at least.