Monday 19 February 2018

Lise Hand: Wary of a voting exodus, Enda parts from the Red C

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny strides out yesterday with the party's justice spokesman Alan Shatter (right) and spokesman on children Charlie Flanagan (left) following a press briefing on political reform at The Clarence Hotel, Dublin
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny strides out yesterday with the party's justice spokesman Alan Shatter (right) and spokesman on children Charlie Flanagan (left) following a press briefing on political reform at The Clarence Hotel, Dublin
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

'He ducked and side-stepped, anything to avoid uttering the two words "majority government"'

IT was as if the latest favourable opinion poll brought them all out of the woodwork. Who knew there were so many well-dressed men who were fervent supporters of Fine Gael? But there they all were yesterday morning, wandering in their droves around Dublin's Temple Bar sporting 'les chemises bleues'.

Alas for Enda these particular well-pressed blue shirts were proclaiming the wearers' fealty to the French rugby team rather than his own squad (although Big Phil Hogan would be a handy sub for Sebastien Chabal if Les Bleus were stuck).

However, on the evidence of yesterday's poll it looks increasingly likely that Fine Gael won't require the vote of the men from Montpellier to carry them over the line in two weeks' time.

In fact, not only is the shiny winners' cup within their grasp, but they may also be in touching-distance of the holy grail of elections -- an overall majority.

But there's many a slip twixt cup and trip to the Aras. Enda's captaincy isn't inspirational a la Brian O'Driscoll -- he's known to fumble passes or drop the ball altogether, and there still persists a lingering suspicion that all his squad aren't fully united behind him.

And now that his party's the clear frontrunner, the opposition teams will be gunning for him and there'll be flying tackles coming at him from all sides -- he'll face a flurry of boots tonight when he lines up with the other four party leaders for the 'Frontline' debate on RTE.

"Yeah, I understand that they're coming after me, but let them," declared Enda with a flash of feistiness yesterday.

He was in the Clarence Hotel launching Fine Gael's plan to hold a 'Constitution Day', upon which the Irish citizenry will vote on a whole raft of political reforms/ overhauls/abolitions and amendments in a sort of compendium referendum.

Flanked by his mauler-in-chief Phil Hogan, and also Alan Shatter and Charlie Flanagan, who are no strangers to the odd political ruck, Enda had a tactically tricky path to tread -- it's a fine line between expressing confidence and avoiding the sort of smug arrogance which propels politicians to put up big voter-spooking posters warning, 'Single Party Government -- No Thanks'.

And so he ducked and weaved and side-stepped and shimmied, anything to avoid uttering the two words -- 'majority government' -- which are the kiss-of-death for a campaigning party.

The question was thrown at him in several ways, beginning with the Red C poll -- which saw his party rise by three points up to 38pc.

"I'm not going to be distracted by any particular poll," he dodged.

"There'll be no complacency from Fine Gael here," he added.

Despite various balls being hopped in his direction, Enda wouldn't be drawn on the matter of possible post-election configurations.

"We don't have any agreement with any other party going into this election. On the last occasion we had a platform with the Labour Party in regard to a number of matters, and people on that occasion said that we weren't offering them any choice, there is no difference between the parties. Well, on this occasion there is real choice," he reckoned.

But still the questions were lobbed at him. What about the Green Party?

Assuming that anyone of the six outgoing deputies actually survive the election bloodbath, would he consider including them in any alliance?

"I did give John Gormley credit for the introduction of the very popular Dublin bike scheme, which I've used myself on a number of occasions, and which has gone done very well," he evaded. "The only people we've ruled out are Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail," he stated without hesitation.

Nor did he hold back from launching a kick at the Sinn Fein president -- and more unusually he played the man (Gerry Adams) and not the ball (Sinn Fein's policies).

"I don't get on with him that well actually," he said, dismissively.

Oddly, given all the palaver which surrounded Enda's refusal to take part in last week's TV3 debate, Enda seemed unbothered by the prospect of what could be a belligerent bunfight with Eamon Gilmore, Micheal Martin, John Gormley and Gerry Adams.

In fact, he's so unfazed by the debate that he's nipping over to Germany for a meeting with Angela Merkel during the day -- a meeting later scoffingly described by Micheal Martin as a "photo-opportunity" to make Enda "look prime-ministerial". (Wouldn't it be shocking if his return flight was delayed, and RTE had to borrow that empty chair from TV3.)

Afterwards Enda and the others strolled out on to the quays for a photo-call. Passing cars and vans beeped and he cheerily waved back like a chap without a worry in the world.

He knows victory is close, and he also knows it's Fine Gael's -- and his -- to lose. It could get rough from now on in, and it won't just be Enda's policies which will be under close scrutiny, but his bottle.

If he doesn't display steady hands and a swift boot, Enda yet could be singing les bleus.

Irish Independent

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