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Lise Hand: My goodness, my Gilmore -- Eamon says he won't tax the rich

IT was mighty brave of Eamon Gilmore to hold a swanky election campaign launch in the Gravity Bar in Dublin's Guinness Storehouse, for should anything have gone awry the words "organise," "piss-up" and "brewery" would've been muttered in the same breath by all present.

And it was all going grand as the Labour leader channelled his inner Obama and threw the C-word (change) about like snuff at a wake while his Dublin-based candidates tried not to look out the panoramic windows to check if they could see their constituencies from here.

But then, while explaining to the media that his party would be launching part of its fiscal plan on taxation the following day, he solemnly assured everyone, "we will be committing tomorrow to no increases in income tax rates on incomes of over €100,000".

My goodness, my Guinness.

Had Eamon been nibbling at the black stuff, even though at the early hour of 9am the sun was miles from the nearest yardarm? In the front row Joan Burton was having a fit of the vapours.

"No! No!" she wailed, and suddenly the horrible truth dawned on the Labour leader that he had just pledged not to tax the rich.

"Below! Below! Sorry, sorry," he spluttered aghast, then snapped out a comeback over the roomful of giggles.

"That's the value of leading a political party where all its members are very sharp, on song and understand the message," he joked, but clearly a little rattled to have experienced his very own Blonde Moment, a la Enda or Mary Coughlan.

But what about the bum note struck by one of his trusty lieutenants Pat Rabbitte who turned Mna na hEireann into a collective vengeful Elmer Fudd this week with his smart-arse comments about the new female recruits to Fianna Fail's frontbench?

Eamon gingerly tiptoed through the sexist minefield, pointing out that Pat had apologised "if it caused offence", adding: "there are few people in politics who have done as much to promote the interests of women, both as justice spokesman for the Labour Party and in his time as my predecessor as leader of this party, as Pat Rabbitte has done".

Eamon's troops dutifully applauded. Except for Joan, who grudgingly tapped two fingers together. Uh-oh -- Pat may not be out of the gunsights yet.

And then it was time to hit the road to Carlow-Kilkenny where the party is hoping to regain the Labour seat which Seamus Pattison held from 1961 until he retired at the last general election.

Right on cue, a rain-shower arrived in Kilkenny city at the same time as the Labour leader, but undaunted off he set at a brisk clip down the Main Street surrounded by the two local candidates, Ann Phelan from Kilkenny and Des Hurley from Carlow, and a scrum of reporters, photographers and TV cameras.

The mood in the town was surprisingly good, with few people grilling Eamon on policies. But there was one stark difference from the last campaign over three years ago when our economy was Dead Tiger Walking but we didn't know it yet.

Time after time, person after person recounted how their children and grandchildren had been forced to leave Ireland in search of work. This wasn't an issue back in 2007 -- then our students travelled for the craic and the experience.

Nor is it simply graduates who are off. Nurse Ann Brownlee had returned to Kilkenny from Canada 12 years ago, but was about to leave again to join her three children back in Canada.

She explained she was getting on in years and due to staff shortages that nursing had become too arduous and she was worried about getting sick and being at the mercy of our healthcare system.

"It's not just the young who are leaving," she sadly told Eamon.

But every political walkabout brings forth a character, and this time it was the local Elvis fan Miles Kavanagh.

Sporting blacker-than-black hair and a pair of gold shades and a white King-style jacket, Miles was having a great time with the Labour leader.

"The country's all shook up. Brian Cowen's all shook up!" he proclaimed before giving it welly with a verse of 'The Wonder of You'.

"That's our theme song now," joked Eamon as he sped away, heading towards another walkabout in Carlow.

But even though it was only the first full day of the campaign, disharmony was already breaking out among the main parties with the volatility of various opinion polls adding to the tension.

Eamon is still top of the people's pops for the job of Taoiseach -- but new entry Micheal Martin is up the charts with a bullet in the past week.

Eamon wasn't impressed.

"It's not about individuals, personalities or anything like that," he insisted, before he sniped: "The new leader of Fianna Fail was around the cabinet table with all his colleagues when they made the disastrous decision to provide a blanket guarantee for the banks and he has to take as much responsibility for that as the other ministers."

Chatting to two pensioners in a Carlow cafe, he explained he had been in the Guinness store that morning.

"Gilmore is good for you," he joked to them.

Just remember what they said about Guinness Light, Eamon. They said it couldn't be done -- and they were right.

Irish Independent