Wednesday 24 January 2018

Fine Gael tries to peddle its new back-to-school slate but the public is still not buying the stage-managed image overhaul

Late for class: Leo Varadkar. Pic Tom Burke
Late for class: Leo Varadkar. Pic Tom Burke
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

They are trying to peddle this to us as some sort of a fresh slate. Eoghan Murphy had grown a beard to define a new era of thoughtful energy.

Worse still, Enda was talking about his 'mojo' being back, sparking awkward national conversations between young children and their parents.

All sharpened pencils and fresh copybooks, they are busily reinventing themselves in search of the people's hearts.

Tactic number one involves banding about the word 'spend' - though their widened eyes betray the fact that, secretly, they think this is the most wanton sort of shocking recklessness, which really ought to be curtailed.

Tactic number two sees them trying to convince everyone that when it comes to the circus over Enda's leadership, there is nothing to see here - no matter how many swivelling eyes you can spot as they assemble for the hearty party photographs.

But the public aren't buying Fine Gael's back-to-school vibe, not having had such a nice long refreshing holiday themselves, you see.

And even some party members seemed a little wary of this new 'can do' mood as they dutifully filed into the Keadeen hotel in Newbridge, Co Kildare for the annual think-in.

"I've had enough. It's boring," snorted one, who had slipped out in search of food as soon as he could, pointing out that there was little to be gained by talking budgets when everybody knows that whatever Fianna Fáil says goes anyway.

He spoke darkly of the discontent felt over the failure to publish the two internal reports, looking at the General Election disappointment and the party structure.

"Even though we all already know what's in them," he conceded, almost choking on his sandwich as he suddenly remembered the hipster docklands dungeon put to use as their election headquarters. Words failed him.

"Yes, oh yes, the energy is good," said a backbencher, a shade too brightly, when asked to assess the mood of the room.

With Simon Coveney earlier describing Leo Varadkar on radio as having star appeal, the Social Protection Minister was in ebullient form.

He had arrived late after another opening - this time in rural Kildare - and shied away from questions about the leadership, saying the Taoiseach was entitled to have the time and space to make that decision.

"I've been complaining recently about people writing about me and leadership and I probably feed that by answering too many questions so I'll probably leave it at that," he smiled.

Enda was full of fighting talk at his press conference, sternly addressing the rather tiresome matter of John Halligan's qualms by pointing out that he was "appointed by cabinet" while refusing to state that he has confidence in him.

And what of his mojo, someone queried. The Taoiseach frowned.

"It's my zeal for life in politics," Enda explained rather sharply by way of explanation.

"It's the recovery of meeting the challenge in politics in very difficult situations." There wasn't a flicker of a smile. Clearly Enda's mojo is no trifling matter.

It was all over Michael Noonan's head in any case.

"I think it's a term that comes from soccer," he said, a little bewildered by this side show when we should all be concentrating on more serious things like the tax base.

"I'd be more of a hurling man," he explained.

Irish Independent

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