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Enda puts the boot into Vincent over three-way debate hoohah

It had been a largely uneventful day on the campaign trail until the Roscrea Refusenik decided to take out Vincent Browne with an unmerciful tackle which would've brought tears to the flinty eyes of a Tipperary hurler.

The whole debate hoohah of threesomes versus five-ways has stuck to Enda Kenny like dog-doo clings to a shoe. No matter where he goes on the hustings, he can't shake off the noxious claims that he's running scared of a head-to-head-to-head between himself, Eamon Gilmore and Micheal Martin.

And so at a doorstep interview in Roscrea yesterday afternoon, with the clock ticking towards TV3's proposed three-leader debate next Tuesday, Enda hurled a fresh curve-ball into the kerfuffle. For not only was he against the notion of a three-way debate, but he was also against having any truck with its moderator.

Asked if he would be happy to take part in a showdown chaired by Vincent, Enda let fly. "Certainly not, and I'll tell you why," he retorted. "Vincent Browne on his television programme advised that I as the leader of my party should take a bottle of whiskey and a gun and go into a dark room. Now I would say to Vincent Browne directly I've been in hundreds of homes around the country where the tragedy of suicide inflicted pain and stress and deep tragedy on many families in Ireland and I will not participate in any programme that Vincent Browne has anything to do with," he stated flatly.

The broadcaster had made this remark on his show in the middle of the frenzied Fine Gael heave against Enda last year, but swiftly apologised as it had indeed been insensitive.

But what was one to make of Enda's attack? Was he genuinely outraged at the crass nature of his comment, or was it simply a cynical wheeze to dodge the TV3 bunfight?

Well, two things were for sure: firstly the Roscrea Refusenik breathed more life into this tiresome squabble. Fianna Fail were beside themselves with joy and couldn't get the gloating press-releases out fast enough to crow over Enda the Unready and brand him a ditherer, a scaredy-cat and a yellow blueshirt.

But the second thing for sure is that the fraught topic of TV debates has yet to be mentioned by any voter encountered along the campaign trail this week. Lots of subjects cropped up but nobody was grilling the candidates about whether three or five-person debates were preferable.

The electorate is angry, very angry, and it's not over the failure of Enda to engage with Vinnie. Everywhere the FG leader went yesterday, people were seething, hopping mad, looking for reassurance that a new government would make any difference at all.

Outside Portlaoise shopping centre, the frustration poured out of Dubliner Michelle O'Shea. "We shouldn't be saddled with this debt, we didn't cause it," she insisted.

Time after time, people brought home to Enda the plight of the country. In Roscrea, Ann Marie Walsh from local food company The Tipperary Kitchen, demanded to know "what are you going to do about the local towns? I was in Cahir last week and there's nothing in the centre -- the blood's being dragged out of it".

Enda wisely made no promises to any of them. The people aren't in the mood for false hope. And maybe the reason that this campaign has failed to spark into life is because it's a Hairshirt Election with no sackful of goodies being dangled in front of voters. And perhaps this is why a sideshow like the debate is hogging the headlines.

By late afternoon Enda was in Moneygall, the town which lays claim to Barack Obama. So was Enda looking forward to meeting the real thing in the White House on Paddy's Day?

Enda spotted that trap a mile off. "I wouldn't presume anything about that opportunity," he said carefully.

But you could see it in his eyes. He really really wants to go to Washington as Taoiseach. But not even for that will he brave the fangs of Vincent Browne.

Irish Independent