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Lise Hand: Eamon proposes live threesome on telly -- but Enda chickens out

IT'S like hearing the first cuckoo of spring. The surest sign that an election is in the air is the first sighting of the politician's feathered friend -- the Campaign Chicken.

And while the Taoiseach has yet to officially put the 30th Dail out of its misery, the hustings hustle is firmly in full swing -- and yesterday the Campaign Chicken made its debut in General Election 2011.

The big yellow bird had been sprung from captivity by Labour Youth and was gleefully cavorting outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday, waving a sign which read, 'What's Enda scared of?' Oh dear. The election starting-gun hasn't even been fired yet and already the avian agitators are after Enda -- aka Kenny Fried Chicken. But Enda can't cry fowl as he brought this barnyard scrap upon himself. Micheal Martin had hopped the debate ball the afternoon before, announcing he had written to him and Eamon Gilmore, challenging the pair to join him in three leadership debates, including one in Irish. And so the Fine Gael leader had ample time to dream up a suitable reply by the time he was faced with a forest of microphones at a breakfast engagement in Dublin yesterday morning.

Instead a reluctant Enda appeared to be in no hurry to tangle with more accomplished verbal swordsmen such as Eamon and Micheal; he favoured a free-for-all fivesome which also includes John Gormley and Sir Grizzly of Adams.

"There is no Taoiseach contesting this election. If we are going to debate the issues, all the leaders are going to be involved," he insisted, adding that the new Fianna Fail boy on the block was in "no position to dictate the trend of the general election".

Inevitably, spontaneous crowing broke out among the opposition. Enda's windiness towards any three-way televised live debates was immediately seized upon by the other parties as an example of Enda acting chicken. Micheal got out his pen again and dashed off a second stern missive to the Fine Gael leader, warning that he and Eamon might bar him from the sandpit. "Should you insist on refusing more debates and more substantive debates than is possible in a five-way format, I will propose to Eamon that we proceed to arrange a series of debates between ourselves," he threatened.

Thrilled to bits that another party leader was in the wars for a change, Fianna Fail promptly landed the old one-two on the Fine Gael leader. Shortly afterwards Micheal was out on the plinth of Leinster House declaring he was "amazed at the response of Enda". And this was followed up by another epistolary uppercut from Chief Whip John Curran.

"The fact that it took his handlers a full 18 hours to come up with it gives a good sense of the concern within the Fine Gael party at the capacity of its leader to engage in serious debate and stand before the Irish people on his own two feet," he jabbed. Then Labour's Ciaran Lynch joined in the fun, explaining that Eamon was fine with the three-way debate plan and deploring the dithering of Enda. Oh this was a right old election-time imbroglio, and the air was thick with disconcerting discussions about the merits of threesomes over five-ways.

The Greens wasted no time sticking their organic oar into the squabble. And of course as one of the smaller parties who'd be left out in the cold, they agreed with Enda.

"In the last number of years those smaller parties have been in government and we have to end this pig-in-a-poke approach to politics," said John. Nor did he think that having five different people shouting the odds into one TV camera would get the weaker speakers (ie Enda) off the hook. "I don't think any leader's going to get an easy ride," he reckoned. But the Greens wouldn't even stop there. For Mary White wanted to get the sisterhood involved in the talkfest too.

"I think we should have a female debate, an all-women debate," she proposed. Ah sure why not? They could all bring freshly baked cakes, it'd be grand.

It was a good first day in the job for Micheal who got a rousing cheer from his parliamentary party as they all posed on the plinth for the traditional Fianna Fail 'family photo'. But more cheeringly for his embattled troops he managed to send Fine Gael into a tizzy by hounding Enda into Gabblegate. And Micheal didn't even have to call him names.

The chicken did it for him.

Irish Independent