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Lise Hand: Keeping up with Kenny -- Labour does it in style

NOW this is posh. Seriously fancy-schmancy altogether. Up to 1,200 acres of rolling verdant grounds, ancestral seat of the Earls of Kildare and Dukes of Leinster, inhabited by all sorts of animals -- a herd of red deer, badgers, otters, foxes, owls, buzzards, hawks, falcons, bats and, eh, the Labour parliamentary party.

For anything Fine Gael can do, their coalition partners can do better.

So while the Blueshirts swanned about the lovely Knockranny House Hotel in Westport for their two-day think-in, it was a case of Keeping Up with Kenny for the Labour Party.

And so they settled into the luxurious surrounds of Carton House in Maynooth, no less, former haunt of royal luminaries such as Queen Victoria and Princess Grace of Monaco.

Moreover, recently it hosted the sporting likes of the Real Madrid football team -- what's good enough for Ronaldo is good enough for Gilmore.

Certainly one immediate advantage of the location became clear during the long, long drive through the golf-course and demesne before the splendid building materialised into view. Its prodigious distance from any public thoroughfare would discourage any wanna-be protesters from making the trek to the hotel front door and thus the rowdy scenes from Labour's ard fheis in NUI Galway last spring were unlikely to get a re-run.

So would there be a fabulous parliamentary party party? Would it be a superabundance of smoked salmon and a cornucopia of caviar? And why did the Labour ladies and gentlemen choose such a salubrious venue for their think-in -- and one indeed that isn't included on SIPTU's Fair Hotels list?

Standing in the lovely walled garden of Carton House at the press conference yesterday, the Tanaiste was suffering no qualms of conscience about their sumptuous choice of venue.

"As regards the hotel, we got a good deal from the hotel, we got meeting-rooms for €450 for two days, and I think it's a sign of the times that deals of various kinds are now available and I hope that will help to boost our tourism numbers in the course of the year," he declared.

Eamon was still consumed by the hurling drama which unfolded in Croker last weekend, but alas for the Galwayman, the media were more interested in eliciting his opinions on the other Croke Park business.

Eamon was adamant that he and the Taoiseach were both on the same team on this thorny issue.

Indeed, he stressed on several occasions that he and Enda are still warbling from the same political hymn-sheet, and chortled merrily at any notion that the Taoiseach was mulling over the prospect of a snap re-shuffle of the Cabinet.

Now this particular question arose after Enda had decided to wind up the Fine Gael foot-soldiers at their think-in dinner the previous evening, when he quipped that we wanted his team to climb the vertiginous slopes of Croagh Patrick.

"If they're not up and down in an hour and a half, they've no chance in a re-shuffle," he told his quaking audience.

The Tanaiste wasn't about to start panicking. "I thought he made it very clear that he was cracking a joke -- the Taoiseach cracks very good jokes -- and I think that was one of his better ones," he grinned cheerily.

However, some of his back- room team were pondering what sort of similar endurance test Eamon could foist on his troops. "Maybe those who are able to listen to the most old Michael D Higgins speeches should get promoted," mused one irreverent soul -- the length of the learned perorations by our now-President have passed into legend.

After an afternoon spent discussing issues such as the economy and the forthcoming Budget, the Labour party settled down for dinner. It didn't quite match the Fine Gael smorgasbord of fare, but was still a respectable three courses of either Goat's Cheese Tartlet or Chicken Vol-au-Vent, a main course selection of Duo of Salmon and Sea Bream or Fillet of Beef with a selection of vegetables, and finally an assiette of desserts.

The Labour party think-in continues today with more discussions, followed by a spot of huntin', shootin' and fishin'. (Ah no, only joking).

Irish Independent