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Lise Hand: Leader tucked up early for fear of catching Cowen's congestion

The sound of gunfire reverberated around the elegant establishment of Carton House yesterday morning -- lifting, perhaps, a few sleepy-heads out of their comfy beds in fright.

Goodness -- was it a mob of angry citizens hell-bent on shooting out the chandeliers at the Labour Party's think-in? Or maybe it was their one-man Wild West show, party chairman, Colm 'Billy the Kid' Keaveney letting off a fresh hail of bullets in the direction of the sheriff, Eamon Gilmore?

But in the end, it transpired that it was nothing more dramatic than a spot of clay-pigeon shooting in the hotel grounds.

And judging by his jovial demeanour at the party pow-wow in Maynooth, the Tanaiste is determined to appear unworried by anyone taking pot-shots.

When asked at the final press conference of the two-day session about a new bout of sniping at the leadership by Kid Keaveney, Eamon simply shrugged.

"The Labour Party has a long history of speaking its mind, of its members speaking their minds, of officers of the party speaking their minds. I encourage it. I welcome it," he insisted.

But there is a bit of bemusement in some quarters about the motormouth Galway East TD who recently put the heart crossways on the IMF with sabre-rattling rhetoric about being on a war-footing for a sudden general election.

Cork South-Central deputy Ciaran Lynch was hobbling about the hotel with the aid of a stick, and when asked what ailed him, cheerfully explained: "I injured myself doing contortions to show Colm how to remove his foot from his mouth."

The Tanaiste was eager to assure all and sundry that the good ship Labour isn't awash with mutinous crew unhappy about the Budget iceberg looming ominously on the horizon.

"I genuinely want to say this -- I'm very proud of our parliamentary party. We have a great team of TDs, senators and MEPs, they make a huge contribution to the debates that we have, about what needs to be done in this country, how we approach issues. I very much appreciate their support," he declared.

However, there is one chap who takes quite a different view of the dreaded date of December 5 -- Kerry's Arthur Spring and his wife Fiona are expecting their first child in early December.

"Budget week," noted Arthur. (Here's hoping for the sake of peace that his party colleague Joan Burton, the minister for Social Protection, doesn't take an axe to the children's allowance, so).

In these post-Garglegate times, all political parties are careful to stress that work is actually done at think-ins, and they're not just an excuse to go on the skite. Leaders in particular go to lengths to ensure that they are tucked up under the sheets at a decent hour, for fear of catching Biffo's congestion before doing the traditional morning-after interview on 'Morning Ireland'.

And Eamon Gilmore was no exception, making his excuses and departing after the dinner on Tuesday night, leaving two of the party's bright sparks, Aodhan O Riordain and Derek Nolan to act as hosts for the rest of the evening and keep the media happy (a formidable task).

But not all their number take such a benign view of the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate. One indignant deputy was overheard giving out yards about the tabloid-shaped section of the press.

"I swear to God if I was found in bed with a sheep, the questions wouldn't be about the sheep, but about how much the hotel-room cost and did the sheep clean out the mini-bar," he spluttered.

Of course you're wrong, deputy. The media would get around to enquiring about the sheep. Eventually.

Irish Independent