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Michael Brennan: Kenny's obedient colleens have their leader surrounded

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FG leader Enda Kenny surrounded by female election candidates Catherine Byrne of Dublin South Central, Marcella Corcoran of Laois-Offaly, Mary Mitchell O'Connor of Dun Laoghaire, and Fidelma Healy Eames of Galway West

FG leader Enda Kenny surrounded by female election candidates Catherine Byrne of Dublin South Central, Marcella Corcoran of Laois-Offaly, Mary Mitchell O'Connor of Dun Laoghaire, and Fidelma Healy Eames of Galway West

FG leader Enda Kenny surrounded by female election candidates Catherine Byrne of Dublin South Central, Marcella Corcoran of Laois-Offaly, Mary Mitchell O'Connor of Dun Laoghaire, and Fidelma Healy Eames of Galway West

'EVERYONE in a circle around Enda." That was the instruction to Fine Gael's 100-plus general election hopefuls in Dublin's Mansion House as the party continued to promote its under-fire leader yesterday.

The female contingent, of which there are just 14, were most obedient, squashing in close to their leader, with Dun Laoghaire candidate Mary Mitchell O'Connor even managing to grab hold of him with her well-manicured black nails.

The family photo was taken from a cherrypicker that took the photographers high into the air and gave them a few jolts on the way down to the ground.

But even with his latest team huddled around him, Mr Kenny still struggled to shake off questions about his refusal so far to take part in anything other than a five-way televised leaders' debate.

"I want the people of the country to have access and hear the plans of all the leaders of all the parties. And I can't understand, for the life of me, why some people seem to be inclined to exclude some party leaders from some debates," he said.

And what about the latest opinion poll finding that Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was more popular than him after less than a week in the job?

"I don't comment on polls but I'm quite sure if you go back and ask . . . those people to look at their salary cheques, they might change their opinion very quickly," he said.

Mr Kenny had been more comfortable earlier in the Mansion House, chosen partly because of its historical significance as the location of the First Dail in 1919. Mr Kenny's director of elections Phil Hogan talked about how no one worked harder than Enda and then called on the "next Taoiseach" to enter.

Mr Kenny strode into the Oak Room to the sound of applause from the assembled general election candidates. Some of the 102 "proud and committed men and women" he welcomed were missing because they were canvassing in their constituencies, but he was close enough.

Mr Kenny stuck to his script in the town hall-style meeting, promising to "Get Ireland working again".

He spoke about his party's five-point plan to create jobs, keep taxes low, introduce a new universal insurance health system, cut public spending and reduce the cost of politics. And he told teachers, gardai, nurses and council workers they would be protected from his party's planned 30,000 public sector job cuts because of the "essential services" they provided.

Mr Kenny's most effective story was about a husband and wife he met last week, who had always made an annual donation to the St Vincent de Paul. But things had changed, with the man telling Mr Kenny he was now waiting for the St Vincent de Paul to visit him.

"They come at night, under cover of darkness, to keep people's dignity.

"Maybe Fianna Fail's coming period in the dark might teach them such lessons of dignity and compassion," Mr Kenny said.

Irish Independent