Opinion Lise Hand

Saturday 19 October 2019

Enda wants to reassure Mayo that potholed roads are paved with gold

Taoiseach Enda Kenny opens a bottle bank in his hometown of Castlebar, Co Mayo
Taoiseach Enda Kenny opens a bottle bank in his hometown of Castlebar, Co Mayo

Lise Hand

It's a Monday morning, you're running a country which has just tottered out of the most calamitous economic collapse in its history. You have some tricky events looming, including the setting-up of a fiendishly complicated commission of investigation, and also an important meeting with David Cameron in Downing Street regarding Britain's referendum on quitting the EU.

So what do you do on a Monday? Well, if you're Enda Kenny, Fine Gael TD for Mayo, you travel the short distance from home to a Castlebar car park to open a new underground bottle bank. Not a money bank, but a bottle bank.

The Taoiseach has been a very busy man of late around his constituency. For several months he has been conspicuous by his presence around his political patch, on Fridays and Mondays in particular. For instance, last Friday morning he officially opened the extensive refurbishment of Our Lady's School in Belmullet, and then that evening he opened a pub, the Connaught Inn in Castlebar, before officially launching the new marina at Lough Beltra outside his home town.

His recent ubiquity around his turf can only be reminiscent of the relentless patrolling of Dublin Central for which his predecessor, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, was famous - a politician who, a couple of hours after delivering a historic address to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster in May 2007, was back in Drumcondra, knocking on doors and looking for votes.

So why was Enda in a bottle bank in Castlebar yesterday rather than attending to the business of the nation in Government Buildings? The answer is simple - the starting gun has actually sounded on the next general election, but like those silent, ultrasonic whistles audible only to dogs, this starting gun has been heard only by ultra-vigilant politicians. And despite strolling home at the top of the poll with more than 17,000 votes in 2011, the Taoiseach is now fretting over his constituency.

For the early elation in Castlebar over the elevation of a local son to the office of Taoiseach rapidly dissipated when the town and wider hinterlands didn't subsequently find its potholed roads paved with gold, or funding for schools, sports clubs and suchlike flowing like fine claret at a FIFA banquet.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring patch of Westport, the junior minister for tourism and sport and indefatigable political operator Michael Ring was busily ensuring that his town benefited from his useful portfolio, spawning jokes such as the Wild Atlantic Way was to be renamed the Ring Road.

The Taoiseach's wake-up call arrived with last year's local elections. His brother, Councillor Henry Kenny, barely retained his seat. According to the poll-topper, Independent Michael Kilcoyne: "People were told at the last general election that having a Taoiseach from Mayo would work miracles better than Knock, but as a county we've been crucified."

Since that election, the Taoiseach's attentions have turned to the West with a vengeance. The dilemma of having four sitting Fine Gael TDs in a constituency that has dropped from five seats to four was solved by persuading John O'Mahony to contest the next election in Galway West, leaving Kenny, Ring and Michelle Mulherin to slug it out.

"The trouble is, Enda doesn't want to just win in Mayo, he wants to top the poll again," said one insider. "But there's a good chance that either Michael Ring or Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary will take the top spot and that would drive him mad."

The rivalry between Enda Kenny and Michael Ring has intensified of late, prompting a local wit to describe the duo as "like John and Mary from 'Father Ted' - publicly they're lovey-dovey but behind the scenes they kill each other".

And so the Taoiseach's body as well as his mind is increasingly in Mayo. In February he hired Castlebar party activist Jack O'Donnell on a €50,000-a year salary to boost his profile in the local media.

And it appears to have worked, with Enda now frequently popping up on Mid-West Radio.

And - figuratively speaking - the potholes of Castlebar are getting filled. Last weekend, he announced a €180m power station for Mayo with the prospect of 350 jobs for a region badly in need of employment; nor was it a coincidence that the Chinese premier Li Keqiang ended up on a Mayo farm last month.

Such is the level of activity in Mayo, suspicious minds believe the general election will be sooner (2015) rather than later (2016). So, surely the Taoiseach should be keeping his eye on the bigger game of a still-fragile economic recovery rather than being distracted by constituency dogfights.

Between patch-patrolling and pothole filling, could it be that Enda Kenny is now more Bertie than Bertie Ahern?

Irish Independent

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