Sunday 15 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Back-to-school feel as Fine Gael TDs regroup for a spot of gossiping and some mud-slinging'


All smiles: Education Minister Joe McHugh and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe see the funny side at the Fine Gael ‘think-in’ in Garryvoe. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
All smiles: Education Minister Joe McHugh and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe see the funny side at the Fine Gael ‘think-in’ in Garryvoe. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Leo Varadkar had a great summer.

We know because he told his Fine Gael colleagues as they gathered at the beachside in Cork for one last bash before the Dáil returns.

Unfortunately for them the weather has already switched seasons and a distinctly agricultural smell overpowered the sea air.

"There's a real back-to-school feel," Education Minister Joe McHugh cheered as they arrived for the obligatory family photo.

Of course, the kids go back to school in August now, but let's not dwell on that too much.

In fairness, it has been a busy summer for our politicians. Not so much because they were beaten down with work, but we've all been exhausted watching events in Westminster.

By the time the Taoiseach arrived in Garryvoe most of the clan were already in-situ waiting on their instructions for the season ahead.

His entrance was signalled by camera flashes, which seem to automatically summon female politicians to his side.

Mary Mitchell O'Connor was straight in for the kill. Well, actually it was a kiss on the cheek, but either way there's a high chance she'll be pictured in some of the papers today.

With the group shot out of the way, the TDs, senators and some election candidates retired to the ballroom to hear from their great leader.

The media hounds were kept out, but his contribution was helpfully press-released.

"I had a great summer. I got around the country a lot and also got a break. But there is nowhere I would rather be than in Government, and in the Taoiseach's office," he said before launching into a list of Fine Gael's greatest hits.

Everything from free GP care to paternity benefit to subsidised childcare got a mention.

The emphasis of 'family matters' is because Fine Gael is test-driving some ideas ahead of an election campaign. That was the other thing Leo told the troops. He wants the election to be in May 2020.

Apparently it would be the "right moment". You see, it would allow him another jaunt to the White House. Let's be honest, getting attacked on Twitter by Donald Trump would be a real vote-getter.

There's also an EU Council meeting in March that he wants to go to because by then they might actually be talking about something other than Brexit. That's not a given though.

And when the election comes, Fine Gael will be focusing on the 'four Bs': Brexit, the Budget, balanced regional development, and a better deal for families.

Number five is 'beef', but Minister Michael Creed is hoping to have that resolved before the Ploughing next week. Otherwise, Leo might be even more uncomfortable at it than he usually is.

The Taoiseach left room in his speech to have a cut at Fianna Fáil, which is standard: "They have no solutions. No policies. No plans. And they do not have the team to match ours."

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan was getting great delight out of a description of the Fianna Fáil TDs by one of their councillors as an out-of-shape football team.

"Well, Fine Gael are fighting fit," he declared as Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe nearly buckled over laughing.

Normally the 'think-ins' are a good opportunity for a bit of mud-slinging at the other crowd and gossiping about your own. However, such are the times that we live in that even the 'Guardian' and Sky News are interested this year.

But they'll be sadly disappointed. By the time Richard Bruton was briefing everyone on his Climate Action Plan, many of the hacks were testing the swings across at the beach. They came with clear safety instructions, including that there should be no drink in the playground.

Yet for all the cynicism there is some value to these away days. One minister remarked on how it took so long to get down because he hit the M50 at the wrong time.

Bruton may well have discovered the perils of using broadband in rural Ireland.

And there was plenty of beef on the menu for last night's dinner.

So by the time they all decamp to Carlow next week for the Ploughing, the minister can justifiably say they understand what's going on in rural Ireland.

Irish Independent

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