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fury simmers as budget looms

FOR so long they were on the side of the protesters -- but Fine Gael has just learned a lesson about government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his 98 parliamentarians had to run the gauntlet of angry voters as they arrived in Galway for their annual autumn gathering.

Unlike the days of old there was no fear of this think-in turning into a drink-in. No, it was rather sober affair with warnings of Budget cuts and septic tank taxes.

Fine Gael chairman Charlie Flanagan acknowledged the difficult Budget decisions ahead as he addressed the delegates before they sat down to a three-course meal.

But he was equally keen to impress upon them the fact that 99 was a record number of Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs to assemble for a think-in, following February's election success.


"This is the largest gathering of the Fine Gael parliamentary party that we've ever had," he said.

Following the meal, some gathered in the Radisson bar, with the Taoiseach mingling with the crowd.

But there was to be no repeat of Brian Cowen's infamous 'Garglegate' controversy last year, with the top brass making their excuses early. Those who stayed on claimed the mood in Fine Gael was upbeat and they were delighted with how Mr Kenny had performed as Taoiseach.

One said: "The role of Taoiseach has made him. He's showing qualities a lot of people never knew he had."

Those same TDs were also quick to dismiss any talk of a rift between Fine Gael

and Labour following concerns raised about Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's performance in Cabinet. One said: "There's nothing in it. Enda and Eamon have a good relationship."

However, some were concerned about the backlash they expect when the Government introduces a tough Budget in December.

One said: "People won't like it. They know how bad things are, but that doesn't make it any easier. We know it'll be difficult."

They also understood why protesters had gathered outside the hotel as the think-in got under way. Around 35 people, students and Roscommon Hospital Action Committee protesters, gathered outside the hotel during the day.

One TD said: "These are tough times and they want to direct their anger somewhere."