Gilmore plays up the positive as party support begins to stabilise
THE OPTICS were poor, in fairness. In through the stately, massive gates, up an interminable avenue weaving through hundreds of acres of golf course, crossing an old stone bridge over the river Liffey, before reaching the beautiful, 18th-century Palladian house that was once the country seat of the first duke of Leinster.
A superior double room in Carton House tonight would set you back €220 and residents will tell you it’s worth every cent. Still, it’s probably not quite what the party’s founding fathers had in mind for what its current leader called the annual away day. If they ever had an away day.
But Eamon Gilmore defended it robustly in the traditional “media doorstep” before the formal proceedings. They got a good deal from the hotel, he said, as Emmet Stagg solicitously plucked an autumn leaf from the dear leader’s hair. “We got meeting rooms for €450 for two days. And it’s a sign of the times that deals of various kinds are now available in the hotel and tourism sector . . .”
He didn’t mention the upset experienced by Labour staff when protests turned physical at the party’s annual conference in Galway in April. More than anything else, said a party source, that determined the criteria for the next venue – gates and high walls.
Yesterday, as well as a garda or two stationed around the gates, 10 staff from a private security firm were also on duty, all on heightened alert after a call warning them to expect some kind of incursion at 4pm. The hour came and went without any further excitement.
Back inside, the participants were bright-eyed, relaxed, almost skittish.
What was wrong with them? “It’s down to sex. Sex and poetry,” declared a giddy senior member.
“We’re just back off our holidays. Give it time,” said another plaintively.
Gilmore was asked if there were any nerves about the reshuffle the Taoiseach had, um, jokily mentioned at the Fine Gael dinner in Westport.
“I heard what he said on Morning Ireland and I thought he made it very clear that he was cracking a joke.” Pause. “The Taoiseach cracks very good jokes – I think that was one of his better ones,” he added in meaningful tones.
“Have you never heard the expression, ‘Beware the man who laughs whose stomach does not move’?” asked Irish Times man Deaglán de Bréadún, a tad mordantly.
The Labour leader laughed, though the crush made it hard to see if his stomach was moving. “I haven’t heard that one recently, no.”
Local lad Emmet Stagg got to welcome everyone and reminded them they were now in a Labour stronghold and that the county had been represented by a Labour TD since 1922. “Bill Norton served for over three decades and was party leader for most of that time. Eamon has about another 25 years to go as leader to match Bill Norton’s record,” he declared, grinning over his leader. “So you can smile at that”.