No meeting of the waters between leaders

Taoiseach and Tánaiste dance around water charges issue in election push

Eamon Gilmore and  Enda Kenny in Mullingar  at the official launch of the nationwide system of Local Enterprise Offices. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny in Mullingar at the official launch of the nationwide system of Local Enterprise Offices. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland


They got a lovely day for the rolling out of the Local Election Opportunities.

But things turned a bit frosty when it came to the unveiling of the Mullingar Discord.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste joined forces yesterday morning to officially launch the “LEOs” at a special reception in the headquarters of Westmeath County Council.

In a nod to the Mullingar Discord, they gave a display of watery smiles and wishy-washy replies and then gave each other a wide berth.

Many in the crowd thought the event was to mark the opening of a network of Local Enterprise Offices. But that’s hardly a new story: the Government has been banging on about them for some time.

The big election push, on the other hand, is only getting started. Yesterday’s event was a prime example of a good Local Election Opportunity for the Government leaders.

But this LEO could have been so much better for them. Their reheated message about improved State support for small businesses swirled down the plughole when it became clear the Coalition is still at odds over water charges.

As a result, conditions were far from ideal for the morning’s launch. No disrespect to Westmeath and Mullingar, but the politicians might have been better off moving proceedings down to Wicklow and the Meeting of the Waters.

It had been reported that Kenny and Gilmore would discuss their respective positions over the charges before their joint engagement yesterday morning. They met upstairs in the council offices before walking down together to the function.

Issue of water
However, while they were very happy to proceed with the official pleasantries – five speeches on job creation from Enda, Eamon, two Ministers and the council chairman – they danced around and away from questions on the issue of water.

If the Fine Gael and Labour leaders had just privately discussed it, the only conclusion to be drawn from their subsequent actions and utterances was that things didn’t go too well.

The happiest man on the podium was Richard Bruton, whose only role was to talk about enterprise. Phil Hogan – as Minister for the Environment, the other man in this affair – didn’t improve matters by smirking and making faces when the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were asked about differences between their parties on the water issue.

The best either could manage on when the matter might be settled was “in the not too distant future”. But what they had to say was telling.

Gilmore pointedly concentrated on the metering and “the ability to pay and so on” while Kenny wittered on about leaks, purity of water, the state of the nation’s pipes and the reservoir in Ballymore Eustace. Big Phil said he agreed with what both of them said and earned himself a laugh from the audience. But not from Gilmore. Kenny didn’t look best pleased either. But they didn’t have to suffer too much – their media handlers made sure of that.

Journalists were not given a proper chance to question either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste. Instead media questions were tacked on to the end of the speeches, as if part of the entertainment programme. Kenny and Gilmore held forth happily from the platform about job creation and then skirted around the water charges.

There was no chance of follow-up questions (an official controlled access to the microphone) from the few journalists seated near the back of the large, double-height lobby, which was packed with guests.

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste escaped being asked about his leadership of the Labour Party and, like the Taoiseach, was not saying anything outside of the stage-managed Q&A session.

There were presentations to mark the visit – Clonmacnoise serving platters for the politicians.

Enda first and then Eamon. Enda held up his platter and invited Bruton to hold it with him. They looked like winners of the tennis doubles at the Fine Gael sports day.

But Big Phil had one arm as long as the other. Eamon didn’t invite him to hold his platter, shooting the Environment Minister a look which said he would have preferred to see his head on it.

Then Enda went off to shake hands and pose for photographs in one end of the expansive foyer. Eamon went in the other direction. Both in the painful throes of hydrophobia.

Will they sort their differences out today? It seems unlikely.

The Taoiseach pressed the flesh as he visited trade stands set up by local small businesses.

His eyes lit up at the Olivia Chocolate display. A woman gave him a large chocolate chicken in a box.

“Meet my chick!” gurgled the Taoiseach. “Chuck, chuck, chuck . . .” A classic LEO there.
Beats having to answer questions. Eamon had already left. He was going to have to meet his troublesome European election candidate, Phil Prendergast, later in the evening at a reception in Dublin for EU parliament president Martin Schulz.

‘An elephant’
Phil has enlivened the elections no end by calling for her party leader’s resignation and comparing him “to an elephant cantering around the room breaking things”.

This Labour event was held in the RHA gallery in Dublin, where one presumes they removed all valuables before the Tánaiste’s arrival. Just in case.

Eamon and Phil met beforehand, at her request, to clear the air.

They had a “cordial” meeting, according to Phil.

“A very frank discussion,” according to Eamon, emphasising the word “frank”.

Both agreed to put the current difficulty behind them and move on. They shook hands.

We cannot confirm if the Tánaiste then attempted to break his Clonmacnoise platter over Phil’s head.

As for the Taoiseach, he had an important series of LEOs to do after his stint in Mullingar.

He headed off to Cavan, Monaghan, Louth and Meath as part of his nationwide tour.

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