Kenny puts the sods behind him and ploughs ahead


In New Ross the Taoiseach competed for attention with a man demonstrating an electric fence using a potato, writes MIRIAM LORD

FACED WITH a real live Taoiseach in the flesh, the crowd at the Ploughing Championships behaved in a manner befitting the upper echelons of the Labour Party.

(At least that’s how certain members would see it.) Out of earshot of Inda Kinny – for he is forever Inda at the ploughing – some people muttered unkind things about their Taoiseach.

“You’d think there was somebody important here, the way the guards are behaving . . . arragh, it’s only Inda . . . he’s looking a bit shook . . . Chancer . . . I’m not shaking his hand . . .” And then he would turn in their direction and smile and they would beam right back and gurgle “Howya Inda!” while thrusting the young fella forward for a photo.

Talking one way behind his back and saying nice things to his face. It’s only good manners.

According to the disaffected back in Dublin, the same sort of thing happened between Eamon Gilmore and Róisín Shortall this week.

The Tánaiste and his comfortable Ministers offering their full support to embattled Róisín while she fought on a matter of Labour principle with her uncompromising Fine Gael boss in the Department of Health.

But away from the troubled rank and file, in Cabinet cahoots with their Coalition counterparts, Eamon and his Sunset Boys (those retiring grandees on their last lap in power) stabbed idealistic Róisín in the back.

They fell over each other in paying tribute to Róisín yesterday, then slotted Alex White into her job less than 24 hours after her resignation.

Like his Labour colleagues, Enda was very sad to see her go. It was very “regrettable”. But the Coalition had to press on with its programme for government.

Already, there was a sense of “Róisín who?” about the Taoiseach’s exchanges with the media. Questions moved rapidly to the man she left behind – James Reilly. He enjoys the full confidence of his Taoiseach.

Enda seems in awe of his Minister for Health. He kept repeating that James has the most challenging and difficult job in the Government.

Apart from his own, one assumes.

So, now that former junior minister Shortall has been ploughed into the ground, back to the Minister for Health. Does the Taoiseach agree with Leo Varadkar that Dr Reilly’s decision to add two sites in his constituency to the primary care list look like stroke politics? Enda said he had already dealt with that question in the Dáil. No, he didn’t. He waffled around it.

And he did it again yesterday. “Clearly the situation is that we needed to broaden the criteria here and not be subject to the control of vested interests,” he said.

“This is all part of the stimulus package.” He left us all a bit baffled.

But he neither agreed nor disagreed with Leo.

Did the Mullinahone Co-op have cattle or the Minister for Health in mind when assembling its display at the ploughing championships? Fascinating stuff.

First was a “back-scratcher”. (Essential for the successful pulling of strokes.) Next, an unction for “hoof care.” (For those painful foot-in-mouth moments.) Followed by “resuscitators”. (When a political career crashes the critical list.) And finally, “pasture pumps”. (Invaluable when a Minister is put out to grass.)

Speaking of sods, although we wouldn’t wish to put words in Róisín’s mouth, the Taoiseach inspected the handiwork of the ploughmen who are competing for a place in the world championships.

The big contest was the Senior Reversible Plough. Inda was fascinated. Any tips on reversing gratefully received. He could pass them on to James Reilly, who doesn’t come programmed with that particular gear.

There wasn’t much time for the Taoiseach to visit many of the stands. He missed out, for the ploughing festival is a joy.

The livestock section is a must-see.

We earwigged on an intense conversation between two women in one of the cattle sheds. They were leaning on a pen, looking over a pair of contented-looking heifers.

“They were lovely, Maureen, but as soon as I looked at them, I knew. I said: those boots will never fit my calves. My calves are huge.” Did she mean the two heifers? Truly, it’s amazing what you can buy at the Ploughing Championships.

Enormous animal, the Parthenaise cow. (“Light-boned, double muscle.”) Buttocks on their buttocks.

You could see how footwear might be a problem.

Dear God, the smell of silage in the early morning was crucifying. Mixed in with the aroma of frying burgers at the stall across the way, it was enough to make you faint.

The Parthenaise cattle people were running a raffle. A fiver put you in the draw for two frozen embryo. We passed.

Because down the way, at the Aberdeen Angus, they were selling “matrons”. What’s a matron? “How can I say it. She’s been around the block once or twice.” They had a raffle for frozen embryo too, along with frozen semen.

All the breeds had a prize draw. The Irish Belgian Blue society raised the bar. They were raffling an animal, but a banner across their shed enticed a lot of customers. “Win this building!” The sheep aren’t half as glamorous as the cows. But their owners are passionate about them. A Border Leicester was getting a lot of attention. It had long rabbit ears, which the children loved.

“If you breed the Leicester with the West of Ireland Scotch – they’re the horny little ones – you get something like that speckledy-headed one over there” explained a breeder. “Then you put a terminal sire on one and you can breed fat lambs.” James Groake of Stradbally Farm Services was demonstrating the Rolls Royce of electric fences by means of two electrodes and a potato. Farmers stood, spellbound by the continuous crack of the electric current as it fried the potato. “It’s to show the power of the fences. But its pulse energy, so it wouldn’t kill you.”

Fianna Fáil was offering free tea and coffee and the chance to win a hamper.

Fine Gael had Wexford strawberries and the chance to win three meals for two in the Dáil restaurant.

Enda paid a visit, then went to the SuperValu tent where he pretended to cook a stirfry. “I’ve burnt every pan that ever came into the house.” Every second person in the crowd seemed to be talking into a mobile phone.

It’s amazing what you overhear. “Well, I think the best thing is to forge the signature...” one woman was saying. “Have you a number for Marty Morrissey?” asked a man with a stick.

Inda was at home here. Doing what he does best – high-fiving, hugging, smiling. A natural.

He’s a great front-of-house man. But he’s a difficult field to plough after that.