Taoiseach trips up adding final piece to campaign

Enda Kenny almost comes a cropper under the gaze of lurking assassin Katherine Zappone

 Richard Bruton, Enda Kenny and  Alan Shatter with Fine Gael’s ‘giant prop’. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Richard Bruton, Enda Kenny and Alan Shatter with Fine Gael’s ‘giant prop’. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Thu, Oct 3, 2013, 01:00

Enda was going to be at the bandstand in St Stephen’s Green with “a giant prop”.

Oh, Fine Gael. With these photo opportunities, you really are spoiling us.

The press, of course, turned out in droves. Woozy with
anticipation.

Giant prop? Our money was on Big Phil Hogan. Although those of a more sporting frame of mind fantasised about the Taoiseach coaxing The Bull Hayes out of rugby retirement to lend a bit of heft to their final media briefing before tomorrow’s twin referendums.

They are not identical twins.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter graced the occasion, nursing along his forgotten little referendum as the big question of the Upper House continued to hog the limelight.

“Don’t forget the court of appeal,” he plaintively pleaded when the Seanad shenanigans drew to a close beside the duck pond. But before Enda’s giant prop could be revealed, there was the matter of his junior coalition partner’s last press conference of the campaign.

Again, there was barely a look-in for the court of appeal referendum runt.

In truth, there wasn’t a huge amount of interest either in the Labour hierarchy’s last push for a Yes vote. Their dire showing in the latest opinion poll and the relationship between the leader and his deputy was of primary concern to Eamon Gilmore’s audience in the Merrion Hotel.

It was put to Joan Burton that her seeming lack of support for her Tánaiste in recent times may have contributed to the slide in the polls.

Joan was aghast. Moi?

Sure they’ve been thick as thieves for almost two decades. They have “a very strong and positive” relationship.

Eamon nodded away. You could feel the love in the room.

“I hear all sorts of briefings have been suggesting [a rift] – they didn’t come from me – and I think you, and other journalists, are aware of that…” protested Joan.

Oh, of course.

Meanwhile, Democracy Matters, the group seeking a No vote and retention of the Seanad, also had plans to unveil a giant prop.

However, early yesterday morning, they issued a rather cross press release complaining that Fine Gael had scheduled their final press conference at the exact same time as their event “in a seemingly panicky move”.

They changed the time.

So here we all were, by the duck pond. The giant prop, er, propped up against the bandstand. It was a large cardboard representation of a jigsaw, showing European countries that have one chamber parliaments, with a big hole in the middle for the final bit.

Enda was going to slot in that last piece – Ireland.

Opponents of abolition might have thought the large pile of bubble-wrap in a corner of the summer house a more apt prop. Had it been removed from the prop or the Taoiseach, who was making a rare outing to talk about the referendum?

Enda arrived, late, from the Dáil. This could have spelled disaster for the Democracy Matters people, who had already moved their conference back so Fine Gael didn’t steal their moment. However, they had a secret weapon, standing at a discreet distance under a tree.

It was Senator Katherine Zappone, monitoring proceedings. “She looks like an assassin,” joked the journalists as she stood, motionless, observing the daft scene.

Surrounded by TDs and handlers and media, the Taoiseach took possession of his jigsaw piece and beetled towards his giant prop.

Just as some of us were wondering if it was wise to risk confusion by making Enda pose with a cardboard cutout, the Taoiseach tripped on the low rail around the grass and almost came a cropper.

A senior aide rushed to steady him and he tripped too.

Thankfully, loud quacking from the pond disguised the laughter.

Saving the presence of the innocent water fowl, Enda proceeded to explain why
he thinks the Seanad is a
dead duck.

Speaking “as the longest-serving person in the House”, he said he has seen “bits and pieces” of Seanad reform introduced over the years, some of which worked and some which did not.

He believes the Seanad is beyond reform and favours “restoring accountability” to the universally elected Dáil deputies.

But the people will decide.

If they decide to get rid, how will he deal with all those “cranky senators” who will haunt Leinster House for another two years, sulking?

“Ah sure, you have cranky deputies too. All politics is about cranky people.”

As for the hotly disputed assertion that abolishing the Seanad will save €20 million, Enda upped the ante by pointing out that An Bord Snip Nua – a Fianna Fáil creation – concluded that ditching it would save the State more than €24 million.

Democracy Matters argue this is not true. Having been tipped the wink by Katherine Zappone – their spy under the trees in St Stephen’s Green – they made sure they had the media’s undivided attention. Whereupon they rolled out their giant prop in the form of historian Diarmaid Ferriter, who warned spoke strongly against abolition.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams was next in the queue. He came out on the plinth after lunch to call for a Yes vote and urged all republicans to turn out and end the “elitist and undemocratic” Upper House.

Bringing up the rear late in the afternoon, in a most refined fashion, were the “Lawyers for Reform” with former AG and Labour adviser John Rogers leading their call to hang on to the Seanad.

Fianna Fáil decided to keep their powder dry. Micheál Martin and his troops will be outside the gates of Leinster House this morning to make their final appeal to keep the place open for business.

As of yet, there is no word of poster boys or props, giant or otherwise.

However, we hear that in deepest Castlepollard, Donie Cassidy is still hoping for a call-up. Failing that, there is always Terry Leyden.