'Enda? Aaaw, we thought it was Santa'


SKETCH:Mention of the referendum was greeted with dismay by the children.

And not a vote cast yet.

Saturday morning at Blanchardstown Shopping Centre and something was afoot.

A welcoming party outside.

Lots of gardaí, along with managerial types and smiley young people in yellow T-shirts. A television news crew. Photographers.

In the first week in November, this could only mean one thing.

Shoppers came over to check.

“Who’s coming today?” You could see the kids getting excited. One little fella, speechless with anticipation, curled his shaking fists into tight little balls and waited for the answer.

“It’s Enda Kenny,” we said. “For the referendum.”

The child looked up at his mother, crestfallen.

“Enda Kenny?” she repeated, incredulous. “Enda Kenny? Aaaw, we thought it was Santa . . .” She revved up her buggy and they left.

Upsetting the little ones before he even arrived.

Not the best of starts for a Taoiseach campaigning for a Yes vote in the children’s referendum.

He soon made up for it, though. Enda is a very good canvasser: enthusiastic and engaging. People find it difficult to be rude to him.

Yet, in the current economic climate, chumminess and charm only goes so far. A year and a half into his Government, what sort of reception could the Taoiseach expect? His uneventful canvass began before midday and didn’t last long. The policemen needn’t have looked so worried.

There was barely a mention of the economy, while a retired garda from the Cavan area took the chance to explain quietly to him why Seán Quinn shouldn’t be in jail.

Enda lent an ear – he gave the man his time, but no comfort, before moving on.

“This referendum is an opportunity to put in place rights and protection for children,” he told shoppers.

They listened politely and took the leaflet. But there seemed little desire to engage on the subject.

However, while he didn’t encounter any opposition, quite a few people sounded uneasy about the proposed change to the Constitution.

“Will the State make our children a ward of court,” asked one woman.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald hurried across to explain.

Sharon and Charlotte Byrne from Kells looked aghast when Enda buttonholed them. They explained afterwards it was nothing to do with him, or what he had to say. “We got a terrible shock. He was on top of us before we even knew. He just appeared out of nowhere.”

They are still making up their minds, but it’s “probably” going to be Yes. They want to read the explanatory booklet first.

Pauline McAvinue and her daughter Laura, both from Castleknock, Dublin, were cornered while having a cup of coffee. Pauline explained she had more or less decided to vote in favour, but after listening to what some people had been saying on the radio, she wasn’t so sure now. “We don’t want to give them too much power,” she mused.

If there was a sense of “don’t hit me with the children’s referendum in me arms” about Enda’s low-key canvass, it didn’t stop the mammies and daddies queuing up to thrust their gurgling offspring into his hands.

Ahmed Nazari from Castleknock asked the Taoiseach for a photograph with his four-year-old daughter, Wafa, who was holding a pink balloon twisted into the shape of a heart. He duly obliged, lifting up the smiling toddler while deftly nudging the balloon to frame her face in the heart.

When it comes to kissing tots, Enda is the best in the business.

“It’s like Tom Jones and the knickers,” marvelled an admiring onlooker, “except people fling babies at Enda.”

A lack of interest – or perhaps it’s because people have their minds made up – was also apparent on Dublin’s Henry Street, where Gerry Adams campaigned for a Yes vote. “We think it’s a step in the right direction . . . people should come out and they should not be apathetic about this issue,” said the Sinn Féin leader.

Like the Taoiseach an hour earlier in Blanchardstown, his brief canvass seemed more about getting the message out to a wider audience, via the media, than it was about meeting people.

It would have been over in a matter of minutes had some street traders not buttonholed him.

“Don’t mind the referendum – take the chil-der-en off the streets. Our own chil-der-en. Take them off the streets,” said one, before telling him at length about their problems with “the Corporation”.

A few minutes later, Joe Costello, the local Labour TD, arrived on the scene, also promoting a Yes vote.

“It’s very important that children have rights as citizens in their own right, so that what happened in the past never happens again,” he said.

He also got an earful about the “Corporation”. “Look, we sorted it out before and we’ll do it again,” he told the traders, putting Yes stickers on their jackets as he spoke.

A woman, who didn’t want to give her name, told us she was definitely voting No.

Why? “Just going by what I hear and going by what’s in Alive!. I belong to a particular group and we’ll all be voting No.”

What is the group? “Not a political party, that’s for sure.”