Hurricane Bruton scatters financial handouts and poll seeds on home soil


"RELAX" was John Bruton's response yesterday when anybody asked him about the general election. But it wasn't easy to relax in the Taoiseach's company on a day when he sped through Meath like a mad March hare.

Hurricane Bruton hit the outskirts of Navan in the early afternoon and was still going strong six hours later in Kells, scattering largesse in its wake and laying waste to the electoral hopes of Fianna Fail and the PDs. The Opposition parties' local activists will assess the damage this morning.

Mr Bruton's other favourite term during the tour was "hot house atmosphere". This was an election year phenomenon in Leinster House, he explained, and he didn't want to add to it. But he planted a few exotic seeds in his native county yesterday which could soon be sprouting shoots.

His first stop was St Joseph's Convent of Mercy Primary School, Navan. Here, Mr Bruton planted a tree, opened a computer room and gave his personal blessing to a new £20,000 fence, for which £19,000 has been approved by the Department of Education.

At County Hall in Navan, he formally handed over a £140,000 Mercedes pot hole filler. He paused to dampen speculation of a pot hole blitz between now and May, craftily pointing out that the new machine was capable of working through the winter months (hint, hint) before forging on with a visit to the town's new community resource centre.

By now, Mr Bruton was progressing through the county like a dose of salts, an image strengthened by the laxative effect he appeared to be having on Government funding. Indeed, at the O'Carolan College in Nobber he startled his entourage by gesturing to the railway line and announcing the extension of the DART to the north Meath town, but this turned out to be a joke.

Instead, Mr Bruton confined himself to cutting the ribbon on new sports facilities, for which he assured the attendance that a £10,000 grant was on its way.

The entourage stopped for refreshments in Keogan's pub in Nobber, before final raids into Wilkinstown and Kells. It is understood the pub stop did not involve any Government outlay, as the premises is owned by an uncle of one of the Taoiseach's running mates, John Farrelly.

But perhaps the most interesting confrontation of the day was the one between the Taoiseach and a Ms Helen Caesar of the Meath branch of the Council for the Status of People with Disabilities. Coming so soon after the Ides of March, this could have been tricky, but the latter day meeting of Brutus and Caesar passed off peacefully, especially after the Taoiseach announced a new FAS pilot disability support service for south Meath.