Enda won’t let political issues ruin snap-happy day

The Taoiseach is strong on high-fiving kids and posing for photos and . . . well, that’s it really

You know that restaurant thing we do? When the food hasn’t been good and the service terrible, and the waiter who spent an evening trying to ignore you oozes over with a smarmy: “And how was everything for you folks?” And instead of telling the waiter to folks off with himself and his condescendingly crummy canteen, you mumble “lovely, lovely”, settle the bill and run away. Retribution comes in complaints to family and friends and a vow never to darken its doors again.

That restaurant thing came to mind on Saturday when Enda Kenny, the nation’s front of house man, passed among his paying customers. The bill-payers were pleasant, but strangely muted and unopinionated.

After a long programme of engagements, the Taoiseach arrived at Blanchardstown Shopping Centre in the late afternoon. Enda Kenny is incapable of getting through a referendum or election campaign without doing a turn around Blanch, which has more high- fiveable kids per square metre than any other shopping area in the country. The welcoming party is even bigger than usual, comprising European election candidate Brian Hayes and his team; byelection candidate Eamonn Coghlan and his team, and a number of local election candidates and their teams.

The supremely assured Coghlan seemed none the worse for his disastrous outing on the Vincent Browne show last week. His bizarre re-enactment of an encounter with an angry constituent had traumatised viewers queuing outside chiropodists to have their toes uncurled. Senator Coghlan, resplendent in shades and leather jacket, brought along some of his biker pals for the occasion. They lined up their shiny machines in the forecourt for the Taoiseach to admire. Eamonn introduced Enda (who wisely refused to wear a leather jacket) to his Suzuki V-Stream. The lads cooed over it, Enda leaned dreamily over the handlebars and Eamon – "we did 3,000 miles in California" – talked about himself.

Laying on of The High Five


The former athlete would know the importance of limbering up before the main event. In the Taoiseach’s case, this meant an opening flurry of thumbs-up above the petrol tank. Once he was match fit, a boy-child was plonked on the seat of an adjoining Yahama and the ceremonial Laying On of The High Five began.

Brian Hayes looked worried for a man who had just heard he performed well in the latest raft of opinion polls. “It’s my wife’s 40th tonight and we’re having it in the house and I’ve been away all day and we’ve still got Dundrum to do.” No wonder the man was stressed.

There was a discreet garda presence around, but the Taoiseach remained unmolested by supporter or protester. He made straight for people at the seating area inside the main doors. Two women smiled, but weren’t willing to talk. The man sitting next to them stood up and walked away. On the plus side, the recognition factor for Enda is huge. He’s a magnet for children and teenagers, who approach with their mobiles in hand, knowing they’ll get a photo of themselves high-fiving the Taoiseach. The younger ones are propelled into the frame by proud parents.

Brian Hayes looks at all this, a baffled expression on his face. Eamonn Coghlan is reduced to taking the snaps. Enda isn’t talking issues with people. But then, they don’t want to talk issues with him. All they want is their photo, which will be treasured, no matter what anyone thinks of the Government, because it’s brilliant to have a picture for posterity of the day your little darling met the Taoiseach.

One man, to be fair, stops and asks if State land will be released for housing. He gets a very comprehensive reply from Enda, who just recently launched the Government's 2020 construction strategy. Apart from that, he has a chat with the garda inspector and garda sergeant keeping an eye on him and two chats with the duty manager at the shopping centre. They don't count. They won't start giving out about water charges or property tax or penalty points. We reckon the Taoiseach has spoken seriously to just one person of voting age. Yet people crowd in to take their snaps.

'He shakes and goes'
"What are we like?" giggles a woman jostling for position, her iPhone in the air. "I don't even agree with him!"

One family is delighted to meet him. “Where are you guys from?”

“Madras in India,” replies Senthil Kumar. “Did you vote in the elections?” asks Enda. “Yes, we are citizens here,” says Priya Kumar. “So what do you think of the results in India?” enquires the Taoiseach, who wants to talk about India’s general election. “We are citizens here in Leixlip,” the Kumars say, again.

Senthil and Priya, they watch with pride as their daughter Rupasri (9) poses with the Taoiseach, came to Ireland in 2001. They waited a long time before applying for citizenship because the process was so difficult.

"This man Alan Shatter, " Senthil tells Enda, "he changed the whole process. Before, when people applied, it [the process] was very vague. Now, it's still very difficult but everything is done properly and sorted within six months."

The Taoiseach listens intently, shooting meaningful glances at The Irish Times while clearing a little space so we can hear better.

“I was very sad when he decided to go,” Mr Kumar told us.

In Diffney for Men, John Kehoe says he’s starting to see an upturn in business. Enda is happy to hear this. They shake hands for the camera. “I was going to raise the water charges with him – they’re the final straw as far as I’m concerned – but there’s no point,” shrugs John. “He shakes and he’s gone, that’s they way it is with these fellas.”

They’ve done their circuit and there hasn’t been one dissenting voice in the Taoiseach’s ear. Nobody has approached him with a complaint. Nothing.

Brian Hayes is buttonholed by an irate man: “Where’s these 1,000 jobs a week yis have been promising?”

We try to nudge him in the direction of Enda – just behind us, high-fiving another tot while proud Mammy positions the camera. “I wouldn’t talk to him. He’s a waste of time.”

And we think of that restaurant thing, where nobody complains. They just don’t come back.