IT WAS HARD to escape the smell of election in the air around Leinster House today.
The Houses of the Oireachtas were relatively quiet, with most politicians busy knocking on doors in their constituencies but not Enda Kenny, who usually spends his Mondays in his native Mayo.
The Taoiseach was instead making a rare appearance outside the Merrion Street gates of Leinster House to launch Fine Gael’s digital advertising campaign for the election.
This is the election which no one yet definitively knows the date of but, Enda informed us, “obviously, everybody knows the general election is on the way”.
Would he not just put us out of our misery and tell us then? No, but he does have a date. It’s in his head and it’s staying there for the time being. At a later press conference, Kenny informed us he has lots of things in his head.
That’s a relief.
The purpose of this digital advertising campaign, which Enda told us will be all across “the online digital media”, is to assure us that our ‘hard work is working’ and that we should ‘keep the recovery going’.
These are the phrases that have resonated with the focus groups and which Fine Gael has decided will be its core campaign messages. But it wasn’t long before the photoshops were being put out by a mischievous opposition:
Enda had plenty more to say but at this stage we’re already tiring of the stump speech that we’ll be hearing for at least another seven weeks.
It is effectively this: ‘the country was banjaxed, we fixed it, you’re feeling it/you’re not feeling it but you will, we’ll cut your taxes loads BUT you’ll risk it all by giving it back to the crowd that wrecked it (Fianna Fáil) or the crowd that could wreck it (Sinn Féin)’.
Everything coming out of the mouths of Fine Gael and Labour candidates over the next few weeks will be along those lines.
This was the first of what will be many Fine Gael, as distinct from government, press conferences that the Taoiseach will be attending in the weeks ahead. Journalists were even being encouraged to ask political questions rather than policy-based queries.
In fairness, this was one of two public appearances Kenny was making today, the other being the launch of the coalition’s final annual report on the programme for government alongside Tánaiste Joan Burton.
Two press conferences in one day with questions allowed at both is almost unprecedented for Kenny during the past five years. You’d never guess there’s an election on the way.
At the second event, the government handlers decided to keep the journalists sharp by holding the press conference in the courtyard where temperatures were in the low-single figures.
The government unsurprisingly thinks it’s done a great job, achieving a 93% success rate over the last five years.
Even the low points weren’t that low in the grand scheme of things as Joan revealed the only time things weren’t great between herself and Enda was when Dublin were beating Mayo in the football.
“We’re still friends,” Kenny said while noticeably looking away from Joan as she playfully teased him.
Such warm relations surely cannot last the duration of the election campaign as Fine Gael and Labour will look to distinguish themselves from each other in voters’ minds.
As for the other parties, Fianna Fáil will outline its plans for taxes and the economy tomorrow ahead of it’s weekend Ard Fheis.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is dismissing unfounded speculation that Gerry Adams will be replaced as leader and is launching constituency campaigns all across the country this week.
It might not be official, but the election has already started. All we need now is that date out of Enda’s head.