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TV3 Ireland

Column Enda's charm offensive has begun

The Taoiseach’s rare appearance on Irish television is a firm signal that Fine Gael is gearing up for a general election – but don’t expect him on Vincent Browne any time soon.

HE SAT ON the sofa, eyes twitching nervously, hands clasped, fingers fidgeting. Like a naughty schoolboy sitting in the principal’s office, Enda Kenny looked extremely uncomfortable.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil — this has been the public relations strategy of our Taoiseach since he took office. He has avoided confrontation, media interviews and sticky situations. So it was of little surprise that sitting in the TV3 studio on Ireland AM’s sofa he would feel ill at ease. Simply put, despite being the leader of the country, being interviewed live on television is not something he is used to.

However, if appearing on the Vincent Browne show can be equated with stepping into a wrestling ring with an angry grizzly bear, an interview on Ireland AM is akin to being attacked by a puppy. Yes, puppies have sharp teeth and can nip you, but they are easy to bat away.

So, TV3’s morning show was a perfect platform for the Taoiseach to kick-start his charm offensive and push himself back into the media limelight as Fine Gael gears up for next year’s election.

Once the questions started flowing, Enda relaxed into his fireside chat mode with a slow, precise delivery of his words. Apart from his initial nervousness, it was a flawless performance that must have encouraged his media handlers who generally keep him on a tight leash. His appearance on TV3 was intended as a training exercise for the bigger challenges that will lay ahead over the next ten months or so as the election draws ever closer.

TV3 Ireland / YouTube

If Bertie Ahern was dubbed the Teflon Taoiseach, due to the inability of his opponents to make any dirt they threw at him stick (until, that is, the country began to implode under his watch and Bertie’s Teflon sheen quickly evaporated), Enda is more like the Invisible Man. His media handlers in general keep him well away from media interviews, debates or sticky situations.

So, if we are to read anything into his appearance on TV3 with the election still a distance away, it is that Fine Gael’s media gurus know that keeping Enda out of the spotlight is no longer a viable strategy.

With the rise of Sinn Fein and the water charges debacle, all party leaders will have to be front and centre of political campaigning for the upcoming election. And things will get dirty.

My bet is that the next general election will be akin to a presidential election, where the individual and not necessarily policy is the central focus. The reason is Sinn Fein. Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour will look to undermine the credibility of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and their links to the IRA. In turn, Sinn Fein will fight back.

Despite his solid performance on Ireland AM, Enda will know that when the heat is turned up his fireside manner and slow, paced delivery will not be entertained.

He will need sterner tests to get him ready for a grilling by the likes of RTE’s Miriam O’Callaghan.

As for an appearance on Tonight with Vincent Browne, his handlers are not that dumb. Enda would be mauled within an inch of his political life, so Vincent will remain well out of bounds.

However, even without Vincent throwing curve balls at him, the Taoiseach is in for a bruising campaign once the date of the election is set and will need more robust outings than Ireland AM if he is to be in top shape and ready to rumble. Because his handlers know Enda will have to be more Conor McGregor than Forrest Gump if he is to have a fighting chance to remain Taoiseach when the country casts its vote.

Paul Allen is managing director of Paul Allen and Associates PR. Follow his blog here.

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