Kenny’s ten minutes of pain

“Enda probably doesn’t even know what Fitzer looks like,” was one local voter’s response when I told him that the Fine Gael leader was due in Dundalk on Wednesday evening to launch Peter Fitzpatrick’s election campaign and officially open his new campaign office in Park Street.

“Enda probably doesn’t even know what Fitzer looks like,” was one local voter’s response when I told him that the Fine Gael leader was due in Dundalk on Wednesday evening to launch Peter Fitzpatrick’s election campaign and officially open his new campaign office in Park Street.

Perhaps that is true, I thought.

After all, Kenny was absent at the Fine Gael convention – Fitzpatrick’s first party outing – and Louth’s O’Byrne Cup final appearance in Newbridge the previous Sunday meant that the Wee County boss missed out on the photo opportunity alongside the Mayo native in Dublin.

There’s little doubt though that both men were more than keen to meet each other on Wednesday with Kenny no doubt hoping to show one of his many new protégés how to handle the crowds.

It was almost the perfect lesson too.

The so-called Taoiseach-in-waiting smiled for the cameras outside, made a point of shaking as many hands as possible inside and even lapped up the publicity when he posed for photographs and made small talk with nine-year-old Mark Lee from the Avenue Road, whose grandfather John Meehan and mum Ann were lifelong members of the party.

Kenny then delivered a rousing speech that had the large number of Fine Gael supporters in attendance licking their lips in anticipation of what they feel will surely be a victorious election campaign.

Then – if you’ll excuse the obvious pun – the air turned blue.

As he lapped up the applause from his speech with Fitzpatrick amongst those leading it, the positive mood was interrupted by one disgruntled voter and her friend, both of whom had gone largely unnoticed in the sizeable crowd prior to this.

You could have cut the tension with a knife as Christina Dunne spat out the words: “That was a hell of a speech. It’s just a pity you don’t mean the words you said.”

The Dublin native, who is now renting in Dundalk with her close pal Bridget Collins was visibly upset over a house they had purchased in Mayo that had been left without proper facilities such as sewers. They wanted the council to buy it off them so they could purchase in Dundalk.

She tackled Deputy Kenny saying she had previously asked him to help her: “You broke your promise; Bridie kept the meeting with you when I was in hospital in your constituency office in Castlebar,” she said.

“When she went in, it was on a Friday, you had your mobile phone in one hand while she was talking to you and in the other hand you had a sweeping brush”.

“You’re going to bring in employment? You couldn’t even employ a cleaner,” she said.

The incident lasted roughly 10 minutes and got more and more uncomfortable for Kenny, his entourage and the party’s supporters as it wore on.

Not even visits to local stores including Baldwin Jewellers and Holland’s Hardware could distract from what everyone was talking about.

In the drama though there was a moment that went almost unnoticed that shows that while Fitzpatrick might be a political novice, he more than atones for it with strong people skills.

When the large crowd had subsided and with Kenny now in discussion with Paddy Malone and Bill Tosh of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, Fitzpatrick moved towards the two distressed ladies, putting a comforting arm around them.

“Come and see me,” he said in a soft, delicate tone. “I’m a Dundalk man.”

That approach and that love of his town could be what sees him through this election in the end.

When Kenny came to Dundalk he was meant to show his protégé a thing or two. The debacle with those two women is unlikely to cost Fine Gael many votes. Kenny’s handling, or lack of handling, of other issues – such as the leaders’ debates – will.

The Mayo man might be 36 years in politics but on his big visit to Dundalk it was the man who has barely been 36 hours in politics that came off best.

We got a glimpse of Fitzpatrick the politician on Wednesday and while he’s still very much a diamond in the rough, it was the sort of start he needed to what should be a close campaign.