Kenny on song as D-day looms

Yvonne N� Mhurch� with Michael Keenan, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, James Bannon TD and Cllr Gabrielle McFadden. Photo: Michelle Ghee.
Smiling faces, tight handshakes and even the odd ‘selfie’ were the order of the day on Monday as Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited Longford town.

Smiling faces, tight handshakes and even the odd ‘selfie’ were the order of the day on Monday as Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited Longford town.

Mr Kenny took in a brief walkabout of Longford Shopping Centre flanked by Longford-Westmeath by-election candidate, Gabrielle McFadden and local TD, James Bannon.

And with just four days ahead of that vote, the Fine Gael leader was in no mood to discuss what the latest opinion polls had to say.

“I get on with the business of engaging with the people who will have their say on Friday,” he said, when questioned by the Leader outside the doors of Longford Shopping Centre.

Cllr Frank Kilbride and local candidate Yvonne Ni Mhurchu were the only Fine Gael candidates to greet him upon his arrival (Cllr John Browne did arrive as Mr Kenny was preparing to leave).

“Obviously we are concentrating on Gabrielle McFadden here today.

“She is an outstanding candidate who will work for the people of Longford-Westmeath and we are asking the electorate to continue the mandate which they gave to her late sister Nicky.”

During his short tour of the centre, Mr Kenny shook hands with local business owners and supporters, many of whom stopped to take pictures.

There were occasional dissenters too, one of which included Longford woman Olivia White.

She confronted Mr Kenny about cuts affecting Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) and the impact that has had on her 7-year-old son.

“Unless you have a child with a disability, you will never know,” she said, amid a scrum of reporters and Fine Gael followers.

“He has dyslexia and a nutrition problem, but he is my son,” she said, adding that he also has difficulty in swallowing medicaton.

“I paid €450 to have him privately assessed otherwise he wouldn’t be diagnosed until he was nearly 12. What if I hadn’t €450 on me? Every child has a right to go to school and be educated.”

Mr Kenny was asked about Ms White’s predicament before heading off to an engagement in Athlone.

“We have many more pressing issues as well,” he replied.

“You do understand the mandate given to the Government just three years ago was to sort out our public finances and get our country back to work.

“We inherited an unprecedented economic mess. We still have a long way to go and we are under no illusions as to the challenges we face.”

He acknowledged that some counties, like Longford, were being overlooked for investment purposes.

“I would be the first to accept that many parts of the country haven’t had the benefits of real strong external investment.

“That’s why the IDA have now changed the regulations following a government recommendation to increase the percentage of grants that can be payable outside the main urban centres.

“It’s also why just a month ago the Government put forward a proposition for a €500m expansion of fibre connection to bring in another 1100 towns and villages,” he said.

The question now, though, is whether those commitments will be enough to win the hearts and minds of voters this Friday.