Belfast Telegraph

Gael-force winds of change sweep Republic

The two women seated at the table at polling booth number one in Scoil Naomh Padraig in Castlebar shook hands with the voter standing in front of their table. “Have you ID?” asked one of them.

She was just having a bit of craic with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. Even if she hadn't known who he was, the long line of photographers, TV cameras and reporters packed into the small classroom may have given her a clue that the sandy-haired chap with the wide smile wasn't simply one of the 3.2 million citizens entitled to vote yesterday.

For some time now, Enda Kenny and his team have been tiptoeing around the growing probability that a Fine Gael-force wind is about to sweep the party into power, either into coalition or even perhaps |with a sufficient majority to |go it alone.

There was a pervasive fear that any hint of triumphalism would burst the blue bubble just as the prize was within reach.

But there was a marked contrast between the mood yesterday in the polling station in Enda's home town and the last time he was there for a general |election almost three years ago, in May 2007.

But there's been no last-minute swing back to them this time around, and the polls have remained steady for Fine Gael.

And so when Enda arrived to vote just after 10am, it was clear he was keyed-up and fizzing with adrenaline. He made his way up the steps and into the school, surrounded by a scrum of snappers.

He cast his vote, and then stood with ballot paper in hand for the line of photographers.

“Enda, ENDA, over here!” “This way, Enda.” “Straight ahead, Enda,” roared the chorus of clicking cameras.

The head nearly came off the poor man as he tried to oblige them all. It was a taste perhaps of what's ahead of him if the poll predictions are correct.

“Will I drop it in now?” he eventually asked them.

And so into the box went his vote, followed by a tap on the box for luck.

And there were more photos outside. Enda gave his wife Fionnuala a kiss, but some of the photographers missed it.

“Again, Enda,” they urged.

“You mean I get a second shot at it?” he joked as he obliged.

He made a statement outside the school, but kept it neutral as the moratorium against campaigning was in full swing.

“This is the opportunity that we have been waiting for in the sense of contesting this election and all I want to say is that I hope as many people as possible all over the country go and cast their vote today,” he stated.

“This is probably the most crucial and critical general election in the last 50 years and the more people who vote, the stronger the message within our political democratic system is.”

And then, the business of the day done, he stayed around the polling station to chat and savour the occasion.

The wind is whipping up a storm, but yesterday he was |in the calm, still eye in the centre of it.

Belfast Telegraph

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