Fine Gael’s ard fheis was overshadowed Friday night after officials had to evacuate a conference hall where Taoiseach Enda Kenny was due to give his opening speech after a shotgun cartridge was found on the stage.
The incident occurred just after 2pm and led to a busy room of early arriving delegates and backroom officials being ordered to leave the facility for just under an hour by security personnel and gardaí.
Mr Kenny was not in the conference hall at the City West Hotel in west Dublin at the time, instead arriving just after 5pm before his opening speech in the two-day party event, which was delayed 30 minutes until 8pm.
FG ard fheis hall where Taoiseach will speak this evening evacuated at 2.30pm after bullet casing with powder spread out found. #iestaff— Fiachra Ó Cionnaith (@Ocionnaith) January 22, 2016
However, the cartridge was left next to the stage area where the Taoiseach appeared, with officers from the nearby Clondalkin garda station examining the area and opening an investigation.
While there was no gunpowder in the shell and it posed no physical threat, Garda crime scene examiners took pictures of the find and the area due to the clear implication of the incident.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Finance Minister Michael Noonan attempted to downplay the incident, with Mr Noonan saying: “I’ve been coming to Fine Gael ard fheiseanna since the 1970s. There are frequent security threats; we haven’t come across a real one yet.”
— Fine Gael (@FineGael) January 22, 2016
However, despite the relaxed public image about what happened, the incident overshadowed the first night of the Government party’s two-day setpiece pre-election event which it had intended to be focused solely on what it says are its achievements in power.
Security at the ard fheis was notably higher than last Saturday when the same location hosted the one-day Fianna Fáil conference.
It is expected that elements of the national water protest in Dublin City are likely to appear at the event today, while a number of driveways within the hotel campus were blocked off with barriers yesterday evening due to the ard fheis taking place.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny used his opening address to the national Fine Gael gathering to underline the party’s repeated emphasis in recent weeks on the need to sustain the recovery and not to hand it to opposition groups which the Government claims will wreck any financial improvements.
However, he once again did not clarify the date of the general election, which is widely expected to be announced within two weeks after the bank inquiry report is published and Labour’s ard fheis next weekend concludes.
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