It was well-choreographed and consciously illustrative of its messages. Rural Ireland was the location and Brexit was the issue.

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar declared he was "delighted to get out of Dublin" as he and a handful of party colleagues took to the factory floor of Combilift in Co Monaghan - one of the biggest employers in the border region.

The Fine Gael election campaign launch included a well-produced campaign video, handshakes with employees in hard hats, politicians on forklifts and of course the first baby-hugging photo-op of the campaign. 

Leo Varadkar watches as Heather Humphreys climb into a forklift during a factory visit to Combilift
Leo Varadkar holds eight-month-old Ella Truell during the launch of the Fine Gael general election campaign

The relevance of Brexit as an election issue was explained with sporting metaphors. It's just half time, said Mr Varadkar, asking people to stick with the winning team.

"Now is not the time for the Fianna Fáil Junior B Team," cautioned Heather Humphreys drawing a comparison to a GAA team of older lads who still want to play but are not fit enough.

The Government’s role in securing a Brexit deal, avoiding a hard-border and protecting the economy in the process was all in part of the well-rehearsed script.

But it was events outside of the stage-managed set piece that came to dominate the first full day of campaigning for Election 2020.


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News had broken overnight of a man who had suffered life-altering injuries when tent he was sleeping in was lifted by an industrial vehicle on the banks of the Grand Canal in the centre of the city

The story - at that point - was about the tragic circumstances and the man’s injury. Mr Varadkar's response when asked about it made it about the politics of homelessness.

Asked at his campaign launch about the incident, he said he was "very concerned" and that the Government would be doing everything it could to ensure the man was accommodated.

He then went on to say that the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who he said is "politically responsible for the city council", should make a statement on the topic.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin is Paul McAuliffe - a Fianna Fáil election candidate in Dublin North West who came close to winning a seat in 2016 but lost out to Fine Gael’s Noel Rock.

The fact that Micheál Martin chose to canvass with him on the first night of the campaign shows that he is not just a candidate, but one of his party's big hopes.

That Mr Varadkar’s response was political in nature was interpreted as being not appropriate to the sensitivities of the issue, and it backfired. 

Homelessness - the issue on which the Government party is arguably at its weakest - had been thrust to the centre of the election campaign.

Just minutes later - as is the live and spontaneous nature of campaigns - the Fianna Fáil leader was asked to respond at his party's campaign launch in Dublin. 

Micheál Martin paused and looked confused before saying the Mr Varadkar's comments were extraordinary, adding: "That’s not how I would do politics!"

Micheál Martin during Fianna Fáil's election campaign launch in Dublin
Coffee cups at the Fianna Fáil campaign launch show pictures of the party leader

Mr McAuliffe himself issued a statement to RTÉ News a short time later, saying he was disappointed with Mr Varadkar's comments. "It seems the Taoiseach’s first thought was to play a political game," he said.

A short time later, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy issued a statement saying he had removed one of his election posters which had been placed just metres from where the accident had taken place.

"I was saddened to hear of the incident by the canal yesterday," he tweeted.

"My thoughts are with this poor man as he recovers in hospital. I’ve demanded a full report into the incident which is under garda investigation. My campaign poster which was located at the scene has been removed."

Later in the evening as the Taoiseach stood by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Government Buildings - another set piece that was expected to bolster his Brexit credentials - he was left defending his earlier response to the circumstances of the injury sustained by the man on the Grand Canal.

The day was illustrative of how not just "events, dear boy" but the spontaneous response to them that elections in the digital age demand, can influence the focus of a campaign.