Election 2011 in the papers: 31 Jan - 7 Feb

The highlight of the first week of election coverage would have to be centred around Enda Kenny, whether your pick is the photograph of him on the front page of the Independent on Friday, or the brouhaha surrounding his refusal to take part in the three-way leaders' debate on TV3, writes Angela Long.

As of Sunday night, Mr Kenny was declining on the grounds that his busy campaigning schedule did not permit time out to attend the commercial broadcaster's studios in Ballymount, Dublin 23.

Earlier in the week he had protested that he would not take part in a debate chaired by Vincent Browne (host of TV3's flagship political programme) because of comments made by Mr Browne last year, which implied that Mr Kenny should consider suicide.

After Mr Browne said he would stand down so the debate could go ahead, Mr Kenny shifted to his 'empty chair' position – that he would not take part, but an empty chair should be placed on the stage. This would symbolise, not victims of suicide, but all those who have already emigrated, and those who might have to, because of the devastation of the Irish economy in the past three years.

As for that photo – the Independent's clever crop showed him shaking hands with a large golden dog (a Golden Retriever-poodle cross breed). The Irish Times, with its different sized page, had a horizontal shot of Mr Kenny hefting a large Labrador puppy in his arms. The BBC was not alone in being unable to resist the observation that Mr Kenny looked perilously close to being sold a pup.

Apart from that, the papers bounded into campaigning with the candidates, but mostly failed to pin down any responses on the hard choices that must be made in the months after the election on 25 February.

The Irish Times had four pages of corralled election coverage in its news section, and the lead feature in the separate Weekend Review section was a tale of life on the canvass, especially for Fianna Fail activists.

Saturday's Independent featured Alison O'Connor tackling the resurgent chestnut of the level of female representation in the Dail. "There are so few female politicians that when one screws up it's all too easy to blame it on them being female."

On Sunday the Independent's political writer John Drennan noted that "the Irish have secured the reputation of being the most conservative electorate in Europe". The paper's lead said the 'plethora of polls' unleashed in the media in the preceding week indicated that Fine Gael could govern on its own after the election.

The Sunday Tribune did not appear, as it entered its first week in receivership, with staff and readers hoping that a buyer for the ailing quality will be found before the end of the month. However, in a puzzling exercise, the Irish Mail on Sunday published copies with a mock-up masthead that resembled the Tribune, featuring a story on 'Fine Gael's secret donations from developers'. The intention was not clear, but editor of the British newspaper's branch edition, Sebastian Hamilton, described it as a 'marketing exercise' and said that such a manoeuvre was a positive thing if it encouraged more people to buy newspapers.

In the upper end of the spectrum, the Sunday Business Post published the results of a Red-C poll, showing the parties' support thus: Fianna Fail 17%, Fine Gael 35%, Labour 22%, Green Party 2%, Sinn Fein 13%, Others 11% . Cynics could point out that this was good news for the Greens because it reflected a doubling of its support, as opposed to other polls earlier in the week.