Miriam Lord: Enda puts America, the UK and himself first
Amid confusion over Brexit, Taoiseach gives the impression he is on the inside track
Journey ahead: Enda Kenny seems very comfortable when asked about Brexit. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
In America, a big orange Trumpkin turns into a president and the Ugly Sister gets to go to the Inaugural Ball.
Everything is possible now in this post-everything era.
Ireland First. Why not?
All TDs were unanimous about that yesterday. But then, TDs always are. They fall out over how best to achieve it.
What about Northern Ireland First?
Although where Brexit is concerned, this may prove tricky. Gerry Adams doesn’t think Enda Kenny appreciates how difficult it could be. He fears the Taoiseach was taken in last week by honeyed words over the telephone from the British prime minister.
Enda told the Dáil that when they had their chat, Theresa May assured him she is very keen to maintain “the special relationships between the Republic and Northern Ireland and between Ireland and Great Britain”.
No more than himself, she doesn’t want to see a return of Border controls here.
“We have a peace process supported by the European Union. We have cross-Border activities supported by the European Union and I want to see that continue, as, indeed, does the prime minister,” he told the Sinn Féin leader.
But Gerry wouldn’t be one to take the words of a British PM as gospel.
“No she does not. Catch yourself on, Taoiseach,” he snapped, shooting a pitying look at gullible Enda, who said he’d be very happy to talk to her about Northern Ireland’s special position when she visited early next week.
“Don’t be vouching for Theresa May,” snapped Gerry.
Enda seems very comfortable when asked about Brexit. He doesn’t mind answering questions about how the Government is dealing with the imminent activation of a long process which will see Britain leaving the European Union and all the trade deals and border agreements which go with it.
Depending how he marshals Ireland’s strategy as the complicated unwinding proceeds, he could end up doing his reputation a power of good. As it is, he appears to know what he is doing in circumstances where nobody knows what to do yet.
Enda was stung by Opposition accusations that he has been “sitting on his hands” and waiting for Britain to officially file for divorce from the EU before moving to secure Ireland’s interests both within the EU and with Britain.
His team has been preparing for 18 months, said the Taoiseach. Nobody is going to accuse him of ignoring the issue and missing up on the chance to Make Enda Great Again.
In the matter of Ireland securing the best possible Brexit for the whole island, Enda is determined to make himself indispensable.
Operation “Begging Ass” is well under way in the fleshpots of Europe.
In terms of observing the rules, no horse trading can be done until Britain pulls the communication cord and starts the process of leaving the gravy train. But in reality, the talking has already begun in earnest.
Labour’s Joan Burton needed convincing.
“You’re saying nothing happens until article 50 is triggered,” she said to the Taoiseach, “but your problem in terms of a strategy is that everything happens when article 50 is triggered.”
Enda stopped short of tapping the side of his nose and giving Joan a conspiratorial wink.
Obviously, he explained, it isn’t a case of “are the 27 [EU member countries] sitting down in a huddle and saying: ‘Now, what are we going to do about this?’ They haven’t sat down like that, but they’re all obviously talking about it, at least those countries that are really interested and that concerns us greatly.”
So what are we doing? What we do very well – whispering to people in corners and buying them drink.
“Our diplomatic engagement is to talk directly to these people. So whenever negotiations begin, they know exactly where we stand . . . We’re not hanging around, waiting to see what’s going to happen. We’re out there telling people of our particular needs, our circumstances so that they’re fully acquainted with that.”
There is no hiding place. Irish politicians and diplomats are “meeting them individually, away from council meetings, at council meetings, at ministerial meetings and so on”.
We understand MEPs and Eurocrats from across the continent are setting up a support network and early-warning system to deal with the waves of smiling Irish Europhiles waylaying them in the most unlikely of places.
Fine Gael’s hotshots trained in the white heat of the post-election negotiations with the likes of Shane Ross, Mattie McGrath and Michael Fitzmaurice. Finian McGrath still talks about those fraught days, when he couldn’t go into the toilet without finding one of Enda’s smiling operatives sidling up beside him to ask what might persuade him to go into coalition.
The Labour leader was a little worried after the Taoiseach told him that nothing can happen until Theresa May raises the flag for the off.
“Are you suggesting we do not settle on a position before negotiations begin?” he asked, sounding slightly alarmed.”
“Well,” said Enda, “technically speaking, under article 50, no formal negotiations begin until that matter is dealt with.”
“Technically” was the important word there.
“Deputy Howlin and I know that, in the real world, these things have a habit of running in parallel.”
A more simple answer to Howlin might have been “you know yourself, Brendan”.
One person not putting Ireland first is Theresa May.
The Greens’ Eamon Ryan seemed devastated when the Taoiseach broke the news that she won’t be addressing the chamber during her visit.
He asked three separate questions about it.
If she won’t address the House, might she meet the party leaders?
Maybe the various leaders might write individually to her?
Might it be an idea if the Ceann Comhairle wrote personally with an invite?
“The prime minister’s schedule will not allow that to happen and I’m not in control of that schedule,” explained Enda.
“Will the Taoiseach present that as a proposal to the British prime minister’s team in advance of the visit?” persisted Eamon.
There’s nothing to stop anyone writing to Theresa May, he replied.
Could the Ambassador help? wondered the Green leader, as a last resort.
Enda reassured everyone that he’d bring all their concerns to the prime minister when they met.