Miriam Lord: Seamless and friction-free meeting of leaders

Neither Enda Kenny nor Theresa May rubbed each other up the wrong way

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny has met with British prime minister Theresa May in Dublin. The two leaders discussed the implications of Brexit for Northern Ireland, the border and economic ties between Ireland and the UK. Video: MerrionStreet.ie

 

The Vaseline Summit went very smoothly.

Nobody rubbed anyone up the wrong way. No reports of chafing personalities in the Taoiseach’s office. And a successful avoidance of rash words at the press conference that followed.

This was due in part to the determination of Enda Kenny and Theresa May to use the phrase “frictionless and seamless” as much as possible. (They managed a definite five between them and a possible half-dozen from Enda’s lengthy reply in Irish to one question.)

It was like being at a sales drive for Lycra shorts.

Perhaps it was Enda who came up with the line which had some of us shifting uncomfortably in our seats.

He’s a very keen cyclist and, as a man who has pedalled around the Ring of Kerry on numerous occasions, he’d know all about the benefits of being seamless and friction-free.

Yesterday, however, the two leaders employed the analogy in the context of what sort of Border they would like to see between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland after Britain leaves the EU.

They don’t want “a return to the hard Border of the past”. That’s what politicians and mandarins on both sides of the Irish Sea have been saying since the UK voted for Brexit.

Smooth talking

“That isn’t just a phrase,” stressed May. “It symbolises the sort of seamless and frictionless border we want to see in future.”

Now, that’s a phrase.

The Taoiseach used a variation minutes earlier with his “close and friction-free economic and trading relationship”.

It was slightly worrying that neither side gave the slightest indication as to how this outcome might be achieved.

Worse still, by the end of the press conference, it transpired their mutually desired smooth-edged Border is a conditional one.

As seamless and frictionless “as possible” according to May and “as seamless, frictionless and as trouble-free as we can put together” according to Kenny.

Which could mean anything.

But it was all very cordial and civilised and must have been a relief to the visitors from the UK foreign office after their controversial trips to Washington and New York and that rather embarrassing hand-holding incident with Donald Trump.

Nobody batted an eyelid when Enda, hand outstretched, darted down the steps of Government Buildings to greet Theresa, who warmly clasped it.

Enda has more of a reputation for administering hearty welcoming thumps to people.

A typically effusive greeting from the Taoiseach on Monday would have seen the very slim prime minister rounding off her whistlestop visit to Dublin with a trip to the emergency department.

Unfurled flag

There was great excitement at the sight of the union flag flying over Government Buildings. Mutterings about “the old enemy” and that sort of thing.

But it didn’t look half as scary as the time Angela Merkel came to visit and the German flag fluttered above the old building. Because back then, the German probably owned it and Merkel could have moved it had she wanted.

Civil servants watched for a glimpse of the English visitor from windows around the courtyard. Perhaps they were interested in the shoes. Many of the photographers were.

What sort of heels would we see? Stiletto, kittens or flats?

In the end, the Taoiseach wore his trusty black brogues.

But for those who are interested, Theresa May wore shoes with kitten heels, gold and leopard-skin print uppers and little gold bows.

Back down in the press centre, technicians tuned up the sound system. And just as Enda was stepping out to meet Theresa, a song blasted from the PA system: Is She Really Going Out With Him?

One of the good things about Government Buildings is that the walls are very thick and very little sound travels up from the media room in the basement.

As a soft drizzle fell, the two politicians stood outside on the steps, Enda doing the pointing thing with his big hands for the cameras while they pretended to converse in actual sentences.

There were three flags in the foyer – Irish, English and EU. Just to remind the Brexiting visitors.

Two small and rather forlorn potted palms were placed on either side of the red carpet, perhaps to give a touch of the English riviera to the visitors.

Camera glare

Enda and Theresa must have run up the stairs to his third-floor office, because they had hardly turned around on the staircase before cameras flashes from the Taoiseach’s office radiated into the twilight.

Afterwards, they would explain what they talked about. Very little, one would suspect, given the number of photographs taken while they were in conclave with the large portrait of Michael Collins looking on.

She sat down for their chat, separated by a coffee table that had a large lump of bog oak on it. Tea and coffee was offered and some very nice fancy pastries were laid on. But they didn’t touch them.

The fire wasn’t lighting, which was a pity, given the day that was in it.

At one stage, Charlie Flanagan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, mentioned that the northern secretary James Brokenshire recently attended a GAA match.

This led to a discussion of Laois and Mayo GAA and their lack of All-Ireland success.

Theresa must have been riveted. But sure, it passed the time.

After about an hour, they ascended to talk to the media. Five questions in all – two from the Irish side, two from the British and the obligatory question in the Irish language.

The Taoiseach and the prime minister arrived without introduction, surprising the chatting journalists and advisers.

‘Frank and constructive’

All of a sudden, Enda ducked sideways and, with considerable speed, on to the platform, like somebody had pushed out from the wings. Theresa, as if similarly propelled, arrived straight after him.

Their discussion was “frank and constructive” declared Enda. “Constructive” said Theresa, adding that she’s met the Taoiseach three times already since becoming PM and, wait for it, “we’ve spoken three times in the last month”.

Sure there was no need for the meeting at all, except for the photos, all of which were taken in a seamless and frictionless fashion.

Donald Trump, of course, was a main part of the question-and-answer session. May didn’t have much to say about her attitude to the current US immigration controversy, but Enda talked tough.

He wants to see him in Washington for St Patrick’s Day so he can tell him “face to face” that he doesn’t agree with his immigration policy.

Can’t seeing that being seamless and friction-free.

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