Kenny’s departure: Exit date in May makes sense

Brexit and restoration of a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland are issues on which he wants to have an input before he departs from the Taoiseach’s office

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny surprised many people by addressing a number of serious issues during his visit to Washington last week as well as engaging in the ritual bonhomie that is part of the annual St Patrick’s Day festivities in the United States.

His performance at the White House and on Capital Hill indicated an intention on Mr Kenny’s part to use his final months in office to set the agenda on some of the major challenges facing this State in the years ahead.

He identified Brexit and restoration of a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland as two of the issues on which he wants to have an input before he departs from the Taoiseach’s office.

Mr Kenny wants to attend the crucial meeting of the 27 EU leaders in Brussels next month to sign off on the negotiating strategy to be adopted in the Brexit talks with the British government. The Taoiseach has spearheaded a concerted political and diplomatic campaign to ensure that Irish concerns are reflected in the EU negotiating position. How successful that has been will only become clear when the 27 leaders meet to approve the mandate to be given to European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

That meeting has been delayed because of the hold up in triggering Article 50 (now scheduled for March 30th).But the EU leaders are still expected to meet before the end of April.

One of the main Irish objectives is to persuade the rest of the EU and the British not to do anything that will involve the return of a hard border on this island.

In her public statements British Prime Minister Theresa May has echoed the Taoiseach’s terminology about wishing to avoid a hard border but her strategy of taking the UK out of the EU customs union as well as the single market belies her honeyed words.

The restoration of a functioning power sharing executive at Stormont is another priority for Mr Kenny as it could prove vital in helping to protect the interests of Northern Ireland from the negative fall-out from Brexit.

He also has to ensure everything that can be done is being done to protect the people of this State from the consequences of a hard Brexit. The level of commitment evident in the diplomatic campaign to defend Irish interests needs to be replicated in preparing industry and agriculture for the battles to come.

The Taoiseach’s insistence he still has work to do on these big issues before he leaves office has led to some speculation that he will defer his departure for as long as possible.

This appears unlikely in light of the commitment he gave to the Fine Gael parliamentary party to set out a timeline for departure after his return from the United States by dealing with the issue “effectively and conclusively”. It would make sense for Mr Kenny to step down in May having set the agenda for his successor on the vital issues ahead.

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