Can Taoiseach in limbo still do business with Europe?
It is vital that Enda Kenny remains active on Ireland’s behalf in key Brexit talks
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has relationships with the other leaders from his years in power. But they will also know that he is on the way out. Photograph: AP Photo
Senior corporate executives have, over the years, used many tactics and wheezes to hold on to their jobs. Few, however, have succeeded in mangling the English language as much as the Fine Gael party over the past week.
We are told that the Taoiseach provided “clarity”, when of course he did no such thing, saying merely that he would deal with matters “conclusively” on his return from the US for the St Patrick’s day functions. His senior party colleagues were saying they wanted to provide him with “ time and space”, when of course they really just want him to name the day.
A key issue now is the ability of the Taoiseach to act decisively in Ireland’s interest in the time remaining before he goes. There are two problems here. The first is the inevitable stasis at Government level as everyone waits to see what happens. Why, if you are a Minister, would you make a tricky decision when you might be relieved of your position by the new Taoiseach? Or, in some cases, when you might yourself aspire to this office?
Like a boardroom when the chief executive is on the way out, not much is going to happen in Cabinet in relation to important issues until the new boss is in place.
One pivotal meeting will fall to the departing Taoiseach. He now looks set to represent Ireland at a key EU summit in early April, which will decide on the EU’s negotiating position on Brexit.
There are issues of vital national interest for Ireland here – the North, the Border and the common travel area in particular. But the Irish case for as smooth-as-possible a Brexit also needs to be put forcefully, in part as a counterpoint to French-led demands that Britain must be seen to suffer.
Kenny has relationships with the other leaders from his years in power. But they will also know that he is on the way out. We can only hope that the office of Taoiseach and the support of senior officials will be enough to ensure that he is not pushed to the sidelines as decisions are made on how to handle the potentially toxic Brexit talks.
This cannot be part of a lap of honour – it is simply too important.