Taoiseach to join Enterprise Ireland US trade mission in June

Enda Kenny expected to address the leadership issue at a party meeting on Wednesday

Taoiseach Enda Kenny says he expects to accompany Enterprise Ireland on a trade mission to the US next month, fuelling fresh speculation about the timeline of his stepping down as leader.

Mr Kenny is expected to address the leadership issue at a parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday.

Speaking at the launch of an Enterprise Ireland strategy document on Monday, Mr Kenny indicated he intended to accompany the agency on a five-day trade mission to the US Pacific northwest and midwest in June.

"I hope to visit Chicago in the near future with a trade mission from Enterprise Ireland where there are many valuable companies wishing to expand their reach across the Atlantic," he said.


Leadership contenders Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar were both said to be working under the assumption that Mr Kenny would announce his intention to go on Wednesday.

This would then be followed by a three-week long leadership contest, culminating in a final vote on June 6th. In this scenario, if Mr Kenny was on a trade mission between June 4th and June 9th, he would be out of the country for the conclusion of the leadership contest.

While Mr Kenny is expected to address the leadership issue this week there is growing speculation he may seek to extend his tenure until at least the summer recess.

Prolonged departure

Party sources fear a prolonged departure may deepen unrest within the party with Mr Coveney and Mr Varadkar already canvassing for support.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton is also reported to be assessing the possibility of entering the race.

The Fine Gael leadership will be decided by an electoral college that gives the parliamentary party – TDs, Senators and MEPs – 65 per cent of the vote. Rank-and-file members are allocated 25 per cent and councillors 10 per cent.

Speaking at the Enterprise Ireland launch, Mr Kenny said that despite the uncertain macroeconomic climate caused by Brexit, clients of the agency continued to find new markets for their products and services.

The agency’s latest annual report showed client companies reported export sales of €21.6 billion last year, up 6 per cent year on year.

However, it also revealed growth in exports to the UK slowed from 12 per cent in 2015 to 2 per cent last year

"The fact that the growth of exports to the UK, has slowed suggests that the impact of Brexit on Irish companies has already started," said Julie Sinnamon, chief executive of Enterprise Ireland.

“Companies cannot afford to wait until the Brexit negotiations conclude - they must act now,” she said.

“While diversifying from the UK might have been a desirable objective for Irish companies in the past, Brexit means that it is now an urgent imperative,” she added.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times