Centre must hold against extremism, Kenny tells Canadians

Taoiseach speaks of need for strong EU at meeting with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the press as Taoiseach Enda Kenny looks on during a new conference in Montreal, Quebec. Photograph: Reuters/Christinne Muschi

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the press as Taoiseach Enda Kenny looks on during a new conference in Montreal, Quebec. Photograph: Reuters/Christinne Muschi


Taoiseach Enda Kenny has spoken of people’s need for “certainty and stability” from their political leaders in a wide-ranging speech in Montreal where he met prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday.

In what is widely expected to be one of his final overseas visits as Taoiseach, Mr Kenny told a gathering of Canadian business leaders that the word, ‘Bealtaine,’ the Irish word for the month of May, symbolised looking ahead to “new life, new


Mr Kenny, who declined to answer questions by Irish media about his plans to step down as Taoiseach, stressed the importance of the political centre, quoting WB Yeats’ maxim that the “centre cannot hold.”

“That is the centre that now must hold…because across democracies, our best our being pushed to the hard left by anger and to the right by fear and it’s happening to the degree that the old battles of left and right might well may be over to be replaced by something that seeks not to unite us but to divide us, not only among ourselves but from what they identify and objectify as the others. They see the people of who they are as individuals but as what they are, as an ethnic, a faith, or an economic group.”

Mr Kenny said there was a difference between nationalism and patriotism. “True patriotism burns quietly but furiously in the human heart. Narrow nationalism sets fire to decency, responsibility, even humanity itself, sometimes in ways that might not appear fanatic.”

In Europe, the best antidote to toxic nationalism has been the European Union, he said.

Following what Mr Trudeau described as a “productive” meeting between the two men, Mr Trudeau highlighted the links between Ireland and Canada, noting the contribution Irish emigrants had made to his home city of Montreal during the industrial period of the nineteenth century.

“Over the centuries millions of Irish immigrants and their descendants made Canada their home and we’re all better for it,” he said, adding: “It’s diversity that makes this country so strong.”

Mr Kenny thanked Mr Trudeau for the “generosity and warmth Canadians have shown to our emigrants” and for keeping visa opportunities open for many Irish young people who want to live and work in Canada.

Mr Trudeau, whose country is facing trade challenges from the Trump administration as the White House threatens to renegotiate the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which governs trade relations between the United States, Canada and Mexico, stressed the economic and social benefits of free trade throughout his speech.

Mr Trudeau spoke at length of the advantages of the EU-Canadian trade deal known as Ceta, which he said will create “well-paying middle class jobs for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.” The agreement, which was brokered between the EU and Canada but has been heavily criticized by some consumer groups and campaigners, is an “ambitious and truly comprehensive deal…an excellent deal for Canada and its European partners,” he said, which contains provisions on “labour protection, environment, food and consumer safety,” he said.

“Ceta is a model for global trade as it establishes a framework for meaningful growth that

will benefit everyone.”

Mr Kenny sees “enormous potential” for trade between Ireland and Canada . “We are going to follow through with that.” He also highlighted the possibilities Ireland held for countries such as Canada after Brexit, offering the possibility for companies to invest in the European Union through Ireland.

Mr Kenny, who was accompanied by IDA chief Martin Shanahan, visited Concordia University, and met with business leaders from the Montreal business community earlier in the day. He flies to Toronto on Thursday evening where he is due to partake in several engagements with Enterprise Ireland and visit the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre.

Amid criticism from French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron about Ireland’s low corporate tax regime, Mr Kenny said that tax sovereignty was enshrined in the protocol of the Lisbon Treaty.

“The treaties of the European Union set out that it’s a national competence to deal with corporate tax. Ireland’s tax rate has been 12.5 per cent for all sectors. it’s not moving anywhere.”

“Other countries are entitled to move them if they so wish,” noting that Ireland had supported Northern Ireland’s move to reduce its corporate tax rate some years ago.

He said that he hoped Mr Macron wins the election in France, describing him as “very pro-European.”

Mr Kenny refused to confirm if Ireland voted in favour of Saudi Arabia’s election to human rights body at the United Nations.

“I raised the issue of women rights myself during a trade mission to Saudi Arabia some years ago. This is an issue that concerns us greatly. it’s always been a long standing convention not to indicate the nature of the vote. But I expect that the incoming ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason will do a superb job with pursuing the issue of women’s right in particular when she takes up her duty as Ireland’s ambassador to the United Nations later this summer.”