Whose hand is on the tiller?

Kenny and the EU

The contrast was striking, even alarming. On the one hand, Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Mansion House yesterday setting out the “unprecedented political, economic and diplomatic” challenges presented by Brexit and its aftermath. Challenges that he seems still to want us to believe he will successfully guide us through. On the other, Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil, unable to recall exactly what he said or heard from whom and when, at the head of what our political editor Pat Leahy describes as a “dysfunctional Government” in which collective decision making in cabinet appears to have broken down.

Amid this chaotic sense of drift, compounded by a failure to regain the political initiative and unprecedented instability within his minority government, most of Mr Kenny’s party colleagues are convinced his tenure as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader is in its endgame. The only issue is how soon. Absolutely no question, as he was wont to hint only too recently, that he would lead the Brexit talks to completion. That baton will be passed to his successor with the broad agenda that Mr Kenny set out yesterday.

In doing so the Taoiseach moved beyond the general aspirations for a continuation of the common travel area and a borderless State that we have already heard, to a more detailed account of the challenges and the response of the Government and our diplomats sector by sector.

Crucially, our purpose will be “to negotiate... the closest possible economic and trading relationship between the EU and the UK, even if it will not involve UK membership of the single market”. In other words, the “softest” Brexit possible.


He was not shy in putting to fellow EU leaders what he sees as an obligation on them to find the political will to circumvent legal and administrative problems associated with common travel and trade borders as well as their obligation to assist in securing the peace process to which they contributed. “The EU,” he argued, “has always been about removing barriers, about bringing people together in peace and prosperity ... This is a political matter, not a legal or technical matter. It will have to be solved by political leadership.”

Nor was he embarrassed in his suggestion Ireland will expect financial help from partners to deal with the uniquely painful shock to its economy Brexit represents. With EU budgets set to shrink, that may only be possible if such demands are included in the hefty Brexit bill to the UK that the divorce talks will discuss once article 50 is triggered. That will go down well in London!

Economically, as Kenny points out, our challenge relates as much to what we do to reinvigorate our native industry and our national finances as to talks with Brussels and the UK. In that regard his commitment to drafting a new 10-year capital programme is particularly important though the task may fall to his successor.