Thursday 25 April 2019

Enda Kenny: Northern Ireland and Brexit issues take precedence over my future

Taoiseach Enda Kenny takes part in the St Patrick's Day parade in New York
Taoiseach Enda Kenny takes part in the St Patrick's Day parade in New York
Donald Trump and Enda Kenny hold a bowl of shamrock during the St Patrick's Day reception and Shamrock Presentation Ceremony at the White House

Ireland's premier has indicated he will not announce any retirement plans until political uncertainty in Northern Ireland is addressed and the EU's negotiating stance on Brexit is agreed.

Enda Kenny said those "immediate priorities" would take precedence over "everything else" on his return to Ireland on Saturday after a week-long trip to the United States.

Prior to leaving for his annual St Patrick's programme of engagements in the US, the Taoiseach told members of his Fine Gael party he would address his future "effectively and conclusively" upon his return.

Mr Kenny, who has been Taoiseach since 2011, had been under pressure to set a timetable for his departure following criticism of his handling of a number of recent political controversies in Ireland.

After taking part in the St Patrick's Day parade in New York, he made clear that dealing with his own future would take a back seat to pressing concerns at Stormont and within the European Union.

"What I did say to my own party was I would deal with this matter effectively and conclusively, and that is my intention, but I think these are priorities that take precedence over everything else," he said.

"You can't have a situation where you have no leadership in Northern Ireland and where we have to define from a European Union point of view where Ireland would be, what the agreed terms of reference for the (Brexit) negotiations are."

Parties in Northern Ireland have until the end of the month to strike a deal to restore powersharing after a snap election triggered by a bitter fall-out between erstwhile partners-in-government, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists.

If an agreement fails to materialise before the deadline, political uncertainty north of the border will intensify, with the prospect of another snap poll or a return to direct rule from Westminster.

The coming weeks will also see Prime Minister Theresa May trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally commence the UK's departure from the EU - a move that is set to have major ramifications on both sides of the Irish border.

Mr Kenny told Irish media in New York: "Do you not think it is appropriate that the immediate priority here is to have an executive functioning here in Northern Ireland?

"Do you not think it appropriate that, after all the work we have put together, that we get an agreed negotiating stance for the European Union?

"It's going to affect everybody in our country - these are two immediate priorities."

Mr Kenny said his trip to the US had been a success.

The Fine Gael leader met with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington on Thursday, discussing issues such as Brexit, Northern Ireland and the 50,000 "undocumented" Irish who live in the US without legal permission.

Press Association

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