Business Brexit

Friday 23 February 2018

Revealed: Kenny to stay on as Taoiseach for an extra 18 months

'Brexit' will shape our futures, but now Kenny faces his greatest test

Enda Kenny, here leaving after the EU Summit in Brussels on Wednesday, looks set to stay on longer as Taoiseach as a consequence of the ‘Brexit’ vote. Photo: Reuters/Eric Vidal.
Enda Kenny, here leaving after the EU Summit in Brussels on Wednesday, looks set to stay on longer as Taoiseach as a consequence of the ‘Brexit’ vote. Photo: Reuters/Eric Vidal.
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Exactly one week ago, Taoiseach Enda Kenny left his apartment in Dublin's South Inner City for an early morning stroll.

It was less of a stroll, per se, rather a rare opportunity for him to clear his head.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on all parties to ‘pull on the green jersey’. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called on all parties to ‘pull on the green jersey’. Photo: Gerry Mooney

A chance for the Fine Gael leader to weigh up the full scale consequences of 'Brexit' for his Government, his leadership and his people.

The short walk under the early morning sunshine allowed Mr Kenny the time to think about how Britain's decision could potentially scupper the economic recovery that he has been instrumental in driving.

'Brexit' has shifted the goalposts entirely in terms of Ireland's future, and its future relationship with its closest neighbours.

But as the week wore on, and the Dáil weighed up the effects of 'Brexit', the view within some sections of Government circles towards Mr Kenny's future also shifted quite dramatically.

Read more: A national unity government can help us navigate uncharted waters

Terms such as 'lame duck' and 'political corpse' have been part of the constant mutterings about Mr Kenny's leadership in recent weeks.

However, even some of his most severe critics now believe Mr Kenny's position at the helm of the Fine Gael party, and indeed the minority Government, has been prolonged as a result of last week's vote. Many believe the idea that Mr Kenny will depart just after Christmas no longer stands, as a result of 'Brexit'.

"He has spent five years going to EU Council meetings and has relationships with Merkel and others so it wouldn't make sense to change that now," one seasoned minister said.

Although not a critic of Mr Kenny in the slightest, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar is seen as the mostly likely successor as Fine Gael leader.

But last night, he warned that the "chaos" that has engulfed London shows the need for this Government to last the long haul.

"Politics is always shaped by events. 'Brexit' is a big one. Many people who may not have seen the need for stability and strong government a few months ago probably do so now when witnessing the political chaos in London," the Dublin West TD told the Irish Independent.

"I think the result means the Government will last longer than people thought and emphasises the need for us to work on a cross-party basis, especially when it comes to matters of national interest," he added.

That sentiment is shared among members of the Independent Alliance, whose support proved crucial to Mr Kenny being elected Taoiseach for a consecutive term. "In many ways, 'Brexit' has changed things in terms of how long this Government is likely to last and that means rowing in behind him," according to Longford/Westmeath TD Kevin 'Boxer' Moran.

But, in many ways, it doesn't matter too much what Mr Kenny's own colleagues in Fine Gael think.

As has been seen on numerous occasions in recent weeks, Fianna Fáil holds the balance of power in this administration.

Read more: The stakes are high - so we must don the green jersey and put aside partisan posturing

Micheál Martin's party has positioned itself neatly within the realm of new politics, securing several policy victories in areas such as mortgages and motor insurance.

And so his intervention, delivered through the pages of this newspaper yesterday, is seen as highly significant within political circles.

Mr Martin called on TDs from all sides of the house to "don the green jersey" and "put aside political posturing".

Some of his closest TDs believe Mr Martin will, for the time being at least, pause his campaign to become Taoiseach.

"At a time like this, Micheál is going to put the country first - not plunging the country into a period of further uncertainty by forcing an early general election," said one senior Fianna Fáil TD.


But Mr Martin has also made clear that 'Brexit' has placed a huge responsibility on the shoulders of Mr Kenny and the Fine Gael party, not only for this country but also the people of the North.

The leader of the Opposition is categorical: the Government must make the best of a situation that has been likened to "Doomsday".

"We need to be pushing hard with Europe on the special status of the North, while alongside this identifying what short and medium-term opportunities there might be for other regions and regional centres across the country," he said last night.

"For example, in Cork and Waterford there is a growing hub of financial services expertise, while in the west we have growing clusters of excellence in the gaming and pharmaceutical industries. We need to get smart quickly on how we might use the uncertainty of the coming years for the advantage of the entire country and not just the capital," Mr Martin added.

In just over 10 weeks' time, we will have a better picture as to whether the Government is up to the challenge of sheltering Ireland from the dangers of 'Brexit', as well as the inevitable contagion effect that has already take hold.

Read more: Our economy depends on Kenny being stronger in the face of a dual crisis

One of the most crucial jobs, ministers believe, is setting out a plan to transform cities such as Cork into investment hubs and centres of excellence.

Senior Government figures believe more resources must be given to the IDA to effectively engage with reconnaissance teams of big firms now eyeing up Ireland for investment.

Above all, an urgent plan must now be developed, as acknowledged by Housing Minister Simon Coveney, to address the lack of housing and office space in our cities.

Indeed, the mood within political circles one week after the seismic event is one of optimism.

But a lot can happen during the months of so-called 'Silly Season' that could change the tide completely.

Without doubt, Mr Kenny and Co face a test like none other.

Irish Independent

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