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Thursday 23 November 2017

Trouble brewing south of the border

There was no fanfare, no fuss when Enda Kenny arrived into the Slieve Donard Hotel on the second day of the North-South Parliamentary Conference.

Although Nick Clegg, the star of the Co Down talking-shop, had departed the previous evening, security was still ultra-tight around the hotel -- it was only five days since the Real IRA bomb in Derry reminded everyone that there's still a small violent minority who want no truck with consensus politics.

But while politicians from both sides of the Border were putting forward a harmonious and united front at this conference, the big question facing the denizens of Leinster House is how to handle the thorny issue of south-south consensus.

For after a couple of weeks of being quiet, the Greens burst back into life -- first with a plea from John Gormley to the opposition to lay down their weapons and move into a national government, and then yesterday he and his compadre Eamon Ryan called for an all-party forum on the four-year budget plan.

It was all a bit dramatic, and John's solo run appeared to have taken even the Taoiseach by surprise, Brian Cowen not being a noted believer in giving anything to the opposition except the cold shoulder.

Earlier in the week, the Fine Gael leader poured a bucket of icy water over the notion of any sort of Tallaght Two strategy, nor were there warm, fuzzy vibes emanating from the other opposition parties for the idea of a total cessation of hostilities.

It's a tricky time for the opposition leaders. If they dig in their heels too resolutely against a government call for a ceasefire, they run the risk of being accused of putting party politics before the national interest, but then there's a lurking horror that they'll provide a lifeline for a desperate government if they sign up too eagerly to a south-south consensus.

And so all eyes are on the Fine Gael and Labour leaders to see will they raise the white flag of capitulation, the patriotic Tricolour or the skull-and-crossbones of No Surrender. But then, all eyes have been trained upon Enda Kenny for some time now. And so perhaps it wasn't surprising that he looked a bit weary when he arrived in the Newcastle hotel yesterday to attend the morning sessions.

It's been a tough few months. The aftershocks of the June heave are still rippling through the party; the opinion polls continue to bear bad tidings for Fine Gael; and then there was the bungled attempt to ambush the Government last month by refusing a pair for the Tanaiste to travel to the US on a jobs-related mission which was sabotaged by the Labour Party.

And so it's not surprising that the bounce has gone from Enda's step. And now on top of everything else he has to negotiate a safe passage through the treacherous seas of a national consensus proposal.

So unsurprisingly his support for the latest olive-branch being proffered by the Greens was cagey, although once more he slammed the door shut on the notion of climbing into bed with the enemy. "A national government is not going to happen," he repeated yesterday.

He was less adamantine on the latest plea from the Greens, yet wasn't in a hurry to rush into the embrace of John Gormley and Eamon Ryan either.

"If I get a response from the Taoiseach today saying he's had discussions from John Gormley and that this is now a government initiative, then Fine Gael will respond to that," he said.

But old enmities are hard to conquer. And so the distrust lingers in Fine Gael that this is a last-gasp manoeuvre by a government avid to save its skin. "The end is close, no matter what happens. It's lost its moral authority, it's presided over debacle after debacle," said Enda.

But nothing is ever over until it's over. And after the titanic power struggle last June, nobody knows that better than Enda Kenny.

Irish Independent

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