UK weeks away from EU divorce but FG TDs more concerned about ousting Enda
By Bernard Purcell
Just weeks from the start of the UK and EU’s divorce negotiations – the Article 50 Brexit talks which leading Irish politicians describe as one of the biggest threats to Ireland since the foundation of the State – Ireland’s government is in disarray. Fine Gael’s ‘young(-ish) Turks’ Leo Varadkar (38) and Simon Coveney (44) have delivered an ultimatum to Taoiseach Enda Kenny (65) to keep a promise to step down from the Fine Gael leadership…and clear the way for them.
Other contenders are also waiting in the wings as Mr Kenny was this Wednesday due to spell out his intentions – and a timetable for his departure – to his parliamentary party.
Supporters of Mr Kenny, who was elected to the Dail in 1975 when Liam Cosgrave was Taoiseach – he was once, at 24, the youngest TD in the Dail – and has led his party for 15 years, say Mr Kenny should be in at the start of the Brexit negotiations.
His impatient younger colleagues made it clear last week – in a staggering display of public disrespect – that he should be allowed a last St Patrick’s Day trip to the White House in Washington to give President Donald Trump a bowl of shamrock and then go.
The very public ouster followed an utterly shambolic performance by Mr Kenny in the Dail last week in response to revelations of a Garda Siochana campaign – from the top down – to blacken the name of a Garda Sergeant who blew the whistle on Garda corruption by leaking false stories to the press, including false allegations of child sexual abuse.
Mr Kenny’s minority government is kept in power by a handful of Independent TDs and the main opposition party, Fianna Fail, which agreed a ‘supply and confidence’ deal to keep FG in power ‘in the national interest’ rather than have another General Election so soon after the last one. But Fiana Fail, and FG Finance Minister Michael Noonan, said last week events in the Dail – including Mr Kenny’s performance over the Garda scandal – had brought that second election much closer.
By the standards of any Irish political leader Mr Kenny’s has been exceptional. He served much of his career without Cabinet distinction, having served as Tourism Minister between 1994 and 1997. But in 2002 he became Fine Gael leader, bringing it back from electoral oblivion inflicted on it in that year’s General Election when Michael Noonan was leader.
He survived a co-ordinated heave against him by other members of his party in 2010 to bring his party its best ever election result in 2011. He brought the Labour Party into Coalition and the two Coalition parties proceeded to implement the very same Fianna Fail austerity policies they had campaigned against to win office. During that time he presided over the IMF, European Union, European Central Bank (‘Troika’) bail out of Ireland’s banks and the Irish economy but also presided over Ireland’s exit for the bail-out.
Last year his party’s earlier majority was slashed and, against the odds, Enda, the great survivor, successfully negotiated the aforementioned ‘supply and confidence’ agreement with Fianna Fail and the support of several Independents.
After several attempts he was eventually re-elected Taoiseach. In doing so he became the only Fine Gael leader to secure two back-to-back election victories and terms as Taoiseach. The vast majority of his party’s TDs, MEPs and councilors have only ever known him as party leader and there is no-one in the party with quite his experience.