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Long serving EU Prime Minister to resign

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 23rd, 2017 at 04:45:54 PM EST

Enda Kenny, one of the EU's longest serving Prime Ministers, is set to resign in the aftermath of his St. Patrick's day visit to the US and the UK's formal declaration of Brexit under Article 50 next month. Opposition to his leadership of Fine Gael, the largest party and incumbent Government, has been growing since their disastrous campaign and results in the General Election last year. He is perhaps best known for his forthright condemnation of the Vatican in the aftermath of the child sexual abuse scandals which have come to light in recent years: Wiki

On 20 July [2011], Kenny condemned the Vatican[ for its role in the scandal, stating that the Church's role in obstructing the investigation was a serious infringement upon the sovereignty of Ireland and that the scandal revealed "the dysfunction, disconnection and elitism that dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day". He added that "the historic relationship between church and state in Ireland could not be the same again".

This leadership move comes despite the fact that the Irish economy has largely recovered from the catastrophic collapse suffered in the wake of the financial crisis and banking debacle presided over by the previous Fianna Fail led regime.  Not many leaders in European politics would be in terminal decline with an economy having recovered from 15% to 7% unemployment, with emigration reversed, public sector deficits largely eliminated, and with incomes gradually on the rise again.

But Kenny is both the author and victim of the inequality of that recovery, which has benefited mainly the older, wealthier, and more Dublin based sections of the population to the exclusion of the younger, more disadvantaged and rural demographics. Last years' Fine Gael election slogan "Keep the Recovery Going", devised by UK Tory political strategists, touched a raw nerve: Many people hadn't felt much of a recovery in their personal lives at all, and resented the crowing of the political establishment that all was now well.

The result was that Fine Gael obtained only 25% of the national vote and was forced to form the smallest minority Government in the history of the Irish State with a handful of independents and the abstention of Fianna Fail, their largest rivals, who refused to enter into coalition with them. Now Fianna Fail are riding high in the polls again, proving that the political memory of the electorate is very short term indeed, and making Fine Gael Ministers and back-benchers extremely nervous. Kenny, at 65, has become a political liability, and must now pay the ultimate political price.

However his political decline is largely about personalities and branding, not about policies and ideology. His rivals within Fine Gael share his largely conservative economic views and mildly reformist social policies. There is a general recognition that Brexit and Trump represent twin crises for the Irish economy and low corporate tax economic policy model, but no determination to move towards any other model. Yes, a new industrial policy has been promised together with a more ambitious public investment plan, but there is no way that Fine Gael, under any possible new leader, will depart radically form the economic model which has enabled Ireland to become one of the more prosperous members of the European Union.

The two main leadership contenders post Kenny are Simon Coveney and Leo Varadker. Coveney's father was also a Fine Gael Minister and he has the support of much of the party establishment. As a former Minister for Agriculture and based in Cork, he also has the support of much of the party's rural base. As the Current Minister for Housing and Local Government he has just announced a major plan to tackle the huge public and private housing deficit in the country.

Leo Varadker is a somewhat more unusual figure for Irish politics. He has an Indian father, was educated in a protestant School, and is a qualified doctor. He came out as gay some years ago and, if anything, has gained in national profile since. He has managed to cultivate a media friendly image as being somewhat outspoken and not in the usual mould of the "whatever you say, say nothing" Irish politician. His appeal would go some way beyond the confines of the Fine Gael faithful, but it is they he must convince in order to win the leadership.

The election is expected to be triggered shortly after Kenny arrives back from Washington for the traditional Patrick's day visit to the White House. For the first time in Irish politics, the electoral college will be made up of not just the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party (including MEPs), but of local Councillors (10%) and party members (25%) as well. This ensures that the election won't be decided just in the proverbial "smoked filled back-rooms" of the party and that candidates will have to make their case at hustings throughout the country.

In theory this should force candidates to elaborate their policies on dealing with Trump and Brexit, on broadening the base of the Irish economy beyond US sourced FDI, and how they propose to represent Ireland's interests in the EU when their major ally there departs. Northern Ireland should also become a key factor in the debate, with candidates expected to elaborate on how they propose to prevent a re-emergence of a hard border when the UK leaves the EU, Single Market and Custom's Union. As yet, I see no sign that any are prepared to embrace my proposed solution that Ireland should campaign for N. Ireland to remain within the EU.

Other possible contenders for the leadership include Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minster) Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice and Equality, and Minister for Health Simon Harris, who is just 30 years of age but seen as a rising star within the party. His candidature would emphasise the generational shift implicit in this election, as most of the older and more experienced Ministers like Michael Noonan (Finance), Charlie Flanagan (Foreign Affairs) and Richard Bruton (Education), won't be standing. All candidates are likely to support a referendum on the abolition of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits abortion, as it will be a key test of their liberal credentials.

In one respect, the timing of Kenny's departure is unfortunate. As one of the EU's longest standing prime ministers, he has built up good relationships and some respect with his peers on the European Council. As Ireland is most dramatically impacted by Brexit, we need to have a strong input into the Brexit negotiations. Our cause will not be helped by having a relative neophyte in the role.

However it has long been my view that the Brexit negotiations will ultimately be driven by German and French interests, and they are unlikely to take much account of Irish concerns regardless of who occupies the Taoiseach's role. Having a younger and more energetic Prime Minister may be an advantage in the long slog that the Brexit and any subsequent trade negotiations are likely to engender. Ireland needs a fresh start, but the jury is out as to whether any Fine Gael Leader can provide it.

Enda Kenny calls for Brexit deal to include united Ireland provision

`The Good Friday agreement is like a poem, it speaks for itself' - Jean Claude Juncker

Enda Kenny has insisted Ireland's Brexit negotiating position will not be undermined by his looming departure as leader in the coming weeks.

And the Taoiseach said any Brexit deal should include language that would allow Northern Ireland to easily return to the EU in the event of an united Ireland.

Mr Kenny said the provisions that allowed East Germany to join West Germany and the EU "in a seamless fashion" after the fall of the Berlin wall offered a precedent.

The effect of such a provision would be to provide N. Ireland with an escape route from Brexit - should it agree to become part of a united Ireland. This could massively realign the sectarian division of N. Ireland politics on religious/tribal lines.  Many of the N. Ireland Unionist community have strong business and farming interests which will be harmed by Brexit. In general, a hard border would be very disruptive of North south economic integration and the development of the N. Ireland economy.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Feb 23rd, 2017 at 07:45:57 PM EST
Jean-Claude Juncker doesn't want Northern Ireland and Republic to have post-Brexit hard border
The EU does not want a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic as a result of Brexit, Jean-Claude Juncker has said.

The European Commission president was speaking after meeting with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Brussels.

According to RTE, he said: "During the Brexit negotiations, the EU and Ireland must work together to minimise the impact. We don't want hard borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland."

by Bernard on Fri Feb 24th, 2017 at 07:48:15 AM EST
Could Enda Kenny be appointed as a representative, in some capacity, of Ireland to the EU?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Feb 24th, 2017 at 03:05:50 PM EST
What, Gombeen in Chief?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 24th, 2017 at 03:28:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Kenny is living proof that you don't have to be an intellectual genius to be a moderately competent politician. He has managed to develop a lot of positive relationships, kept his enemies at bay, and played the realities of power as he saw them.  He was helped in this by the incompetence of Fianna Fail, and by the fact that the talent pool in Fine Gael is very small indeed. But he will go down in history as one of the more successful Taoisigh, having pulled Ireland back from the brink of bankruptcy into quite a remarkable recovery in a relatively short period of time.

He also took the lead in outing the shenanigans of the Catholic Church at a political level and presided over, if not actually led some important reforms.. He is the only Fine Gael leader to be re-elected as Taoiseach, despite the fact that a predecessor, Garret Fitzgerald, was much more gifted in may respects. It has always been fashionable to scoff at his limited abilities, but many who fancy themselves as more gifted haven't done half as much.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 24th, 2017 at 03:45:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But he will go down in history as one of the more successful Taoisigh, having pulled Ireland back from the brink of bankruptcy into quite a remarkable recovery in a relatively short period of time.

Having been around when the Irish economy was finally allowed recover.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Feb 24th, 2017 at 03:56:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well he would have been blamed and excoriated if the Irish economy had continued to implode, so I suppose he is entitled to claim some credit when it recovered.  But yes, I agree, the degree to which the Government can actually claim credit for the recovery is generally overrated. They could also have done a lot more harm - such as cut core social welfare rates - which thankfully, largely due to the presence of the Labour party in his prior Government, they didn't do.  

Many on the left will also argue they should have "burned the bondholders" in Irish banking debt, and perhaps they should have. But perhaps the low interest rates which are now enabling the relatively cheap re-financing and reduction of national debt are also, at least partly, because they didn't do so. The debt GDP ration is due to be down to c. 75% this year, down from 120% a few years ago - and NAMA has still to unwind some of the bad assets it accumulated.  That's a pretty major reduction in a short period and puts Ireland in a significantly better position to face the headwinds of Brexit and Trump.

Is there another economy in Europe which can claim a similar recovery?  I suspect the Greeks would be glad of it.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 24th, 2017 at 04:18:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We have no shortage of Gombeen men (and women) in US politics - no small number of Irish descent. Thanks for the language lesson.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Feb 26th, 2017 at 06:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He was mentioned in speculation as a possible President of the European Council some years ago, but I suspect his time (at 65) is now past. I suspect he will retain his seat as a back bencher until the next election however.  There has been no suggestion that he will retire from politics completely immediately.  

As a complete long shot, he could be a compromise candidate for President of either the Council or Commission next time around, as Juncker is set to retire, and I don't know what Donald Tusk's intentions are.  It could be a nod to the Brits that the EU is prepared to consider an amicable divorce.

As I said in the diary, he has built up good relationships and trust on the EU Council but I don't think he would be seen as an EU heavy weight - more a compromise if no one else can be agreed on.

But, if as I suspect, Germany and France want to drive the Brexit negotiations, they will probably not want an Anglophile at the head of the Council. Kenny would have been a possibility if the Brits had voted to stay in and there was a move to be accommodating to their concerns.

Now, not so much.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Feb 24th, 2017 at 03:28:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Opinion poll results: neck and neck
Asked to choose between the two widely expected candidates to lead the party after Mr Kenny steps down, Mr Coveney is preferred as the next leader by 49 per cent of Fine Gael voters, while 44 per cent say they would choose Mr Varadkar.


When all voters (rather than just Fine Gael voters) were offered the list of potential or presumed candidates in the election, Mr Coveney (28 per cent) and Mr Varadkar (30 per cent) were vastly more popular choices than Paschal Donohoe (4 per cent), Frances Fitzgerald (4 per cent), Richard Bruton (6 per cent) or Simon Harris (2 per cent).

Just over a fifth of all voters (22 per cent) said they didn't know.

Among Fine Gael voters who were offered the long list of potential candidates, Mr Varadkar enjoys a small lead - 42 per cent against Mr Coveney's 38 per cent.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Mar 4th, 2017 at 11:43:58 AM EST

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