ONE of the things that his last government excelled at was job creation and Taoiseach Enda Kenny seems to be carrying on that trend by carving out a new niche for himself, aimed at keeping him a lot longer in the job that several younger pretenders in his Fine Gael party feel they should have. The British decision to leave the European Union has provided him with a handy excuse to justify staying on longer as Taoiseach in order to deal with the fall-out from it, possibly seeing out the entire lifetime of this government – however long that may be.
Since the Dáil resumed after its long summer recess, there have been sustained calls for the creation of a special ministry to deal with the inevitable consequences of the Brexit decision for Ireland. Britain has appointed David Davis as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to oversee the Brexit process and many feel we should have an equivalent minister or minster of state here to liaise with him on an ongoing basis in order to mitigate as much as possible the damage the Brexit will inevitably cause, especially to our export trade which has been the main driver of our economic recovery in recent years.
However, the Taoiseach has rejected all calls for such an appointment here, claiming that all of our ministers are already Brexit ministers because the fall-out from the British decision is so wide-ranging that it affects every government department. Mr Kenny also maintains that it is such an important issue for Ireland that the only appropriate level to deal with it is from the very top, which is why he has personally taken on the task – one that is likely to last several years.
While our Taoiseach has taken a battering from the Irish electorate and in the Irish media in recent years and shipped a lot of criticism – the most serious of it from within his own party – he has managed to maintain a veneer of authority and credibility on the international stage, making the cover of Time magazine after claiming the credit for steering Ireland out of the economic crisis at the start of this decade and remaining a favourite of powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel because of his willingness to jump through hoops for her as he bought into Frankfurt’s way.
Mr Kenny believes that his reputation internationally as a safe pair of hands is what is needed for us as a buffer against the political and economic turbulence that is inevitable as Britain sets about uncoupling itself from the European Union. The situation is complicated by the fact that the people of the nearest part of the UK, in Northern Ireland, voted to remain in the EU, yet their First Minister Arlene Foster campaigned to leave and there is uncertainty about the border situation between north and south will be when it becomes the westerly border between the UK and the EU.
However, what is of most immediate concern is the impact that the drop in the value of sterling is already having on Irish exports – food in particular – and this situation needs to be urgently addressed; ever before Britain triggers its EU exit mechanism. Our ambitious Food Wise 2025 export targets will probably have to be revised downwards, which will have adverse effects on rural Ireland and will present a major challenge for Clonakilty woman Tara McCarthy as she takes over her new role as CEO of An Bord Bia.
The Taoiseach needs to be proactive in dealing with Brexit and a lot more assertive in fighting our corner.