It is irrefutable that Ireland being on the outer edge of Europe, and literally being between Britain and the USA, is currently at this mercy of the chaos of international politics. To add to this melting pot of uncertainty, Enda Kenny the prime minister announced his retirement yesterday. Get ready folks for another election that has Brexit consequences.
Mr. Kenny’s announcement brings to an end 41 years of continuous service in the Irish parliament. Of these 41 years he spent 15 years as leader of Fine Gael and 6 years as Taoiseach (Prime Minister). As with most politicians he has had his good, bad and ugly times in office. However, this particular step has proven to be divisive among the public. Some feel he has served his country after rebuilding the Fine Gael party after their vote collapsed in 2002 and salvaging the economy on his election as Taoiseach in 2011. They also feel that in order for his party to win the next general election in Ireland it needs new blood, someone the electorate will be excited about. The vision is that the party, to borrow a phrase, should be ‘strong and stable’ with a new leader. However, others feel this could damage Ireland throughout the Brexit negotiations. The thing to note about Enda, is that although not necessarily appreciated domestically, he excelled as a leader in the international circuit. His likeability on the world stage has been compared to Obama and Merkel, this plus having 40 years political experience some feel will hurt us in Brexit.
Like a magpie spotting something shiny, everyone’s attention is now on who front runners to replace him are and how they will rise to the challenge of leading Ireland in these uncertain times?
There are currently two candidates who have a shot at taking the top job. Minister Leo Varadkar and Minister Simon Coveney are the front runners in the opinion polls. Minister Varadkar, who is currently leading in the polls, is the current Minister for Social Protection and Minister Coveney heads up the department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Ireland seems to be jumping on a recent political bandwagon with desiring young political leaders with Leo and Simon being 38 and 44 respectively. However, that’s where most similarities between the candidates end. Leo Varadkar is a Dublin based TD (Ireland’s own acronym for MP) with no political legacy who came out as gay during the run up to Ireland’s equality referendum. Simon Coveney is the rural candidate, his father was a TD before him and he is a married father of 3 children.
From a British perspective however, what are their stances on Brexit?
Simon Coveney, in an interview with the Irish Times said that Ireland cannot afford to take sides in the tussle between the EU and the United Kingdom. He believes Ireland needs to remain close to the UK for trade purposes while also continuing to be a strong and proactive member of the EU. With the announcement of a general election in the UK he emphasized the need to hold firm in negotiations given that Theresa May is likely to have a dramatic majority which will embolden her in her negotiations with the EU. His focus seems to be the impact on the agricultural sector.
Leo Varadkar is pushing for Northern Ireland to remain part of the single market should he be successful in the leadership race. He has stated that he wishes to preserve the common citizenship agreement between the UK and Ireland. However he is also standing tough declaring that his priority is Ireland’s interests and it is not their duty to fight England’s battles.
Even with Leo currently in the lead, as with most political elections in these uncertain times, anything can happen. It is largely unknown exactly what either would do if they are to become Prime Minister. Both men have played their cards close to their chests in the past due to the uncertainty of when Mr. Kenny would be passing the baton.
Whoever wins, they’ll have an immense task presented to them. Brexit will present the biggest challenge to the institutions that emerged out of the Good Friday Agreement. Ireland’s concerns need to be having sustained peace at its core. Enda’s retirement as just thrown another election in the ring that could steer the pathway of the Brexit negotiations. Either way it is a fascinating time in Irish politics. The election race will be done and dusted by June 2nd with Fine Gael TDs, Senators, local representatives and ordinary party members casting their votes in the interim.
The election race will be done and dusted by June 2nd with Fine Gael TDs, Senators, local representatives and ordinary party members casting their votes in the interim.