Kenny ignores blot on the horizon to stabilise ground beneath his feet

There was an almost poignant synergy of circumstances evident as Taoiseach Enda Kenny looked out across Cobh harbour.

With a sound nod of assurance and a wave of his hand, he endeavoured to deal with the problem blotting the water in front of him. “Get this thing organised, whatever we have to do with that,” he said.

He summoned this authority after being told the frame of the old wooden pier, directly underneath the Titanic Experience, was decaying, unsteady, and needed stabilising.

The manager of the centre, Gillen Joyce, said the small timber structure was creaking and unsafe.

Mr Joyce said everybody knew the pier had to be sorted and now. Mr Kenny said it would be done.

Of course, had the Taoiseach’s eyes drifted up a notch he would have struggled to be as assertive.

Because immediately across a small stretch of water there was a more problematic talking point: Haulbowline.

Despite being the largest feature on the horizon, this matter was not mentioned in conversation.

Stabilising a small wooden pier might be within the power of his Government, but cleaning up the toxic dump festering away on Haulbowline Island is a commitment too far.

It has promised money to cleanse the most polluted corner of the island, but dealing with the rest of the former Irish Steel site has proved too expensive.

When it comes to Cobh, you can stabilise the creaky pier but let’s not mention the toxic mess continually threatening one of Ireland’s most important maritime assets.

Not long afterwards, Mr Kenny was meeting reporters at Midleton. And, as usual, he duly responded to the issues of the day.

First up was the so-called stability treaty.

Like the pier, the impact and prospect of next week’s vote was spoken about with a degree of cautious confidence.

“There is nothing ever in the bag as far as politics is concerned,” he said. “From a Government perspective and, indeed, a broader yes perspective, what we intend to do is... explain what is in this treaty and how simple it actually is.

“This is our vote, our people, our country, the consequences are very positive for a yes vote.”

Delivering a yes vote could continue to improve the short-term optics of the Irish economy for visitors arriving on behalf of the troika.

It could help stabilise some aspects of budget preparation that have been unsound and unsightly.

But on the list of urgent and dangerous priorities, anybody focusing solely on next week’s vote has ignored the shadows in the immediate economic background.

Straight after he answered his question on the referendum, the Taoiseach was asked about news that more than 10% of mortgage holders were now behind on their payments by three months or more.

Mr Kenny said the problem was absolutely critical but the figures were not unexpected.

“What is happening here is that we are very aware of the acuteness of this,” he said.

Mr Kenny pointed out that a Cabinet sub-committee would have to meet with the banks again to assess their plans for the categorisation of mortgages.

A personal insolvency bill, which deals with the worst cases of distressed mortgage holders, was on track to be published.

But, like focusing on the worst corner of Haulbowline, this will not cover the vast majority of people in trouble who want to avoid bankruptcy.

So far, a solution to clean up this mess has proved too great.

Stability on the small things can be easily commanded.

But what about tackling the problems that are so entrenched that they contaminate the horizon?

That is a conversation for another day.


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