We should be glad Kenny is willing to get involved in Brexit talks

Just as we had repaired relations with the British, you’d feel like banging their heads together, writes Alison O’Connor
We should be glad Kenny is willing to get involved in Brexit talks

A while back, the actor Charlton Heston addressed the then US presidential nominee, Al Gore, who was an advocate of gun control.

With classic Hollywood swagger Heston, since deceased, told Gore that his gun would be taken “from my cold, dead hands”.

Watching Enda Kenny at the All Ireland Brexit gathering at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham on Wednesday it was quite clear that Brexit would be wrestled from his grasp, politically at least, in the same way Heston would have relinquished his gun.

Brexit is potentially an utter disaster for us all. Just as we had repaired our historically fractured relationship with the Brits, you’d now feel like banging their collective heads together over their utter stupidity and breath taking levels of self-obsession.

They haven’t even had the good grace in the four months that have passed since the vote to pull themselves together and form a proper plan.

As Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin told Wednesday’s gathering, in the period since the referendum there has been little or no progress is defining what Brexit actually means.

Sure, he said, we can take reasonable scenarios and talk about what can be done.

“But we also have to talk about the crude and chaotic Brexit which some in the London cabinet appear to be advocating,” he added.

But even Brexit has a silver lining and that cloud currently looms in the sky right over Mr Kenny’s political career.

There is merit in what Bertie Ahern advocates in the appointment of a Brexit minister whose full job it would be to try and get a handle on the entire mess.

But there is an equal, if not more compelling, case for it to be handled by a taoiseach of Mr Kenny’s experience, given the relationships he has forged with EU leaders over a number of years.

Those in favour of a change of leadership in Fine Gael argue that it doesn’t matter so much who is taoiseach for the Brexit negotiations — there are changes around the EU leaders table on a rolling basis, they say.

But, on reflection, we are in such deep trouble with Brexit that every bit of help and experience is now vital.

Mr Kenny said last week that he would be the one to “lead” our response.

Surely there is a case for this man being the one to look deep into the eyes of his colleagues and remind them of our sacrifices during the austerity years, and how we did not burn the bondholders.

In this vein, Mr Kenny made sure to put his stamp on Wednesday’s proceedings and stayed at the civic forum long after what a taoiseach might have been expected to, especially one who was facing a threatened Garda strike.

He even returned to the Royal Hospital to do a live appearance on Six One News, which was broadcast from there.

Yesterday, he travelled to the North on Brexit business.

All of this, it can be argued, is the expected behaviour of a political leader facing something of the magnitude of Brexit. He would be criticised for doing otherwise.

But it is also serendipity of the most marvellous kind. He told the gathering that British prime minister Theresa May could trigger Article 50 and begin Brexit talks as early as December, rather than in March.

Whether this was indeed a risk, or that it merely suited the Taoiseach’s upping the Brexit ante, is a moot point after the high court in London ruled yesterday that the British government does not have the power to trigger article 50 without consulting parliament.

In unscripted remarks, he went on to warn that “negotiations could get “quite vicious” and Europe could lose the plot if it becomes obsessed with what Britain might or might not get in the discussions.

It was certainly more subtle that running into a phonebox and coming out in a cape and tights with ‘Captain Brexit’ emblazoned across his chest, but you get the drift. Young bucks Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar were also in attendance and there was a slight temptation afterwards to tap each of them on the shoulder and ask: How could you possibly do any better than this man with his wealth of experience?

Mr Kenny presided over a disastrous general election campaign. He should consider himself very lucky to have been returned as Taoiseach.

But even taking all of that into consideration, he may well be the person best placed to represent us at least in the early stages of these negotiations.

The Brexit forum, as Tom Arnold, who chaired the proceedings, pointed out, was really valuable for the range of diversity and voices that it brought together, especially with its All Ireland dimension. Unfortunately it was not attended by the two main unionist parties.

The day was not filled with doomsday Brexit predictions, and some contributors chose to highlight the opportunities, especially in education and science.

Some of the most interesting points were made by Ruth Taillon of the Centre for Cross Border Studies, in addressing the issue of free movement across the border.

She said at least 30,000 people cross the border for work, school, or college each day.

There are more than 100,000 people on this island who don’t hold either UK or Irish citizenship, she said, including 40,000 who live in the North.

Several of them cross the border on a regular, if not daily, basis.

Post-Brexit, she said, raids on factories close to the border could not be ruled out “and are certainly foreseeable” for checks on passports and visas.

Paddy Malone of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce spoke of the major impact on his area.

There are 3,000 commuters who cross the border daily and they could be affected by new controls, as would the transport industry.

Tom Daly of Co-operation and Working Together, a body which operates in border areas, spoke about a €60m oncology and radiotherapy unit that is opening in Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry — with €40m invested by the Northern Ireland Executive and €20m by the Government — with a service level agreement between both for 25 years to treat patients from all over the North-West.

At the conclusion of the day’s proceedings, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said we had to be prepared for everything from the “softest of soft Brexits, to the hardest of hard Brexits”

From this vantage point, and with the behaviour of the British government, it is virtually impossible to see how it will be anything other than a chaotic Brexit, at least in the early stages.

We are in for a rough ride.

The best we can hope is that it will not be prolonged.

What we can say for certain is that Enda Kenny is ready and willing to serve.

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