DANIEL MCCONNELL: Kenny and Ross build fragile peace - only time will tell if it holds

Shane Ross with President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny after receiving his seal of office.

So we have peace in our time, it seems, writes Daniel McConnell.

On Thursday, during the taking of the weekly votes in the Dáil, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his bête noire, Transport Minister Shane Ross, sat in the chamber and had a heart-to-heart for more than 10 minutes.

The pair detest each other and their poor relationship had already threatened to pull this impotent minority Government down before it was properly up and running. Ross, during the negotiations to form the Coalition, took to his Sunday Independent column to describe Kenny as a “political corpse,” an insult which stung bitterly.

Such animosity means the pair have not spoken one-on-one, bar on a couple of occasions of tension, since the Coalition was formed on May 6.

Then Ross kicked up when Kenny tried to directly appoint former Taoiseach John Bruton to the €270,000 a year vice-presidency of the European Investment Bank without a formal selection process being undertaken.

It emerged the matter was only tagged on to the Cabinet agenda after Fine Gael were informed Ross would be out of the country on business, on the day the ministers met.

The matter only came to a head after Ross’ plans changed and he attended Cabinet, letting Kenny know of his deep displeasure at the stunt.

Shane Ross
Shane Ross

Kenny relented and put in place a formal interview process, which saw his chief economic adviser Andrew McDowell land the post.

Despite those tensions, the speed and scale with which the row over the Mick Wallace abortion bill two weeks ago escalated, genuinely shocked both men.

Ross and his fellow Independents were taken aback that their demand for a free vote was allowed to blow up and become a genuine crisis. They repeatedly warned Fine Gael they did not want a row on the issue but they could not politically oppose the Wallace bill.

Battered and bruised at the end of a torturous year, the two men sat for more than 10 minutes, and set about mending fences.

Forced together by the political reality that nobody wants a general election, the two resolved to improve the “channels” of communications between them when the new term begins. This means the Independents complete the process of employing key behind-the-scenes strategists and communications professionals, who will be the “point people” with their Fine Gael counterparts.

Despite funding being approved for the roles several weeks ago, a row between Ross and Finian McGrath on one side and Katherine Zappone on the other has stalled the process.

Finian McGrath
Finian McGrath

As is often the case in Leinster House, more business can often get done in a casual 10-minute chat than in a dozen formal meetings.

The two men engaged in chit chat but they also agreed to try and make this forced marriage work.

Outspoken Dublin- Rathdown TD Ross complained of several instances where he felt there should have been more delivery for the Independent Alliance in Government matters, and how they felt they had been shut out.

Ross also complained of the exclusion of Independent ministers from this week’s housing plan press conference, but the pair ultimately put it down to a misunderstanding.

It is a fragile peace — and only time will tell if it holds.


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