OVER the coming years European democracy and politicians face a far greater challenge than any posed since the Second World War ended.
At that moment millions were destitute or orphaned, many countries had been razed, economies were to all practical purposes dead. With determination, patience and the support offered by America’s Marshall Plan today’s Europe was created. The Brexit vote means all of that must be reimagined in a way that preserves European solidarity but recognises the sad reality of Britain’s vote.
For all its difficulties — mass immigration, dangerous, unsettling levels of unemployment among young people, uncertainty around the euro and growing instability in Italy’s banks — Europe today is incomparable to Europe in 1945. There are clouds on the horizon though. The rise of the right in France, resurgent nationalism in England and Poland, and the possibility of a far-right administration in Austria. The possibility that America might elect the appalling Donald Trump to succeed Barack Obama, once thought to be the stuff of fantasy, can no longer be discounted so easily. Russia’s reassertion of its hegemony in Europe’s eastern borderlands strains international relationships too.
In Ireland, those shifting sands mean that a way must be found to avoid the disastrous reimposition of a hard border dividing the island. We must also find a way to minimise the economic impact while exploiting opportunities offered by Brexit. In an ideal, fairer world we might find a way to cut the immoral debt imposed on us by our European friends.
On the domestic front, several well-battered cans cannot be kicked much further down the road. Issues like abortion, the housing crisis, water and refuse charges, college fees, and school patronage must be resolved. Purpose and leadership must replace the prevarication and evasion that have for far too long, despite considerable achievement, characterised Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s governments. The growing unease with Mr Kenny’s leadership was apparent at Wednesday night’s FG parliamentary party meeting when for the first time since 2010 his leadership was challenged. This outbreak of “pragmatic comments” suggests we have a weakened leader of a weak Government. This is, in light of all of the challenges ahead, an untenable situation, one recognised by Housing minister Simon Coveney when he said that he expects the leadership of FG to be discussed in the “not too distant future”. Right now we need a secure leader with the unquestioned support of his or her party, one who will not almost routinely fumble in public as Mr Kenny did earlier this week when suggesting an all-island forum to discuss Brexit.
The Irish Times poll published since Wednesday night’s meeting will do nothing to prolong Mr Kenny’s leadership. It put Fianna Fáil on an eight-year high of 33%, up 9% and FG on 24% down 2%. When the 2010 challenge was launched FG was on 28% but FF were on just 17%.
Mr Kenny has achieved more than any of his party predecessors and if he was to resign he would do so with his dignity intact and help establish, hopefully, the stability and confidence so essential in the coming months and years.
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