Dear Big World. Enda Kenny has to spend St Patrick’s Day with a bullying sociopathic sex criminal. Apparently.
It’s a strange nagging Irish custom – for those of you in the Big World who aren’t aware of it – that the Taoiseach spends St Patrick’s Day at the White House rather than in Ireland. If your host is Clinton or Obama, then the Taoiseach will rather look forward to it. Enda Kenny, in this year of Our Lord 2017, on the other hand, is going to have a horrible horrible day of it.
Many people in the Big World don’t know much about Enda Kenny, our Taoiseach. That’s not especially surprising. He’s a monumentally dull career politician, the longest serving TD in the Dail. And given that many of you in the Big World are currently being governed by mentally unstable xenophobic demagogues right now, we feel immensely lucky and privileged to have such a tedious functionary at the helm.
Not for much longer though. Again, those of you in the Big World may have some difficulty distinguishing between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. These two parties are distinguished not so much by socio-economic analyses plotted on a Left-Right axis as by historical and cultural issues sort of defined by who killed who ninety years ago. There are differences between these parties… geographical, demographic, socio-cultural, generational, etc. etc. There are the sort of people who have always been FG and the sort of people who have always voted FF and you’ll understand a deal about Ireland if you understand these differences.
But in terms of legislative programmes, the kind of policy frameworks that make for stable government, distinguishing the two main parties is far harder. The idea that FF and FG could never work together in government is one of those foundational myths which stabilises a narrow centre of Irish politics. By pretending that FF and FG are poles apart, the poles are kept quite close together. The collective national decision to believe that there are “fundamental differences” between them is enshrined so as to keep a sort of gyroscope whirling at the heart of the machine. When the machine works, one of these parties is the dominant partner in a coalition along with one or more (more if it’s an FG government) smaller parties.
Last year, the machine broke down. No coalition between involving FF or FG and any collection of newly elected smaller party and independent TDs could generate a working majority in the Dail. So, after many weeks, it was agreed that Enda Kenny and FG could stay on in minority government, subject to a peculiar arrangement whereby Micheál Martin, leader of FF, could be supportive and not supportive of the government at one and the same time. For the past year, Martin has and has not been Leader of the Opposition. It would take a trained theologian to explain these paradoxes diagrammatically. In the meantime, the various parties have had a chance to do some detailed and localised psephology and try to swell their coffers in time for another election.
Well the latest polls now put FF anywhere between seven and eleven points ahead of FG. This is enough of a lead for Martin to risk bringing down the government and enough of a lead to embolden FG claimaints (Coveney and Varadkar) into asserting that FG needs a face-lift to compete at the next election. Kenny is on his way out. It’s just a question of how quickly.
I’m not sure if it’s Kenny’s friends or his enemies who are insisting that he stays on long enough to be invited to the White House in three weeks time. In recent years I’ve always spent March 17 helping to organise the school float for the local parade. Our parade aspirations have become increasingly elaborate over the years, and this year’s effort threatens to be our most stressful and complex yet. But there’s no feeling quite like the moment after we’ve paraded ourselves in front of the V.I.P podium and can skip away to enjoy some relaxed eating and drinking.
No matter what, I am going to have a better St Patrick’s Day than Enda Kenny. He will try to raise issues of Irish concern with the Trump, most notably the fate of the undocumented Irish in the context of the latest anti-immigrant crack down. There is nothing more humiliating that grovelling for exemption from a fundamentally unjust policy. Theresa May’s grovelling (far worse than Kenny’s) has ensured that
Britain is headed for the most inglorious dissolution ever experienced by a once significant nation. In reply to Kenny’s soft prompts, Trump will nod his head and spout some Hibernophile nothings, but of course, Trump is such a habitual liar that promises are as devoid of inherent content as any other so-called “facts” and only exist as long as they flatter his ego. Enda Kenny’s worst enemies would not accuse him of being an especially stupid man, and he assuredly knows that nothing of lasting advantage to Ireland will result from the unpleasant visit he somehow feels obligated to make.
Given that he has a unique opportunity to get out of this visit, and can claim that his instant resignation has become a political necessity, I’ve a terrible suspicion as to his real motive. I’ve an awful feeling that he’ll invite Trump to Ireland. This would present an appalling security headache. Ireland (unlike
Britain),.will have trouble filling a largish room with people who despise themselves enough to grovel in front of Trump, while anti-Trump demonstrations would clog the streets of any town or city unlucky enough to be within ten miles of the orange menace at any given time.
But once offered, this invitation could not be rescinded and would be the nightmare Kenny confers upon Coveney or Varadkar or (far more likely) Martin. For ex-Taoiseach Kenny, swapping an Irish March for a Mediterranean beach, this legacy would be a hideously effective form of revenge.