Needed in Ireland: assertive leaders, political systems that are working

At a time when Ireland is facing a serious Brexit crisis in both the North and the South, the need for revitalized aggressive leadership and functioning political systems is very apparent.

Far more than its population merits, Ireland is a country whose sons and daughters lead much of the world. Here in the United States men and women of Irish heritage have an enormous influence over education, politics, business, our armed forces and religious life. College presidents, chief executives, governors, senators, and other leaders are proud of their Irish heritage, and effective in their jobs.

With last month’s resignation of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach and as leader of the major political party Fine Gael, Ireland is searching for new leaders while probably facing new general elections within the year.

Enda Kenny is a good man; perhaps not at the top of his class when it comes to intellectual matters, but a hardworking politician with enthusiastic people skills. He was born in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, elected to the Parliament in1975 as its youngest member at age 24, replacing his father. Today, at 66 years old, he is the Parliament’s oldest member.

As leader of Fine Gael, Kenny was elected prime minister in March 2011 during the time of Ireland’s severe depression. He had the good judgment to appoint Michael Noonan as Minister of Finance, the man largely given credit for playing a major role in the improvement in the Irish economy. As Taoiseach, Kenny vowed to make Ireland the best small country in the world to do business with.

In the mid 1990s, when Kenny was Minister of Tourism, Midwestern members of Boston’s Irish American Partnership requested that he come to Cleveland to receive a grant for Achill Island in his Mayo constituency. Many Clevelanders had migrated from Achill Island. True to his spirit (and Partnership funding) Kenny went to Cleveland with Partnership leaders to receive a $5,000 grant to take back to Mayo.

Enda Kenny will be missed by many. He was experienced and had worked with many of the world players, including British prime minister Teresa May and various leaders of the European Union. He visited the United States often and was always at the White House on Saint Patrick’s Day to present the US president with the traditional bowl of clovers.

Now another government will have to deal with the fallout from Brexit. Fine Gael, as the controlling party, must elect a new leader to become prime minister as long as they remain in power. The election campaign is under way within the Fine Gael, with final results due June 2.

Two men, a Dubliner and Cork man, are running to become the new leader of Fine Gael. Leo Varadker, 38, from the Dublin West constituency, appears to be in the lead, followed aggressively by Simon Coveney from Douglas, Co. Cork. Several Fine Gael members of the Irish parliament have endorsed Varadker.

The problem is that neither of these men has experience on the world stage. Either one will have a steep learning curve to grasp all the aspects of the Brexit issue.

Fine Gael is a minority government and only exists as the result of an agreement with the other major party, Fianna Fail. Micheal Martin, the leader of Fianna Fail, will be watching all of this carefully, plotting for a return to control of government. “PaddyPower,” Ireland’s leading bookmaking firm, is quoting odds that Fianna Fail will take over the government in the long term.

From this distance, it is not possible to know which party is better qualified to handle Ireland’s negotiations with all the Brexit issues, but we can say it is very important for the Irish people to be fully protected from the predators across the sea.

In the North new political leadership can’t seem to agree on anything. Local government in the form of an elected assembly has lapsed and won’t return until they can agree on new rules. That will not occur until late June at the earliest.

With both the Unionist and Nationalist main parties led by inexperienced leadership, and with neither side willing to give an inch, not to leave out the distraction of the June 8 British parliamentary elections, little progress is expected on the need to return local control per the Good Friday agreement.

Here again, strong local leadership is required to protect ordinary people.

There has been much talk about how harmful a “hard Brexit “would be to the economies of both the North and South. A “hard Brexit” would mean a closing of the border between the North and South and high tariffs on goods sold to Great Britain by Irish farmers and manufacturers. Hardline Unionists would be delighted with a “hard Brexit” since it would reinforce their separateness from the Republic.