Monday

5th Dec 2022

Weakened Irish PM faces delicate balancing act

  • Enda Kenny is relying on the help of his party's oldest foes, Fianna Fail (Photo: Council of European Union)

After a record 70 days with a caretaker cabinet following elections on 26 February, Enda Kenny was re-installed as prime minister of Ireland last Friday (6 May). But he leads a fragile minority government that few commentators expect to last more than two years.

Kenny is backed by 59 MPs from a parliament of 158, scraping past the minimum requirement for a minority government of 58.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Any potential lawmaking achievements now hinge on a commitment from the main opposition party, centrist Fianna Fail – the greatest rival of Kenny's centre-right Fine Gael – that it will not vote against the government on matters relating to monetary legislation or votes of confidence in the prime minister.

A general election would be called if the government lost votes in either of these two areas.

If Fianna Fail, with 44 MPs, abstains on the key issues, that would leave 55 MPs from other opposition parties – just short of the number needed to trigger a collapse.

The situation is delicate and not helped by the fact that most of the cabinet, including Kenny himself, have been damaged both in confidence and stature by the drubbing they received from the electorate back in February.

Rural-urban divide

After its best ever performance in the 2011 election, this new arrangement sees Kenny lead with just 50 MPs from his own party, having lost 26 seats in February.

Fine Gael’s election slogan, “let’s keep the recovery going”, was a nod to the transformation that the Irish economy made during the government’s tenure.

In 2011, when the Fine Gael–Labour coalition took office, Ireland had just been bailed out by an EU-IMF programme worth €85 billion. By 2016, the Irish economy was the fastest growing in Europe and it had emerged successfully from the bailout.

On paper, this is a remarkable feat. At the time of February’s poll, unemployment had fallen to 8.6 percent – a seven-year low – compared with 14.3 percent when the coalition took over. Over its five years in power the coalition says it created 135,000 jobs.

But Fine Gael’s fatal mistake was its failure to acknowledge or address the huge disparity between growing urban prosperity, particularly in Dublin, and the dire state of rural areas with high unemployment and emigration.

Telling people to “keep the recovery going” in regions where there was no recovery made Fine Gael seem deeply out of touch with rural voters, and the party suffered at the polls. Most of its lost seats were in rural areas in the north-west and south. It lost just one seat overall in Dublin.

Distracted politicians

The challenges faced by Kenny's minority government are many.

Looming on the horizon is the return of the issue of water charges.

The last government introduced direct charging for water, replacing a system where the utility was funded through general taxation. The move caused street protests, the total collapse of the Labour vote in the last election and is still not resolved.

Meanwhile, left-wing parties will be putting pressure on to force a referendum on liberalising restrictive abortion laws. They want to repeal an article in the constitution that gives the life of the unborn foetus equal rights to that of the mother.

The 23 June referendum on EU membership in the UK also has potentially huge implications. Ireland’s bilateral trade with the UK is worth €62 billion a year, which would be affected if the UK votes to leave.

A British exit from the EU would also raise serious questions about political stability in Northern Ireland, particularly within the nationalist community.

Up to one in four people in Britain have some Irish heritage, and around 600,000 people living in Britain were born in Ireland. Campaigners for the UK to remain in the EU had hoped for active support from Irish politicians, but they have been otherwise distracted.

Swedish EU presidency: 'Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine'

Ukraine and a looming economic recession is set to dominate the upcoming Swedish EU presidency, which takes over at the start of next year. Sweden's ambassador to the EU, Lars Danielsson, laid out some of its priorities.

French official accused of conflict over EU fish lobby job

A senior French official is being accused of conflicts of interest for spearheading a leading role in Europeche, a fishing-industry lobby group based in Brussels. The hire comes as the EU Commission threatens a lawsuit against France over fishing.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. Hungary's funds showdown in focus This WEEK
  2. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals
  3. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  4. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  5. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  6. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  7. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  8. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us