From top: Donald Trump and Enda Kenny; Derek Mooney
While one good speech, even one being posted repeatedly on Social Media across the world, will not stop Enda’s challengers cold in their tracks, it does precisely what it was intended to.
Derek Mooney writes:
The best way to steal a salami, according to an old central European proverb, is to take it one slice at a time. I say “old central European proverb”, but just like Donald Trump’s old Irish proverb I may be mixing or even making it up.
Not that the origins matter a lot. I could just have easily cited the Johnny Cash song “One Piece at a Time” the point here is that “salami-slicing” is well-known and long established political and negotiating principle. You assure the person across the table from you that you know you can’t have everything you want, but if you can just have a tiny bit more on this matter and a tiny bit more on that issue then you will both be well on the way to concluding a deal.
I mention “salami-slicing” as it appears from the outside (and given my own political allegiances, I do mean way on the outside) that this is the tactic that Enda Kenny is employing to frustrate his challengers and to stay in office, dare I say, even in power, for a while longer.
The first slice that Enda stole, and probably the most crucial slice, was his seizing the timing of whole leadership selection process. He saw that his opponents, particularly the pro Leo faction, were gathering pace and could, if not quickly thrown off balance, achieve such a momentum as to roll him unceremoniously out of office.
Enda showed the real and genuine tactical skills that Brendan Halligan mentioned on Sunday’s The Week in Politics and saw that his grip on the office was slipping and the best way to cling on was not to publicly face down his challengers or enter into any public slanging match with them, but rather to take the momentum from them by wresting control of the timing.
That he did. Not only did he change the dynamics of the process, he also gained some time and space for himself and his supporters to regroup.
Now we see him steal slice two of the salami by presenting us, but more significantly the members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, with the image of Enda the international statesman and strong leader.
Not for the first time Enda proposed a major constitutional change when his leadership was in peril. Last time it was Seanad abolition, this time it was Presidential votes for the diaspora and the North.
While the referendum tactic may have misfired, he made sure that his next one didn’t. His “St Patrick is the patron saint of emigrants” speech worked. Not only that, it worked spectacularly well on a global stage. While Enda and his time may just have been aiming for a small audience at home, they succeeded in connecting with a far wider one.
While one good speech, even one being posted repeatedly on Social Media across the world, will not stop Enda’s challengers cold in their tracks, it does precisely what it was intended to do. It is just one more salami slice taken that helps to bolster his position by making some waverers think twice about replacing him.
The British government’s announcement this morning that they will trigger the Article 50 Brexit process on Wednesday week (March 29) also aid Enda Kenny’s mission to stay, just a little bit longer. Indeed, next week heralds two important dates that aid that goal. First, is the aforementioned Brexit trigger date and second, is the deadline for the three weeks of post assembly elections talks.
In New York last week, Enda told journalists he did not intend to announce any retirement plans until the political uncertainty in Northern Ireland was addressed and the EU’s negotiating stance on Brexit is agreed.
According to the EU Council President, Donald Tusk, the latter should take six or so weeks from the triggering of Art 50, putting it into the middle of May, give or take.
Getting the Assembly back up and running is a more difficult formula to calculate. While it is possible that it could be all done and dusted by the March 27, this is Northern Ireland and history tells us that in the North most deadlines are missed.
According the Northern Ireland Assembly’s website:
If the main parties cannot agree to form the Executive by the deadline date of 4pm on 27 March, the law states that the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire MP, must call another election, ‘within a reasonable period of time’. The power to suspend the Assembly was repealed following the St Andrews Agreement (October 2006), so new legislation would have to be passed through Westminster for this to happen.
Speaking outside the White House last week Enda appeared to hint at a third option, a possible extension of the talk time, saying:
“I have spoken very clearly to the British Prime Minister and we are both agreed that there will be no return to direct rule from London”
While an official spokesperson for the British government did try to somewhat distance itself from the Taoiseach’s comments, they did not flat out deny or contradict them saying that it wanted to see devolution restored and “was not speculating on any other outcome”. Though it did pointedly remark that maintaining political stability in Northern Ireland was its responsibility.
In reality, the Executive will return when Gerry Adams determines that he has nothing more politically to gain from keeping the political balls in the air and decides to allow his MLAs elect a First and Deputy First Minister.
So, it could be argued, that Gerry Adams could have more say in how long Enda remains in office than Noel Rock, Pat Deering or Alan Farrell. In the meantime, Enda will try to keep on slicing that salami through April, May… maybe even June… until he realises that there is so little left to it that it is not worth having.
Derek Mooney is a communications and public affairs consultant. He previously served as a Ministerial Adviser to the Fianna Fáil-led government 2004 – 2010. His