Since the start of the year, the Republic of Ireland has held the rotating Presidency of the 15 member European Union, and will have this title up until the end of June, at which time it will be a 25 member European Union. So heady days, even for a country given to frequent proclamations that You'll Never Beat the Irish. But there are growing signs that the country's aspiration to have its 6 months as Charlemagne or Napoleon is starting to have a downside. On the one hand, there's the endless prestige of having our name on all those important EU statements -- like the one saying that the former Spanish finance minister will be the next Managing Director of the IMF, or the required ritual condemnation of Israel's latest targeted killing, even as Ariel Sharon, with the nod and wink from Dubya, lines up his next target.
On the other hand, there's the recognition that extending the Republic's already prevalent VIP culture to cover a bunch of suits from 14 other countries has real costs -- like taking the police away from traffic enforcement:
Mr Murphy [Deputy police commissioner] admitted for the first time that less gardai [police] were monitoring road safety, as a result of resources being diverted to provide motorcycle escorts for visiting VIPs during the EU presidency.
Pat Costello, Chief Executive of the National Safety Council, told the [parliamentary] committee that this has probably had an impact on the number of road deaths.
But that's only the beginning of the problems. After the Spanish election, it looked like Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had a publicity coup on his hands -- the proposed EU constitution, a preposterous Bible-sized tome drafted by the reliably pompous Valery Giscard d'Estaing, was now getting favourable noises from the new Spanish and Polish governments, having previously collapsed due to objections from these two. Enter Tony Blair, to say that he will be putting any such constitution to a referendum in the UK, the first EU-related referendum in the UK since its entry in 1973. So Bertie may indeed to get to wave a draft manuscript of the constitution (if he can lift it) after one of his very important summit meetings to be held, say, at his local pub in Drumcondra, but the sense of achievement will be much deflated knowing that it is headed for a popular vote in one of the most Euro-skeptic countries in the EU.
Then there's the question of our ever closer union with Northern Ireland. With Tony "Posh" Blair much distracted by keeping his relationship with George "Tex" Bush on an even keel, and with his EU referendum, it's not surprising that there is a sense of drift in the Northern Ireland peace process, the short-hand name for the stop-start implementation of the Good Friday peace agreement. Therefore, if only because it frees up his time, Posh won't be too upset that the peace agreement's Independent Monitoring Commission has declared Sinn Fein in effective breach of the non-violence requirement, putting the agreement on hold while the Shinners work through being deeply offended at the suggestion that some of them are in the IRA.
And anyway, the Republic has revealed its own a la carte attitude to the peace process in its rushing of a constitutional amendment to the polls in June, which will alter parts of the agreement and therefore should have involved consultation with Northern Irish and British parties to the agreement. Apparently the idea that a 32 county Republic might be a two-way street was a complete shocker to the suits in Dublin. They stitched together a joint declaration with the British government that the referendum doesn't breach the Good Friday Agreement, but this will only deepen the sense amongst the wider public that the only substance to the agreement is whatever the governments of the day interpret it to be.
And why the need for this amendment in the first place? To help keep out damn furriners, especially those pregnant ones from the pool of aspiring EU members who want fly-in citizenship or residency in Ireland. Or should I say Republic of Ireland? It's not clear in this case, hence the legal wrangling. We're sure that the Shamrockshire Eagle, now sadly on hiatus, would have an opinion.