The party's over, the champagne is flat, and the EU is bigger. Twenty official languages now. That's gotta be a major boost for the translation industry in Brussels. The negotiations now begin in earnest on the constitution, with Bertie Ahearn looking for the triple whammy of a Bush visit (to the king of Europe, no less), the accession of the new member states, and the signoff on the Constitution. Well, the easy one is done, and the last two are relaly going to tell whether or not Bertie has made his mark in Europe.
There was some trouble at the weekend outside Farmleigh House, the state retreat in Dublin where they wine and dine important visitors. Not much, but 29 arrests. And, well, it wasn't exactly Farmleigh House, nor even the Phoenix Park which surrounds it. Four miles away, in fact, at Heuston Station. It bodes ill for the Bush visit, and God only knows what will happen when the 12,000 Gardaí are deployed alongside the sunglass disguised special marine protection assualt SEAL units that will no doubt accompany the leader of the free world. Men in grey coats, meandering through a sea of reflective yellow Gardaí - grey doesn't usually stand out, but for once these undercover guys would probably be better set in something brighter. Not pink though, that just wouldn't work.
So the anti-globalisation dudes will be out, the anti-war-in-Iraq guys, the why-are-US-planes-in-Shannon brigade will blow hard, and the morass of malcontents will choose the most sensitive time to exercise their democratic right to free speech. Many human rights writers have argued the qualification theme - that a qualified right is necessary (no rights are absolute) but that qualification can emasculate the substance of the right. China has freedom of speech in its constitution, and Saudi Arabia has signed up to CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women). But there are people locked up for speaking their mind, and faciliating such speeches (like Internet geeks who set up websites) in China, and Saudi Arabia operates under Sharia Law. Women are not free there.
Which brings us back to the Phoenix Park and Farmleigh House. Is freedom of speech / assembly truly granted when the protestors are made to stand fully four miles from their audience? When they are cordoned off by a force of Gardaí in riot gear expecting a fight (a self-fulfilling prophesy, perhaps)? When media - the true arbiter of such rights - dismisses them as anarchists, cranks, drop-outs and unimportant? The media, and particuilarly the newsmedia, have an obligation to facilitate these rights, but what they end up doing is cow-towing to those who, after all, control their budget. Humbug.
So George's visit may be troublesome once again, but the trouble should be kept well away. The final pin in Mr. Ahern's little cushion is the Constitution. The Brits have effectively scuppered that for him. Unanimity is the key to Europe, and results in the worst form of Lowest Common Denominator politics. Should we now in Europe, we the progressives (note our Human Rights record - we should be proud), we the free thining intellectual idealists, we the integrationalists, be dragged down by a British consciousness that still belives afternoon tea to be an institution, and soccer to articulate a cultural position?
By a post-Empire, narcissistic, self-centered, xenophobic, unrealistic, bunch of we-still-think-we-own-you type Rule Britannia thugs, shall this lofty project be brought to its knees? It will be a pity, but yes. We cannot have Europe without Britain. By we, of course, I mean Ireland. Everyone else can most likely tell them to bugger off and join Nafta, but we, well, we're still tied to the beast. Too many exports go there, too many political ties through the North, too many saps who think we never left the union, and too many football shirt wearing, Sun-reading, God-save-the-queen-singing West brits live here, and so we can't allow that to happen. It's unconscionable. Guess what guys, we've grown up. We're bigger than that, and if we could make Ireland great through a relationship with US big business, why can't we make Ireland greater still through a relationship with France and Germany? Let's start educating our children in a European way, and make sure that like every continental child they can speak at least two languages. Let's make sure that they experience European culture more than Anglo-US culture. Let's make sure that they experience Irish culture, and redevelop that unique identity that brought us the promise of a bright future at the turn of the twentieth century. We should target 2016 as the year in which Ireland is again reborn, where Ireland is cultually broud, identifiable, and European.
Or we could choose to sink into the dross of mediocrity.