St. Patrick's Day can't be lost to Irish government's election focus

Chaos and turmoil are two of the words used regularly to describe the Irish government the past few days. Muppets* is getting a lot of use too. Following a weekend of upset after an unsuccessful internal party move against the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen, six cabinet ministers resigned triggering a new crisis.


Cowen tried to replace them, but his coalition partners wouldn't wear that one and forced Cowen to back down and name the date for the general election. Finally. March 11 is the date on everyone's calendar here, the day when the people of Ireland can throw off the yoke of the failures we saddled ourselves with back in 2007.

There is only one problem with this date: it's only a few days before St. Patrick's Day.

As I wrote last year, St. Patrick's Day is a unique opportunity for Ireland. No other country so small can can make such a big splash on an annual basis. Traditionally the President of the United States sets aside some of his time to entertain the Taoiseach of the day and accept a bowl of shamrocks.

It's all photo op stuff, but behind all that is a chance for Irish politicians and others to meet their American counterparts. It's not just Washington either. All over America St. Patrick's celebrations are an opportunity for Irish political and business leaders to make the case for closer links between Ireland and America and to emphasize the business opportunities open to those who are willing to invest here.

It's not just America, either. The chance to schmooze and do a bit of business because it's St. Patrick's Day is now a global phenomenon: Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand - of course, but also China, Russia and many other places now include some official recognition of St. Patrick's Day.

As I said, this is unique to Ireland and it's vital that the election not interfere with this. A spurned invite this year may well result in no invite next year.

Yet there's every chance that our elected officials will blow this because they will be single-mindedly pursuing election. By mid-February the politicians' will be under constant media pressure and out canvassing around the clock. It would be easy to forget about important matters that arise after the election.

Therefore this has to be sorted now.

The first thing that has to happen is that the Taoiseach has to announce that President McAleese will be the one to travel to Washington should an invite from the White House be received. She is the only figure of stature who will not be distracted by the election. She is the only one who can definitely plan on being in Washington now.

However, the other engagements across America - and across the globe - have to be sorted now, before the election really heats up. The government has to work with those who will probably be replacing them to come up with a plan that is in the nation's interest. Party affiliation hardly matters at a time like this.

For the good of the country, the Taoiseach and other party leaders need to figure out how they're going to handle St. Patrick's Day. It's a day of celebration and fun, but of serious importance to Ireland. Too important to be ignored this year just because the election is the week before.
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* Muppets is slang for morons, basically.

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