Ireland Calling by John Spain
Green carpet for Queen Elizabeth
Posted on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 09:05 AM
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The Queen is coming! She's due within the next year, and already the Sinn Fein boys are working themselves into a lather of outrage.
The invitation which was issued last week by Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen is "totally unacceptable," according to the leader of Sinn Fein in the Dail (Parliament), Caoimhghin O Caolain.
But he's not fooling me. I know what's really bothering them. The Sinn Fein boys are worrying themselves sick about their bows!
Not too far is the secret of the perfect bow, I'm told. You bend at the waist and keep the back straight as you incline forward to about 20 degrees from the vertical.
At the same time a very slight downward inclination of the head is required. You hold that position for about two seconds and then straighten up again.
It's fairly simple, yes? No tugging of the forelock necessary. No groveling expected.
You'd do more or less the same if you were meeting the Japanese Emperor or the Pope instead of the Old Enemy (and the Queen is much more interesting than either of them). So if O Caolain is introduced to Her Horsiness, that's all he has to do. That, and keep his mouth shut. You don't speak until you are spoken to.
Come to think of it, Caoimhghin may find that part the most difficult since he never seems to shut up. But apart from that, if at some point in the royal visit to the Republic the party leaders are lined up to be introduced, the Sinn Fein leader in the Dail is perfect for the job.
Caoimhghin is famous for his preening self-importance, waffling on in pompous, flowery language in his Dail speeches like ... well, like royalty.
Anyway, if he gets lucky and is introduced, he does the bow, keeps his mouth shut, then Granny Windsor may well ask him one of her inane questions about the weather, what you do, how far you've come, or where One might buy a few promising horses at the right price. Even Caoimhghin, when he calms down, should be able to manage that.
Of course we have had stories about an imminent visit from the Queen before which have come to nothing, but this time it's different. Cowen made the invitation last Wednesday when he had his first face to face meeting with the new British Prime Minister David Cameron in Downing Street.
The invitation was warmly received by Cameron, who happens to be a distant relative of the Queen (all these bluebloods are inter-related), and it seems certain that the visit will go ahead before the end of next year.
Cowen played down the significance of what he was doing, which is no more than one would expect from a man of sound Republican views like himself. There was no advance briefing of the press about the invite, and Cowen mentioned it almost casually in his press conference after the London meeting.
Announcing the royal invite, Cowen said that there had been a "transformation of the relationship" between the two countries in recent years, and that there were now "no obstacles" to a visit by the Queen.
"We should reflect on the very good relations between our peoples on the islands of Ireland and Britain, and I think also that normal courtesies involving the exchange of visits by heads of state is something that can and should happen," Cowen said.
He hoped that the visit by the Queen would take place before the end of President McAleese's term of office, which finishes in November next year. The two women know each other well at this stage because they have met at least half a dozen times, in London and in the North. But of course never in the south.
Because of the 800 years of colonialism and the old enmity that remained, complicated by the North, the Queen has never been here. We've had a Pope and Japanese royalty among many other crowned heads from Europe, but never Herself from just across the water.
She has visited around 130 countries, quite a few of them former British colonies, but never the Republic of Ireland. That has always been a step too far ... for us, not for her, in spite of what O Caolain's colleagues did to Mountbatten.
But we're into a new era now and it's time to move on, as Cowen has said. Even Sinn Fein should be able to grasp that.
Apart from the symbolic significance of the visit which is important both for us and the British, there are other, more practical reasons why we should give her a warm welcome in Ireland. The cynics have pointed out that we need all the tourists we can get!
But since she doesn't carry any money with her, we're not going to get rich selling her a few sandwiches at the Galway Races or booking her into a B&B in Killarney.
However, it is true that, ever since Diana, there is huge interest in the British royal family and the visit here by the Queen will get global coverage.
Some of the clever boys here are already working on ways they can get the Queen into situations that will show off Ireland like a Bord Failte TV commercial. So a visit to a stud farm or a race meeting or the Dublin Horse Show would be good.
As well as horses, she also loves plants and gardening and there are truly spectacular gardens here, many attached to great country houses, that she would enjoy. She has also done a bit of fly fishing in her time, so maybe we could get that honorary Irishman Jack Charlton to cast a line with her on some of his favorite salmon rivers in the west of Ireland.
Then there is shooting and hunting, although that might be a step too far at her age. But you get the idea.
Global publicity of that kind would be invaluable. She's a feisty Old Dear and we have things to offer her in this country that she would love to see and do, apart from the gala dinners and boring speeches in Dublin Castle that will inevitably be part of the visit.
The last time a significant British royal was here was back in the 1990s when John Bruton was taoiseach in the 1990s and Prince Charles came over. And I seem to remember that people were killing each other to get invited to that state dinner in Dublin Castle at the time.
This visit will be much more significant, and it is likely that there will be even greater competition to get on the guest list for the state dinner and the other events the Queen will attend.
Of course there will be many diehards around who will not be able to join in. And it won't be just the Shinners.
There will be many people here who won't have the generosity or the imagination to make the leap away from the past. Thirty years ago, when I was a young journalist on the Irish Press, referring to "the Queen" instead of "the Queen of England" was enough to get you fired.
Similarly it was the same with any story that referred to the North as "Northern Ireland" instead of the preferred "Six Counties,” a term designed to refuse recognition to the Northern parliament and state.
There are still a lot of people here, most of them now older, who still use this terminology and will turn their backs on the Queen (of England!) when she gets here.
But if she can forgive us for the murderous attack on her beloved uncle (and close advisor) Mountbatten in what was one of most despicable and cowardly actions carried out by the IRA in the south, then surely we can get over the past as well.
For her that was personal and painful to a degree that most people here in the south never experienced throughout the Troubles. If Herself can forgive and move on, surely we can as well?