Former Soviet leader 71st to get Freedom of Dublin

 

The former president of the Soviet Union, Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, became the 71st person to receive the Freedom of Dublin at a special meeting in the City Hall yesterday.

"You helped change and enhance the lives of hundreds of millions of people," the Lord Mayor, Cllr Michael Mulcahy (Fianna Fáil) said as he presented the award. "There are few people in the history of the world of whom that can be stated."

City councillors in their robes assembled for the occasion and the guests included Cardinal Connell; the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, and other members of the diplomatic corps. Mr Gorbachev was also presented with a dove of peace in Waterford Crystal.

In his acceptance speech, the former Communist leader said there had been many events in his life, big and small, joyful and sad. "The event that is happening today in this wonderful hall is very special."

He said Ireland had taken the right road in emphasising knowledge, education and high technology. He quipped that President McAleese had said to him over lunch: "We don't have any natural resources other than the rain."

He noted that as a Freeman of the City he was entitled to graze sheep anywhere in Dublin. He assured his audience he would "buy a flock" to exercise that right: "I have seen some very, very nice places in the Park, near the President's palace."

At a news conference in the Mansion House earlier, he came in for sharp questioning from Eoin Ó Murchú, a journalist, who asked "ex-Comrade Gorbachev" if he felt any sense of remorse or guilt when he "stood passively aside" while the Soviet Union was destroyed and ordinary people were reduced to poverty and prostitution. He also queried Mr Gorbachev about his decision to take part in a television commercial for a chain of pizza restaurants.

Ignoring the suggestion that he had demeaned himself by appearing in the television advertisement, Mr Gorbachev replied equally sharply: "My advice to you as a comrade - you used the word 'comrade' - is that you too should probably get rid of this kind of ideological straitjacket."

He denied having stood idly by while the USSR was dismantled. Commenting on the Northern Ireland situation he said: "This is one of those processes where people have to make difficult choices. You will see politicians who have a ready-made recipe for everything, in many cases to use force and bombs."

It was good that, instead of bombing, there was a peace process. Bombing was not a solution and he welcomed the peace efforts being made and the fact that parties were acting "both prudently and responsibly".

Mr Gorbachev returns to Mocow this morning.