Flag ceremony begins 'no frills' EU presidency


Opening ceremony:Ireland’s “no nonsense, no frills” presidency of the Council of the European Union began with a ceremony at Dublin Castle on New Year’s Eve.

The country took over the presidency for the seventh time, having last presided in 2004. It is to spend €60 million on the six-month tenure which involves chairing meetings of the EU council and driving its agenda and work programme.

This time around there will be no “salubrious locations” involved, Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said.

The ceremony also marked the 40th anniversary of Ireland’s membership of the EU and the start of the Year of Citizens in Europe.

Early showers that left the castle’s cobblestones glistening gave way to blue skies and sunshine as the ceremony began with a review of an Army guard of honour by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Mr Kenny, in a navy suit, looked chilly as he stood with Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who wore an overcoat, and Ms Creighton, who was in a coat and official EU presidency scarf, for the raising of the Irish tricolour and the European flag over the castle.

More than 200 members of the public, as well as Cabinet ministers, MEPs, Lord Mayor of Dublin Naoise Ó Muirí and other politicians and diplomats were in attendance. They all stood in silence as the Defence Forces Band played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Mr Kenny said the presidency would be about “stability, growth and jobs”.

“We’ll be in the business of solutions – a recovery country driving recovery in Europe.”

He said the presidency would also bring “new hope, new possibility, new confidence to our peoples”.

Mr Gilmore said the Government would work to reach agreement on Europe’s banking union and would focus on trade. They would also prioritise a series of legislative measures to boost the digital single market which had potential for jobs and growth, he said.

“2013 will be about recovery, both for Ireland and Europe. As we become the first country in the euro zone to exit an EU-IMF programme, Ireland can and will be a success story for Europe again.”

Ms Creighton emphasised the “no nonsense, no frills” nature of the presidency. Speaking to journalists, she said the cost of hosting it was “an investment in Ireland’s reputation”, and in “trying to pursue an agenda at EU level that matters very much to Ireland”.

No frills meant the State would be spending more than one-third less than in 2004, Ms Creighton said.

There would be no events in “very salubrious locations like Dromoland Castle and Ashford Castle”, she said.

“Everything will take place in State-owned venues, mostly in Dublin, so it will be a very cost-effective presidency.”

The ceremony ended with this year’s winners of the AllIsland schools choir competition, Methodist College Belfast girls’ choir, singing An Irish Blessing, their voices like clear bells ringing out over the castle’s rooftops to the citizens beyond.