A pint of Harper is your only man

The Canadians’ love for Guinness is plain, though they just had a few swigs

From left: Canada’s ambassador to Ireland Loyola Hearn, prime minister Stephen Harper and finance minister Jim Flaherty visit the Jeanie Johnston famine ship. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

From left: Canada’s ambassador to Ireland Loyola Hearn, prime minister Stephen Harper and finance minister Jim Flaherty visit the Jeanie Johnston famine ship. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


When things go wrong and will not come right,

Though you do the best you can,

When life looks black as the hour of night –

A pint of Harper is your only man . . .

After his visit to St James’s Gate on Saturday, Canada’s prime minister might be tempted to tamper with Flann O’Brien’s prescription for the world’s ills. He could substitute a beer of his own. Because it isn’t every day a person gets to launch a new brewing batch of Guinness into the world.

Stephen Harper arrived in Dublin on Saturday afternoon amid the usual secret service- style palaver, although the atmosphere surrounding his visit felt far more relaxed than the fraught contortions that accompany his US counterpart.

Harper, who was joined by his finance minister Jim Flaherty, was welcomed at Dublin airport by Eamon Gilmore. Soon after meeting the Tánaiste, the two Canadian lads took off for a brewery.

Messrs Harper and Flaherty were in town in advance of a trip up North for the G8 jamboree. They leave Dublin this morning after a meeting with President Michael D Higgins.

But back to Flann’s pint of Plain – or Stephen’s pint of Harper, as it is sure to become known in Conservative parts of Ottawa and Calgary.

To add to the frustration of those who wonder why visiting dignitaries must always be photographed cooing lovingly at a pint of stout, Canada’s prime minister and minster for finance duly surfaced on Saturday for the obligatory snap with the black stuff.

Harper was in good company when he was invited to start the brewing process for a new batch of Guinness. He joined a very select group of men – British prime minister David Cameron, actor Tom Cruise and Taoiseach Enda Kenny – who have launched a brew into the world.

The Canadian prime minister pulled a lever and brew number 5051 was on its way. “Eight days later we’ll have it ready for you,” brewery manager Colin O’Brien told him. So in a couple of weeks, a large sample of Harper’s handiwork (in cans or a keg) will be sent to him in Canada.

It came as no surprise to hear Paul Armstrong, Diageo’s European beer supply director, tell the two men that Canada is Guinness’s fastest-growing export market. Half of Ireland seems to have emigrated there.

No doubt Kenny and Harper had a chat about that during their meeting in Farmleigh yesterday. Emigration was also on the agenda earlier in the day, when Harper learned about Canada’s ties to Ireland during a private visit to the Jeannie Johnston famine ship.

While the two heads of government were discussing opportunities for greater trade and investment between the two countries, finance ministers Jim Flaherty and Michael Noonan were also holding discussions.

If there were such a thing as financial geology, then Canada would be classified as A Rock of Sense. When prudence was a dirty word here, their banks resisted the urge to buy into the toxic loans party. Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen could have benefited from a few bilateral meetings with Harper and Flaherty before the bust got bustier.

Back in St James’s Gate, barman Aaron Ridgeway showed the visitors how to pull “the absolute, quintessential, gold standard pint”. Something to do with “settle and surge”. A new concept for politicians, who prefer to unsettle their opponents before surging. “I’ve done this before,” said Harper, refusing to take command of the tap. “It all foamed up.”

So he handed over pint-pulling duties to Flaherty, presumably because he has the requisite genes. He was presented with a Certificate of Irish Heritage by Gilmore in Montreal last year.

It was a quick visit, but it went some way towards explaining why foreign politicians always seem to end up in close proximity to drink when on official visits here. It’s because they want to. While the two on Saturday cosied up to a creamy pint, they didn’t actually drink one. Instead, for the cameras, they downed a few swigs from smaller glasses. There are photos on the Canadian government’s website.

While people here may sigh in frustration at the thought of Ireland’s international image being reduced yet again to the contents of a beer glass, the reality seems to be that our Eiffel Tower is a pint of stout.