Press invasion for EU presidency to mean major boost for economy


IT COSTS £20 million, lasts six months and involves almost 300 meetings, countless convoys of black cars and severe damage to the Garda overtime budget and gives employment to hundreds of journalists.

Yes, the great European presidency rolls into town in just seven weeks. For the past 15 months the Minister of State for European Affairs, Mr Gay Mitchell, has chaired a presidency co ordinating committee dealing with the organisational details of the six month presidency.

Ireland will be asked to provide chairmen and chairwomen for 212 meetings taking place in Brussels, almost one a day. More than 80 meetings will be held in Ireland, bringing 6,000 delegates to the State, while 3,000 delegates alone will attend the EU summit in Dublin Castle in December.

The number of journalists travelling here to report on the activities of these delegates is not yet known, but facilities will be laid on for 750 for most of the Dublin meetings, and for up to 2,500 at the summit itself.

The influx will use up some 25,000 bed nights, according to Mr Mitchell, and unconscionable numbers of tables in Dublin's finer restaurants. The foreigners will all pay for their own bed and board, bringing some £15 million to the city.

This must be set against the estimated £20 million that the presidency will cost the State; £12.2 million was earmarked in the Budget for Department of Foreign Affairs expenditure during the presidency; the remainder will be spent by other Departments.

But it will all be money well spent, Mr Mitchell maintains. "Almost all of it will be spent in the economy here. Some of it will be used to purchase information technology that we will then have for many years to come, and it will almost all be matched by money spent here on airline tickets, hotel beds and so on."

The estimate that the hordes of foreigners will spend £15 million in Dublin alone is a conservative one, he says. Bearing in mind that Ireland has received £18.5 billion net in transfers from the EU since it joined, any whingeing about the expense is out of order, Mr Mitchell says.

More than 300 personnel from different Government Departments are now involved in preparation for the presidency. The growing demands on the State's bureaucracy are reflected in the drafting of 130 extra staff into the Department of Foreign Affairs for the six months.

The UN General Assembly falls during Ireland's term in the presidency, as do key meetings of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank.

Irish Ministers will have to represent the EU at all of these meetings, and will conduct the EU's external relations throughout the presidency. EU troika visits to the Middle East are expected during Ireland's term, and there is also a possibility of a visit to Bosnia and Croatia.

The point of managing the minutiae of traffic management, hotel beds and security is to enable Ireland to influence the major areas of policy. "It's our duty", says Mr Mitchell. "It gives us the opportunity to put things that concern us on the European agenda, and allows us to repay something to the Union."