Time to be Nice


When the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his ministers Brian Cowen and Charlie McCreevy return from the Seville summit next weekend waving the declaration that Nice will not affect our neutrality, the start of an all-out campaign to get the treaty passed by referendum in the autumn will be underway. The appointment of Dick Roche as Minister for Europe indicates how seriously the issue is being approached.

The pro-Europeans hope the Government will put the same organisation and dedication into the Nice campaign as it did into the election, but there is concern that members have used up much of their energy and commitment in the past few months - and their money too (they can't use public funds to promote one side in a referendum). So while it will be a re-run of this time last year, with the opposition, FG and Labour, also campaigning for a Yes vote - as well as the unions, employers, farmers and the churches - there is now a desperation for victory. Against this group will be the Greens, Sinn Féin and some Independents. Last time, the Antis were the people with the passion.

Roche is the right man for the Government job. He has a passion for Europe from his time as a civil servant in the Department of Finance and as a UCD lecturer. He told Quidnunc that the whole issue has to be brought closer to the people and the language must move from the diplomatic and bureaucratic to that of the layman.

Everyone, he says, must be involved, not just the politicians, because it is about how we perceive ourselves as a nation. "We cannot consign ourselves to a corner. We have always fought above our weight in Europe and we should keep it that way," he says. He intends to give many sectors of the community a wake-up call.

The Taoiseach says Nice is his highest immediate priority. Every member of the Cabinet and front bench will be expected to campaign. Last time, the quick, short campaign failed. Enda Kenny is bringing Fine Gael into the Forum on Europe. Preparations for October will leave no stone unturned.

MOBILE phones may be banned on the golf course but some of the highest in the land admitted to keeping them switched on when they played in the Captain's Cup at the Oireachtas Golf Society outing to Kilkea Castle, Co Kildare, on Tuesday. Government deputies were hoping for a call from Bertie Ahern offering a junior ministry; FG players fretted about Enda Kenny's front bench. About 50 played, including Donie Cassidy, Simon Coveney, Gay Mitchell, Phil Hogan, Austin Deasy, Padraic McCormack and current Captain, Labour Kildare South deputy Jack Wall.

The cup went to Denis Reid of the Leinster House Bar, second was Mayo Fine Gael Senator Paddy Burke, who is running again on the Agriculture panel, and former member Dick Dowling of Kilkenny came third. The women's prize went to Kilkenny Cllr Catherine Connery.

In his speech, Reid joked about how his team, FF Cork deputies Batt O'Keeffe, Billy Kelleher and Michael Ahern, had their phones at the ready. There was much political banter at the dinner with Pat Farrell, of sponsors EBS, telling tales of his campaigning with Bertie last month and Cassidy talking about the big upset in Westmeath where he took Mary O'Rourke's seat.

ONE of the many problems on the desk of the new AG Rory Brady - and one which requires quick attention - is whether to launch an appeal against the judgment in the Des Kelly case. Kelly, an unsuccessful Fianna Fáil candidate in Dublin Mid West, went to the High Court to have the cost of facilities or services (faxes, phones, post, etc) which are available free to Oireachtas members, included in the calculation of their election expenses. He argued that their exclusion gave unfair advantage to sitting members. Justice Liam McKechnie ruled in his favour and unless the State launches an appeal, the campaign spending returns due by July 12th at the Standards in Public Offices Commission must include these costs.

This is a headache not just for the weary election agents who are responsible for filing the returns, but for candidates, successful or not, who could find themselves guilty of a criminal offence for exceeding the spending limits (which range from €25,394 in a three-seat constituency to €38,092 in a five-seater).

The Commission says that should the McKechnie judgment stand, the way is open for failed candidates who were narrowly beaten by a member of the outgoing Dáil or Seanad to petition the High Court to overturn a particular result. There are many in just this position.

Not that candidates spend the above sums. All the parties require candidates to assign a portion of their spending allowance, usually about a quarter and not actual money, to headquarters, to cover the spend on the leaders tour, national posters and party political broadcasts.

Brady has until next week to lodge an appeal, possibly on the grounds that the judgment did not exist during the last election campaign and its rulings should not be applied retrospectively.

THE Irish diplomatic community in the US is into the season of farewells. Ambassador Seán Ó hUiginn, whose departure to Berlin will be marked shortly, hosted a dinner on Tuesday for two of the State Department's friends of Ireland: Irish desk officer, Frank Kerber, going to Brussels, and the head of UK, Benelux and Irish affairs (UBI), Judith Johnson.

In Boston, a veritable festival marked the departure of much praised Irish Consul General, Orla O'Hanrahan, to Dublin as joint director general of the International Fund for Ireland. Her own farewell in the Copley Plaza on Wednesday was the culmination of a week involving seven Irish society tribute parties and, unusually, a lunch hosted by mayor Tom Menino. At the Plaza, a $50,000 grant to UCC's famine centre was announced and Senator Ted Kennedy sent an effusive letter of praise. Among the 300 guests were six presidents of local universities. Bill Bulger of the University of Massachusetts, a former Senate president, made a speech. Little wonder that local journalist and MC Brian O'Donovan described the farewell as "a long Irish goodbye" noting that he had heard at least one guest asking "are you not gone yet?"

ULSTERMEN are taking over the Euro institutions in Britain. Dermot Scott from Ramelton, Co Donegal, has been appointed director of the London office of the European Parliament and Belfast's Jim Dougall, formerly of RTÉ, is the new head of the European Commission office. Scott was deputy head of the Parliament's office in Dublin for 20 years to 1999 and since then, has been head of the Parliament's new office in Edinburgh.

Another Irish Euro-highflyer, Catherine Day, was to be conferred with an honourary NUI doctorate at UCD last Friday but she was detained in Bali where she is leading the EU side in the negotiations on global sustainable development policy. The talks ran into difficulties, so Day, who as EU director general for environment is now the top Irish woman in the Commission, had to forget her native Dublin and stay in the South Seas.

THE new AG, Rory Brady, seemed to have his tongue in his cheek as he thanked the equally new Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, for all the promises he had made on his behalf at the launch of the Irish Women Lawyers' Association. McDowell said that, as AG, he had always attempted to ensure that women got a fair share of state work, and he was sure his successor would do the same.

Despite Brady's protests, this seems likely in the light of his support for the new association which, as well as networking, aims to make submissions on equality and other relevant issues to the Government.

Its first chairwoman, Miriam Reynolds SC, pointed out that when chairman of the Bar Council, Brady had fully supported the women lawyers conference in 2000 and had proposed the inclusion of an equality clause in the redrafted code of conduct for the Council, which is about to go to members for approval.

Maureen Harding Clark, the first and only Irish judge at the UN war crimes court in The Hague, promised to desist from "war stories" on the struggle of women to achieve equality at the Bar, but could not resist a few. There were dinosaurs still lurking in Jurassic Park, she warned. And they weren't just an Irish phenomenon - at least once a week security personnel in The Hague questioned her right to enter the court through the judges' entrance.