Enda marches on Rome for talks over EU budget
IT was, as they (sort of) say in football-loving Italy, a day of two halves for the Taoiseach yesterday. He spent the morning in the tranquil Italian countryside contemplating the spartan monastic life of St Columbanus, and then zoomed to Rome to discuss the €960bn question of the EU budget with Italian prime minister Enrico Letta.
It was his first formal bilateral meeting with the prime minister who was eventually selected six weeks ago for the job after protracted haggling and dramatics among the deadlocked parties. (Enrico surely must have the sympathy of Enda, given that he has three parties to keep happy in Italy's Grand Coalition.) But the pair appeared to get along just fine after their meeting – the bespectacled 46-year-old being neither as low-key as Mario Monti, nor as bonkers as Silvio Berlusconi.
Afterwards, standing under a massive and eye-catching painting of Pope Leo I's confrontation with Attila the Hun (well, it IS Rome, where the art is as dramatic as the politics), Enda and Enrico agreed it had been a harmonious meeting in which they had discussed US-EU trade agreements and the problem of youth unemployment, and Ireland's attempt to land the EU budget deal before the end of this month.
"I wish him the best success, which is in the interest of Europe, but also of Italy," said the prime minister. "I will pay a visit to Dublin in the autumn – it will be good opportunity to prepare for the Italian presidency which will take place in the second half of 2014," he added.
(But Enrico'd better pick his date in the autumn with care, for fear he'll end up campaigning for the abolition of the Seanad.)
Enda was equally complimentary in turn, declaring that the prime minister "has brought a sense of stability here to Italy", and welcoming his national plan to deal with youth unemployment – which stands at over 40pc in Italy.
Of course he professed himself to be "very glad" that Enrico has accepted an invitation to visit Ireland.
(And he can always do with an extra canvasser for the Seanad referendum.)
Earlier yesterday, the Taoiseach had travelled to the small town of Bobbio, south of Milan, to mark the 1400th anniversary of the monastery built by Irish monk Saint Columbanus.
Enda went at the request of Fr Tommy Murphy, superior general of the Columbans, who had been in school with him in Mayo, and he took a tour of the tower and crypt where the saint is buried.
And no doubt Enda contemplated the set of Rules which Columbanus imposed with iron discipline over the monks in his monastery.
For Numero Uno Rule was Obedience – the words of seniors should always be obeyed.
Imagine if Enda could have such a Rule over his troops when it came to votes of stuff such as abortion legislation.
That would indeed be nothing short of a miracle.