Friday 18 August 2017

Unseemly Tusk row reminds us we can hold our own in Europe

Padraig Flynn was an excellent EU Commissioner, who also proved a good behind-the-scenes advocate for Ireland Picture: Damien Eagers
Padraig Flynn was an excellent EU Commissioner, who also proved a good behind-the-scenes advocate for Ireland Picture: Damien Eagers
John Downing

John Downing

'We have no monopoly on gobshites - and we take our prejudices with us." The above comment came from an Irish friend of mine who has lived four decades in Brussels.

It was a swift riposte, delivered quite a few years ago in a bar room discussion among Irish émigrés in Brussels, about the prospects of a certain Irish politician landing a big international post.

At times such as that, the small country national inferiority complex can kick in with a vengeance. In that discussion it was on display big-time among some in the company who maintained 'Politician X' just could not measure up.

The reality is that the vast bulk of people we sent overseas to take on international posts acquitted themselves well. Some left a considerable mark in the job they took up. Patrick Hillery, Ray MacSharry, Peter Sutherland and John Bruton are among those who impressed in various EU and other postings.

My friend's net point was mediocre people sometimes achieve high-flown posts in all countries, and some of those about whom we have doubts at home, are better received when they go overseas. Pádraig Flynn was a good example of this.

The Mayoman was denigrated by many critics at home before being posted to Brussels, to Labour's relief, in the making of Albert Reynolds' 1992 Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition. But the self-styled "Pee" Flynn was an excellent EU Commissioner, who also proved a good behind-the-scenes advocate for Ireland.

All of this is just to take the scenic route towards telling you that Enda Kenny was and is a credible candidate for certain EU appointments. Mr Kenny's name recurred again this week amid a furious row over the candidacy of Polish statesman Donald Tusk for another term as head of the European Council.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo had strongly opposed Mr Tusk's candidacy and proposed another candidate, a little-known Polish MEP called Jacek Saryusz-Wolski.

It is all part of a bitter inter-party row in Poland which should make all Irish people grateful for small mercies. It also led to Mr Kenny being cited on a list of potential standby candidates.

Happily, the other 27 member states banded together and endorsed Mr Tusk, who has operated impressively up to now.

After the vote, the Polish premier said Mr Tusk's reappointment would damage EU efforts to recover after Brexit. And that it was a "question of principles" that any candidate should be backed by his home country.

Happily, Ireland has avoided such small-minded and unseemly behaviour up to now, at least on the international stage. There have been some examples of Irish governments donning the "green jersey" and passing on small-time party interests in such matters. Here are just three instances.

In 1993, Taoiseach Albert Reynolds of Fianna Fáil supported Peter Sutherland, originally a Fine Gael politician, for the post as head of the GATT world trade organisation. In 1994, Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton re-appointed Pádraig Flynn, originally of Fianna Fáil, as EU Commissioner for an extended term. In 2004, Taoiseach Brian Cowen of Fianna Fáil backed the candidature of John Bruton for the powerful post as EU ambassador to the USA.

All of these appointments were a success at home and abroad. They increased Ireland's international reputation in the medium to longer term as all proved to be people of quality well suited to the challenges.

In a week in which we have had cause to question our ability to order our own affairs, it is well to keep these pointers in mind. We are not the best in the world - but we are very far from the worst.

Irish Independent

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