News Analysis

Sunday 31 August 2014

Mammoth task of moving out done in military style

Published 10/11/2011 | 05:00

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THIS morning, for the final time, Mary and Martin McAleese pull back their bedroom curtains to admire the view of the rolling lawns and graceful trees in the grounds of Aras an Uachtarain.

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For later today, after 14 years of living in the middle of the Phoenix Park, the President will move out of her public residence and begin her move back to the life of a private citizen.

But how does this move actually take place? Such a task is a mammoth one for any family, but surely quitting the Aras requires formidable logistics. For there is literally 24 hours between the outgoing President leaving, and the newly inaugurated one moving in -- Michael D Higgins will arrive at his new home straight after the ceremony in Dublin Castle tomorrow afternoon.

However, anyone expecting to see a convoy of large removal vans snaking out through the Cabra gate today will be disappointed -- most of the McAleese possessions have already been relocated to their lakeshore home in Co Roscommon. Also, there is no furniture being taken from the residence, as the private quarters were completely furnished by the Office of Public Works before the family moved there in 1997.

One staff member said the moving out operation had been carried out over several months.

"They approached it with military precision," she said.

"They've really been preparing for this for about six or seven months now, starting to box things up and go through what they need to leave here and what they need to take with them. "There was a plan and timetabling, and we did try and free up a few days here and there for the President to get physically packing things. But unfortunately a lot of those were eaten into, so she accomplished an awful lot given she's been working constantly as well."

Indeed, given that this time period included the state visit of Queen Elizabeth, closely followed by the visit by US President Barack Obama, it's a bit of an achievement that the Aras and the adjoining private residence will be vacant and ready for their new tenants by the end of today.

One of the main tasks for the President was sorting out the vast array of gifts she has received over her two terms in office.

Anything valued over €650 has been gifted back to the State, as Mrs McAleese voluntarily signed up to the Standards in Public Office (SIPO) legislation which stipulates that any gifts valued over this amount should be donated to the State. And it looks as if there will be quite a haul handed over, including a silver jug with a harp engraved on one side and the British royal cypher on the other, which was presented to her by the British monarch last May and which is valued at around €4,000.

However, of less definitive value are a profusion of presents carved from bog oak, which proved to be the gift which kept on being given to the President over the 14 years.

Some of the bog oak will make the journey down to her new Shannonside base, while others are being donated to GAISCE (the youth award project of which she is a patron) to be put to auction at some future date to raise funds.

"A huge amount of gifts have been received over 14 years, so it's great to know that they're going to a great home such as GAISCE," said a spokesperson.

Moreover, this presidential removal must adhere to today's deadline, unlike 14 years ago when Mrs McAleese's predecessor Mary Robinson quit the office -- and the Aras -- two months before her term officially expired in order to take up a position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

But it hasn't been a case of all hands on deck to pack up the place. The Aras staff's involvement in the packing process has been mostly confined to sorting through the masses of private correspondence in order to decide which letters she will take with her and which will be placed in the presidential archive.

And according to insiders, the McAleeses' son, Justin, has been extremely involved in the big move, helping to sort and pack the family's possessions.

However, the military operation is now complete, and today the tall wrought-iron gate will close behind Mary and Martin McAleese for the last time. But the First Couple will stay in the capital tonight, as they'll be attending the inauguration of Michael D Higgins tomorrow, and afterwards they will travel to Roscommon.

What then for Mrs McAleese? Contrary to some reports, she has no immediate plans to quit the country and further her studies in law.

According to one friend, she won't begin any study until next year.

"She has no set arrangements in place yet. I think she just wants to enjoy not having every day planned for her and to have a bit of freedom".

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Irish Independent

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