Saturday 1 October 2016

Fionnan Sheahan: British PM leads the changing of the guard

Political Editor Fionnan Sheahan on the day David Cameron took over and Michael Collins looked on

Published 19/05/2011 | 05:00

The British took back Government Buildings yesterday -- and proceeded to use it as a changing room. The Union Jack flew alongside the tricolour on top of the building in honour of the queen's visit.

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But the real evidence of the return of the realm came when a minister's office was commandeered by the queen's government. British Prime Minister David Cameron requisitioned the office of European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton's to let him change from business attire into a lounge suit for the state dinner in honour of the queen.

The minister wasn't there at the time as she was gone ahead to the dinner at Dublin Castle. While Mr Cameron was a half hour late arriving on Merrion Street last evening, the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were four minutes early when her 16- car cavalcade swept on to the cobblestones of Government Buildings at 11.11am.

When her jet black Land Rover 'Vogue' pulled up at the front door, the red carpet she stepped on was about as pristine as she'll walk on all week. Just 45 minutes before her arrival, the in-house cleaning lady set to work with some vigour with her Nilfisk vacuum cleaner, making sure every carpet thread was spruced up.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny made the official welcomes to the royal couple, accompanied by his wife, Fionnuala O'Kelly.

Ms O'Kelly was wearing a pale grey silk, tunic-shaped three-quarter length jacket with decorative collar and matching knee-length skirt; silver peep toe sandals with white ribbon; and carried a brown leather bag.

Government Buildings was constructed during the reigns of the queen's great-grandfather and grandfather, Edward VII and George V. Mr Kenny immediately pointed out the crests of the British monarchs which adorn the East Wing and West Wing of the building.

The building was finished in 1922, the year Ireland achieved its independence. Just to remind the visitors of the foundation of the State, the Kennys and Windsors had a quick fireside chat in the Taoiseach's office, under the gaze of Michael Collins, whose portrait hangs on the wall.

Then the queen finally got to meet a dignitary with whom she had something in common. Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett is well known for his love of horse racing. Giving a taster of what's to come with her visits to the National Stud and Coolmore, the queen chatted about equine matters when she met Mr Barrett.

The Dun Laoghaire TD told the queen the last British monarch to visit Ireland, King George V in 1911, sailed into his Queenstown constituency. After studying the form with Mr Barrett, it was on to meeting and greeting the majority of the Cabinet and junior ministers.

The queen and prince held snapshot conversations with each minister on their portfolio and impressed them all.

Small Business Minister John Perry described them as a "formidable couple".

And Lucinda Creighton was charmed by the elderly couple from Buckingham Palace. "She was lovely and really chatty. And he's really funny. For their age, they're really bubbly and chatty," she said.

Dinny McGinley was introduced by Mr Kenny as the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Minister. On hearing his lengthy title and extensive portfolio, the queen said: "You must be very busy".

Mr McGinley held what appeared to be a lengthy discussion with Prince Philip on the similarities between the Irish language and Scots Gaelic -- and the difference with Welsh. Mr McGinley recounted the prince's reaction to hearing he was in charge of government policy on the language:

"'Oh,' he says, 'do you speak the Gaelic. I've heard it'." Confessing to being "pleasantly surprised" by his meeting with the royal couple, the minister summarised the positive reaction of many people to the sight of the queen in the Garden of Remembrance a day earlier. "Ireland missed a heartbeat when they saw her take a step back and bow her head."

But the minister's Anglo-attire was attracting a lot of attention from his colleagues, as Mr McGinley was getting slagged off by his colleagues for wearing a red, white and blue tie. He hit back by telling the assembled ministers how the queen turned to him as she was leaving and declared: "Incidentally, I like your tie." And he replied: "Thank you, Ma'am, its Marks and Spencers."

She didn't actually make the comment but it stopped the slagging as some ministers fell for the tall tale.

Whether Lucinda Creighton will find a pair of Mr Cameron's socks or Union Jack underwear left on her office floor this morning following his rapid change of clothes will also have to remain a state secret. But they probably would be Marks and Spencers -- a British institution, just like Government Buildings was for a day.

Irish Independent

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