THE Government has promised that 2013 will be the "year of recovery", as Ireland's six-month EU presidency gets under way.
At a ceremony to mark the start of the Irish EU presidency, Taoiseach Enda Kenny vowed that the Irish EU presidency
would bring "new hope" to people in the midst of the economic crisis.
"We all know too well here in Ireland the huge sacrifices the crisis has meant.
"The people of Europe and Ireland need to know and need to see there is progress being made. That there is a next step to recovery," he said.
The Government is promis-
ing to push strongly for a deal on Ireland's €64bn bank debt during the six-month EU presidency, while also being careful to ensure that progress is made on other vital EU issues such as setting up a banking union. It will also look for a deal on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
There are high expectations at EU level for the Irish presi-
dency, given that it is the seventh time the country has performed the role.
But the budget for the presidency is due to be at least €33m less than the €110m extravaganza in 2004, which saw meetings held in five-star hotels such as Dromoland Castle in Clare and Ashford Castle in Mayo.
As part of the opening ceremony, Mr Kenny reviewed the
Defence Forces Guard of Honour and the Defence Forces Band played Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' – the EU's anthem.
He also watched as school children released some of the 40 blue balloons they had been given to mark the 40th anniversary of Ireland joining the then European Economic Community.
The organisers had provided extra long string to allow children to hold on to the biodegradable balloons after receiving complaints from environmental groups about discarded balloons posing a threat to animals and sea creatures.
But some of the children were so excited that they let their balloons float off into the sky anyway.
Dublin Castle was, of course, where Michael Collins arrived by taxi in 1922 for the handover of power by the British authorities to the new Irish Free State. In the same location, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore vowed that the State would regain its sovereignty from the troika during "the year of recovery" in 2013.
"As we become the first country in the eurozone to exit the EU/IMF programme, Ireland can and will be a success story for Europe again," he said.
Mr Gilmore would not be drawn into whether he felt German Chancellor Angela Merkel was negative in predicting that the eurozone crisis was "far from over".
"We have a very full agenda on pressing ahead with digital single market and trade agreements that have to be negotiated. All of that is about getting the European economy to grow," he said.
While Mr Gilmore sensibly had a warm coat for the ceremony, Mr Kenny opted to manage without one in the biting cold yesterday. So, too, did the brave schoolgirls in the award-winning Methodist School choir
who travelled down from Belfast to sing 'An Irish Blessing' during the ceremony.
Much more suitably attired for the weather was Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton, who was wearing one of the 8,000 official Irish EU presidency scarves that will be given to delegates. They have been manufactured by a small Clarebased company, Aine knitwear, which has been able to increase its workforce from three people to four due to the state contract.
Ms Creighton said it would be a very cost-effective presidency because almost all the events would take place in state-owned venues in Dublin.
"It's an investment in Ireland's reputation, it's an investment in trying to pursue an agenda at EU level that matters very much to Ireland and to Irish people," she said.
The simple but effective flagraising ceremony in Dublin Castle was not a crowd-puller, however. Politicians and dignitaries almost outnumbered the 100 or so members of the public who turned up.
Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty afterwards accused Mr Kenny of failing to point out that the economy was stagnant and that young people were leaving in droves to find work abroad.
"His fine words about hope, possibility and confidence ring hollow when we remember that last year he spoke about stability and progress and we have seen neither," he said.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy – January 9
This will be Mr Van Rompuy's first visit here during the Irish EU presidency.
EU Commissioners – January 10
Every European Commissioner will be arriving in Dublin, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Informal meeting of justice and home affairs ministers – January 17-18
Justice Minister Alan Shatter will be among the EU justice ministers discussing plans to have our Criminal Assets Bureau working with similar agencies in other EU countries to stop criminals hiding assets abroad.
Ecofin – April 12-13
Finance Minister Michael Noonan will attend a meeting of his fellow EU finance ministers – with the banking union and a bank debt deal all expected to be on the table.
EU-US informal meeting April 17-18
There are hopes of reviving the talks on an EU-US trade deal. It could boost gross national product by up to 2pc on both sides of the Atlantic if agreed.
Digital Agenda Assembly – June 19-20
Experts and professionals from the digital world will converge on Dublin.