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Lise Hand: All aboard as Engineer Enda gives us something to choo on

ENDA had his determined face on.

"The train for the future of Europe leaves on January 1, 2013, and I want our country to be on that," he declared yesterday afternoon on the steps of the University of Ulster in Belfast.

The Little Taoiseach Who Could is gearing himself for a six-week battle for the fickle hearts and muddled minds of the large swathe of undecided voters who will seal the fate of next month's referendum on the fiscal compact treaty.

And he's gung-ho that there will be no Lisbon One style of chaotic derailment which will end with Ireland being decoupled from the Brussels bar-car. Not while Engineer Enda is shovelling the coal.

He was at the university to deliver the sixth Chancellor's Lecture -- previous speakers include President Mary McAleese and British broadcaster Jon Snow. Earlier in the day he had attended the first government launch to promote a Yes vote, and the treaty was on his mind.

"What it's not about is Germany taking over Europe," he said. Indeed.

Enda was probably quite content to get a brief break from the various rumbles over the household charge, water metering and the introduction of fornication into the Dail (the word, not the actual deed, in fairness).

And he got a prolonged standing ovation from the packed hall of 400 guests when he was introduced onto the stage by the university's vice-chancellor Professor Richard Barnett, who apologised for the absence of the Chancellor.

"He's in New Zealand, playing a dwarf".

Pardon? But it was true. James Nesbitt, Chancellor and actor, is currently in New Zealand filming 'The Hobbit'. But he sent a video message (not, alas, in costume), and confirmed that his absence was due to "commitments in Middle-Earth".

It was an attentive audience, sprinkled with members of the various churches, the judiciary and politics.

And in his speech, the Taoiseach stressed time and again the close links between North and South. He hailed the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth to the Republic a year ago as "the closing of the circle of history." He then spelled out that the passing of the fiscal stability treaty would benefit the economies on both sides of the Border.

Then it was all aboard the Enda Express once more.

"The European train for future progress is leaving on January 1, 2013, and it's very important that our people be on that," he stressed.

That left his distinguished audience with something to choo over.

Irish Independent