Lise Hand: Leaders ready to play nice in hope of getting us off EU naughty step
WHAT'S the collective noun for a large grouping of ambassadors -- an urbanity of Excellencies, perhaps? A circumspection of consuls? Or a Ps & Qs of plenipotentiaries?
Whatever the correct term, a logjam of limos with diplomatic plates pulled up one by one outside the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday morning.
For yesterday was the official start of Operation Plámás, a cunning plan hatched by the Dynamic Duo, Enda and Eamon, to have Ireland released from its unhappy sojourn on the EU's naughty step.
And let's face it, to say that the Taoiseach and Tanaiste have a mountain to climb is something of an understatement -- the Herculean task is akin to tackling the north face of the Eiger equipped with nothing but a six-pack of beer and a ball of hairy twine. To put it undiplomatically, we're deep in the doo-doo. We're feckless, reckless ingrates who ran the national finances like a bunch of crazed hoodies and then when it all went horribly wrong, howled with outrage when responsible adults tried to slap economic ASBOs on us.
And so the Taoiseach, clad in pinstripe sackcloth and ashes, yesterday embarked on the stations of the cross around London, issuing mea culpas (for the failings of the Fianna Fail-led Government, naturally) while promising to do better and cosying up to David Cameron.
Meanwhile back in Dublin all the ambassadors from the EU countries had been issued with an invitation that they couldn't really refuse -- to present themselves at Iveagh House at 11am yesterday for a cosy chat with Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore.
A total of 21 fully fledged Excellencies answered Ireland's call, along with three deputy heads of mission, and only two no-shows from the ambassadors of Sweden and Luxembourg, neither of which country has a full resident embassy in Ireland.
And the hour-long session passed peacefully, with Eamon walking a delicate tightrope of flattery and threat. Afterwards he described the tactics deployed in the opening gambit of Operation Plámás.
"We set out for the ambassadors our very clear intention to engage more actively with the European Union, to take a much more active role in the European Union itself, in its functioning and its workings," he said.
"We have a programme of bilateral meetings and bilateral visits that we'll be undertaking," he explained.
However, despite laying on the charm, Eamon wasn't rolling over to have his tummy tickled either -- especially when it came to the fraught EU issue of Ireland's 12.5pc corporation tax. "We made it very clear there would be no reduction in the corporation tax rate," he declared.
But it hadn't been all one-way traffic, as Eamon was quizzed by ambassadors about how Ireland planned to extricate itself from both the financial and diplomatic dog-houses.
"They asked quite a number of questions, mainly about the economic situation and how we see it moving forward," said Eamon. "They asked us practical questions, such as do we intend to undertake visits to capitals, which of course we do."
Goodness, but Eamon has a hectic time ahead of him, what with whizzing around Europe meeting prime ministers and presidents, and then there's the small matter of state visits by the British queen and the US president next month.
No wonder our new Foreign Affairs Minister hasn't had time to explore Iveagh House's biggest treasure -- the legendary wine cellar stocked with Grands Crus to beat the band .
"What wine cellar?" asked a startled Eamon, his eyes lighting up.
Operation Plámás just got more fun.