Saturday 7 December 2019

Lise Hand: Uneasy truce breaks out as war dead are honoured

THE National Day of Commemoration is one of the big, solemn set-piece events involving all sorts of big wheels of State, church, defence and judiciary, so it was unlikely there'd be an unmerciful scrap between two of the groups in the quadrangle of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

But everyone was keeping a beady eye out yesterday morning, just in case.

For it seems that relations are a trifle frosty between our Government and our judges at present over the thorny matter of the legal eagles' remuneration and the proposed reduction thereof.

And since the Cabinet turned up its collective nose at a memo penned by Chief Justice John Murray which warned of the perils of holding a referendum on judicial pay, it may only be a matter of time before there are (literally) wigs on the green.

But there was peace at the annual ceremony to honour Ireland's war dead, although it was a set-faced chief justice who led out the Council of State on to the quadrangle -- its ranks include Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke, former Fianna Fail TD Martin Mansergh and presidential hopeful Mary Davis.

Minutes later, a line of cabinet ministers and Taoiseach Enda Kenny filed out to take their seats.

And, finally, President Mary McAleese arrived, accompanied by Senator Martin McAleese for what was to be her 14th and final commemoration service at the Royal Hospital. And watching proceedings closely from the audience was Aras contender David Norris.

The large crowd in the courtyard included army veterans sporting rows of polished medals, Supreme Court judge Susan Denham and High Court Justice Frank Clarke, Garda Commissioner Frank Callinan, a posse of diplomats and also guards of honour from serving members of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps.

The 45-minute ceremony, which honours all those Irish men and women who died in past wars or on service with the UN, is designed to be both simple and inclusive.

The multi-faith service consisted of prayers and readings by religious leaders, including Rabbi Zalman Lent; Monsignor Lorcan O'Brien, who was standing in for Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin; Presbyterian Moderator Robert Buick; Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson; Russian Orthodox rector Father Mikhail Nasonov; the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Reverend Ian Henderson; and Imam Sheikh Hussein Halawa of the Islamic Cultural Centre who read verses from the Koran.

Soprano Regina Nathan sang -- in a spirit of cross-cultural harmony befitting the occasion -- that quintessential British hymn, 'I Vow To Thee My Country'.

After the readings, the Taoiseach called on the President to lay a wreath, and for the last time since her election in 1997, Mary McAleese placed the large wreath by the plaque and bowed her head for a minute's silence.

Then, with impeccable timing, four Air Corps planes did a fly-over just as 'Amhran na bhFiann' was coming to a close.

The President then left to return to the Phoenix Park, as the remainder of the guests filed indoors for a cup of tea.

But then perhaps our Head of State didn't want to run the risk of having the Chief Justice asking her to hold his coat as he goes to have a cosy chat with our head of Government.

That would never do at all.

Irish Independent

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