Lise Hand: What has Europe ever done for us, apart from roads, jobs and education
IT may have been Europe Day yesterday, but it felt like just another manic, depressing Monday in Dublin.
Where were the floats in a big parade? Why didn't the citizenry get the day off work to toast the 61st anniversary of the Schuman Declaration (the wheeze which kicked off the European Union in May 1950)? Where were the hordes of joyous Europhiles waving blue flags with little yellow stars and clutching posters of our beloved leaders, Olli Rehn, Jean-Claude Trichet and Jose-Manuel Barroso?
Instead, the people of Ireland just went about their business as usual -- or at least those dwindling numbers of us who have business to go about.
So there wasn't exactly dancing on the streets (not even a boogie on a boreen, if truth be told), but at least the dutiful denizens of Leinster House made a bit of an effort. For the Dail had a special sitting yesterday morning to mark the day, with all manner of speeches on Ireland's relationship with the European Union.
Now, in fairness, the timing wasn't great. For of course the whole Eurofamily is up in a heap over what to do with financial flibbertigibbets such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal, with loud gnashing of teeth emanating from Brussels over rumours that the Greeks were getting set to skedaddle from the eurozone.
And relations between Ireland and Brussels are currently strained in the way which normally ends with broken crockery, the cops being called and door locks being changed.
The already-high levels of national angst over the punitive terms and conditions attached to EU/ECB/IMF bailout went stratospheric last weekend in the wake of the latest prophecy from our own Grim Preacher, economist Morgan Kelly, a chap as doom-ridden and elusive as Nostradamus.
Therefore any of the Brussels bigwigs who may have tuned into proceedings from the Europe Day 'celebrations' in the Dail must have sighed for the heady days when Irish politicians went hog-wild after then-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds returned in triumph from Europe with a crock of Brussels gold in structural funds.
In fact, the Brussels boys could be forgiven if they thought they had tuned into a remake of the scene from the 'Life of Brian' where the gaggle of ingrates from the People's Front of Judea embark on an animated debate over what have the Romans ever done for us?
For there was a bit of what has Europe ever done for us fulmination in the Dail chamber.
The Taoiseach, of course, wasn't quite shaking his fist when he opened the special session. Instead he emphasised that it was time to work on an escape route from the international dog-house.
"Rebuilding Ireland's relationship with our partners in the European Union is a critical part of this work," he said. "As someone who cares greatly about the well-being of this country, I have never wavered in my support for the European Union," added Europhile Enda.
However, the Taoiseach was also clear that the EU is not the Messiah, either. "We are not alone in finding ourselves in serious difficulties, and it is increasingly clear to me that each set of problems requires its own distinct set of solutions. A one-size-fits-all approach risks fitting nobody," he warned.
Likewise, Micheal Martin mixed praise with digs at the Eurocrats. "In the face of the economic crisis there has been a disturbing inability to adopt measures which are urgent or comprehensive enough to deal with emerging issues. A lack of the type of broad leadership shown in the past has resulted in an agenda which is torn between half-measures and opportunism," sniped the Fianna Fail leader.
And the Eurosceptics were vocal in their disapproval of the heavy-handed carry-on by the guardians of the euro purse-strings. Socialist MEP Paul Murphy, the man who stepped into Joe Higgins's Euro-shoes after he was elected to the Dail, was unimpressed with the day that was in it.
"The hype around Europe Day this year appears to me to be a fairly transparent attempt to repair the damage done to the image of the EU by its austerity programmes," he sniffed, while Richard Boyd Barrett dismissed the Dail sitting as "a sick joke by an already bankrupt Government".
Yet despite Enda's ongoing tussles with Brussels, he isn't quite yet ready to embrace the doomsday scenario of Nostradamus Kelly that we should do a collective legger from the bailout deal, or concur with his declaration that one Monstro-Budget would balance our books.
Enda shot this notion out of the sky later yesterday while speaking at an event in Google's headquarters. "I've no intention of delivering a lethal injection to the Irish economy by trying to bridge that extent of the deficit in one year," he said sternly.
Oh Taoiseach, let's all follow the wise economic gourd, sorry, guru.
After all, apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the freshwater system and public health, what have the Europeans ever done for us?