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Our nasty new friends

BRIAN Cowen laid his stiletto aside yesterday and took up his favourite weapon again. His critics have often chided him for his fondness for the blackthorn stick, but he might have done better in the referendum campaign if he had used it more often. Yesterday, in the Dail, he wielded it to some effect.

Clearly he had been as much offended as the country at large by the sight of Eurosceptic MEPs wearing green T-shirts and flourishing banners in the Strasbourg Parliament. "No proud Irish man or woman", he said, would want them as friends.

Indeed not. Our new self-appointed friends include the notorious Jean-Marie le Pen and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Reasons for shunning such people are far deeper than objections to antics like wearing green T-shirts and using our national flag as a tablecloth. They have no love of Ireland. Gratitude for last week's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is mixed with contempt. They want to promote their own isolationist and racist agenda, to divorce Britain from Europe. The Lisbon vote suits their ends. It would not suit Irish ends if we found ourselves isolated and back in Britain's shadow.

But these people will never take power in Britain, nor Mr le Pen in France. The Irish isolationists should think again.

Mr le Pen once came uncomfortably close to the French presidency. Many in the British Conservative Party share the prejudices of UKIP. If the Tories win the next election -- and all the signs say they will -- Britain could become a "semi-detached" member of the EU, especially if, by then, the treaty remains in a state of suspended animation.

This they call democracy. It is a queer kind of thinking that held that it would be undemocratic for the House of Lords to refuse to ratify the treaty last night. The House of Lords is hardly an example of a democratic institution.

And it is a very queer kind of thinking that holds that all the seven other countries which have not yet ratified Lisbon should hold their fire until the present crisis is resolved.

Ireland has made a democratic decision. It must be respected, and the turmoil in its wake must be calmed. If we rightly object to dictation from other countries, we must not attempt to dictate to them. "Help" from those bizarre new "friends" must be rejected with scorn -- and perhaps a touch of the blackthorn.

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