On Friday morning last, deep in the bowels of the Berlaymont Building, I found myself sat behind a desk space allotted to a grouping which proudly stands beneath a white and blue flag.
No, the Deise hasn’t declared itself a republic or anything like that. By coincidence I was occupying the seat usually manned by the Greek-born European Commissioner Stavros Dimas during Brussels pow-wows.
It led me to recall a letter in a national newspaper from 2004, when a fellow citizen of Commissioner Dimas’s homeland was passing through Waterford while the Greek soccer team surprisingly won the European Championship.
The letter writer, oblivious to Waterford’s progress to the Munster Hurling final, was full of praise for the solidarity that the people of Passage and Portlaw had apparently shown with the natives of Piraeus and the Penepolese.
But praise for the Irish from our European friends is thin on the ground right now in this post Lisbon Referendum environment we inhabit.
A Sunday Times leader writer declared that ‘Lisbon is dead’ at the weekend given the complete lack of cohesion demonstrated by Member States when it came to tackling our new economic circumstances.
But listening to the observations of several staffers in the political centre of the European Union, such sentiment is thin on the ground, less than the dimensions of a wafer, in fact.
“It’s not dead in the water,” said South MEP Colm Burke, whose call for a second referendum made front page news here last Wednesday.
Wherever one stands on the Lisbon debate, (I voted ‘Yes’ by the way), the reaction to our referendum result has been a gargantuan insult to the democratic virtues upon which the EU was originally established.
Hearing one official talk of Ireland becoming a ‘semi-detached’ EU member due to the Lisbon result was as alarmist as some of the appalling line-blurring spiel adopted by advocates of a ‘No’ vote last summer.
“It’s like this,” said the official. “The other countries could just turn around and say ‘Are you on the bus or off it? And we’ll be on the trailer behind.” Why, exactly?
In my view, and better read folk on all matters EU might think otherwise, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty remains the most radical document ever put before the Irish people since joining the EEC in 1973.
By saying ‘Tá’, we signed away our currency and the right to determine our own interest rates. But Albert Reynolds came back from Brussels with a half-dozen billion ahead of the plebiscite and everything in the garden was rosy.
But to now have some suggesting that the majority of Irish voters demonstrated ingratitude towards our European neighbours by rejecting Lisbon is complete, total and utter rubbish.
Becoming a net contributor of the Union and helping new Member States to improve their lot is the responsibility of any mature, stable and proud democracy. Thankfully, Ireland’s cup is overflowing in all three respects.
Remember too that Denmark rejected the Maastricht Treaty, but I don’t recall the Danes being relegated to black sheep status the way we’ve been the past few months. Remember too that one opt-out clause later had the Danes smiling and put the new arrangement back on track.
One can argue that if Libertas had never materialised, then Lisbon, not nearly as scary a document as some naysayers would have us believe, would still have been rejected.
Our ‘put-upon’ Government, now forced to make the sort of decisions last faced by a Haughey-led administration, are the ones who’ve got to get their arses out of the trailer and demonstrate some leadership.
So step up, Mr Cowen, speak plainly, get us some opt-outs if so required, convince the people and don’t take us for granted ahead of a referendum which will probably be held before Christmas 2009.