Credit: Houses of the Oireachtas

Taoiseach’s Office: Maybe he should go to Washington again?

Look, on the one hand, who wouldn’t feel a bit sorry for the Taoiseach? For whatever reason, he clearly feels as though a five-minute meet and greet with the President of the United States in the Oval Office on Saint Patrick’s Day is the highlight of the job, and he has now missed out, two years in a row. Last year, the whole shebang was cancelled because of Covid. This year was supposed to be his big moment, and then, well, the sneaky virus knobbled him at the final fence. Rotten luck.

All the same, perhaps I am alone in this view, but this……. is mortifying:

Sean Defoe is a good and reliable reporter. If he says that the Taoiseach’s team are talking about re-scheduling his big Oval Office photo-op, then the Taoiseach’s team is talking about re-scheduling his big Oval Office photo-op.

This past Thursday, of course, was likely Martin’s last chance to get such a photo-op in the normal way. He is scheduled to be replaced later on this year as Taoiseach by Mr. Varadkar, who has already had three or four Oval Office moments. The unfairness of it all must rankle at the very fabric of the Taoiseach’s being.

But you know what? Tough.

Meetings with the President of the United States are not a perk of the job. You don’t run and occupy the highest office in the country so that you can avail of the tourist opportunities and get a photo for the mantelpiece. The whole point of the annual visit to Washington for an Irish leader is, officially, to work, and to advance the cause of the country by building friendly relations with the world’s remaining superpower.

For some reason, though, the sympathy for Martin over this misfortune has been off the scale, so much that scheduling a whole trip to Washington – at the taxpayer’s expense – just so the Taoiseach can get his photograph is now a thing that very serious people are scratching their chins thoughtfully and considering.

Why?

Part of it, no doubt, is that the Taoiseach’s bout of covid did not just knobble him. After all, the visit to the White House is not just a perk of the Taoiseach’s job. It’s also a major annual jolly for the press corps: With Martin unable to get into the Oval Office, a whole phalanx of Irish journalists and other associated hangers on were also unable to get into the White House for their annual photo opportunity. There are, for example, a notable absence of photos on the timelines of Irish Journalists of themselves standing behind the podium in the White House Press Room, a la CJ Cregg from The West Wing. Mr. Martin was not the only person to experience crippling disappointment on Thursday.

Perhaps we can reschedule” probably looks like a less outrageous proposition to the media, in those circumstances.

Ultimately, of course, the only relevant question is this: To what extent was the interests of the Irish state disadvantaged by the Taoiseach being forced to have a zoom meeting with President Biden, rather than an in-person one? Were there massive issues of national importance not discussed? Was there some vital piece of secret information not conveyed? Is Biden’s hearing not as good, if you are speaking to him via a screen? There is no plausible, or reasonable, answer to that question which would necessitate a second trip. Because there is no convincing answer based on national interest, the whole thing is instead being re-cast as a matter of personal sympathy for Mr. Martin: After all we’ve been through together, doesn’t he deserve his big moment?

It’s the kind of thing that, if it were being proposed for, say, Boris Johnson, would have the Irish media in apoplectic form: Delusions of grandeur, they’d say. Treating the state as a kind of personal vehicle, they’d say. And they’d be right. The fact that this idea is not being universally ridiculed by the Irish media says a lot more about them than it says about Mr. Martin.

And so, ultimately, the only question we are left with is whether the Irish establishment has abandoned rationality to the extent that they are now considering – apparently seriously – sending Mr. Martin on what essentially amounts to a tourist trip back to Washington just because the poor man missed out on a personal highlight of the job.

There’s out of touch, and then there’s this.

 

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