Taoiseach’s Covid Purdah opens a narrow window for Michael D to bask in the EU leadership forum spotlight
Maybe Michael Martin should have packed a supposedly lucky four-leaf clover into this bowl it’s destined for Joe Biden in the white house.
What are the odds of anyone noticing the added leaf on the tiny green vegetation if it meant something? Lucky not to be virused-out twice?
has Covid-19 twice robbed the Taoiseach of his outstanding moment at the St. Patrick’s Day meeting at the White House with the leader of the free world.
Fortunately, he has always avoided public drama about the detailed regulations of state affairs and has now repeatedly emphasized that he does not feel ill.
Moving late yesterday from the US President’s guest quarters at Blair House to Ambassador Dan Mulhall’s Washington residence, the Taoiseach pointed out that many others have been hit by worse things lately.
He did not elaborate that these range from deaths and serious illnesses from Covid 19 to the horrors of war in Ukraine.
Nor would any diplomatic source advance the prospect that the illness of the Taoiseach could be President Michael D. Higgins’ great breakthrough in international power politics.
You see, if Martin’s infection status excludes him from an EU summit in Brussels next Thursday, President Higgins appears qualified to attend a so-called “summit of heads of state” as the elected head of state.
Certainly an incentive in itself to let the Fates conjure up some previous negative Covid tests for the Taoiseach – or St Anthony found. But more of that doesn’t-want-he-want-he-President-Higgins thing in a moment.
First of all it is important to note that it is not set in stone that Martin will have to spend a full 10 days in Covid Purdah. His officials stonewalled yesterday and refused any help, either official or private. Still, two positive things were hanging in the air for the Taoiseach. The first was that testing will continue and a test on day five – maybe late tomorrow or early Monday depending on how you count – could tell a lot and give the Taoiseach a chance to resume duty much sooner if he than is rated negative.
The second positive was that he could very well be received by President Biden at the White House before the job swap between Taoi-Seach and Tánaiste next December. Irish and US sources stressed the desire for that to happen sometime later this year.
There is no ready update for the larger question hanging in the air for the Irish public: When will Irish-American President since John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Joe Biden, officially visit Ireland?
There were hopes of an appointment this weekend, but diplomats on both sides stress that Biden is keen to visit Ireland.
But now – with a major war afoot – is not a good time to talk about goodwill travel, when the serious work of life and death is getting much bigger. We have to wait for more stable times.
So, what about the talk that President Higgins could be pressured into donning the green Geansaí at an EU summit in Brussels next Thursday and Friday?
Well, these summits of EU leaders have gone through different formats, rules and identity changes since the first formal version of this forum took place in Dublin in 1975, chaired by then Prime Minister Liam Cosgrave. The biggest changes come from the 2009 EU-Lisbon Treaty.
And a more recent streamlined format was pushed by the summit’s first two permanent chairs, Herman Van Rompuy and Charles Michel.
We know from the new format that Ireland will not be able to send another government official if Martin is still ruled out of Covid next Thursday and Friday.
Neither his deputy, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, nor the second most obvious choice, Secretary of State Simon Coveney.
In previous formats, foreign ministers and sometimes high-ranking officials were often present.
However, as the EU has grown to 27 member states, the rule, to avoid endless summits, is that only heads of state or government attend – and they come alone.
EU meetings at ministerial level are far more flexible, with scope for junior ministers, member states’ ambassadors in Brussels and senior officials to attend.
However, the rules of the EU summit must also take into account different government structures and different election results.
French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, is both head of state and head of government and has enormous foreign policy competence.
In the past, socialist French President Francois Mitterrand aligned himself with Gaullist Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.
Other member states, notably Finland, have a president with a large foreign policy role and sometimes participated amid some domestic tensions.
President Higgins is an elected head of state with considerable political experience and international standing, but this fascinating political perspective is unlikely.
Even if the Taoiseach is still ruled out, the government will most likely allow a like-minded member state – say one of the Benelux or Baltic countries – to express Ireland’s view next week.
Another option is to inform the chairman of the summit, Charles Michel, and leave it up to him.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/taoiseachs-covid-purdah-opens-slim-window-for-michael-d-to-bask-in-spotlight-of-eu-leader-forum-41464019.html Taoiseach’s Covid Purdah opens a narrow window for Michael D to bask in the EU leadership forum spotlight