The Irish word Taoiseach means Chief or Leader. When Ireland gained independence, this word was bestowed on the Prime Minister of the country, and it is a lot more than just his job title. The linguistic connection with the ancient Celtic kings and chieftains who ruled the island for centuries before the arrival of the Normans bridges the historic gap, the time during which the Irish nation was in bondage, the land occupied and its people oppressed.
So when we call our Prime Minister Taoiseach, it includes a degree of general reverence that goes well beyond the individual and far above party-political considerations. In ancient times the chiefs were not only ruling by force and law, they were first and foremost leading the people by personal example.
Sadly, this is no longer the case, especially not with the current Taoiseach. For years he has been trying to lead us up the political garden path, and more recently we have also learned a lot more of his private shortfalls. I have written about this already extensively and there is no need to repeat myself. What I want to highlight in this entry is another point that shows a clear lack of personal leadership in Bertie Ahern.
For many years now the Taoiseach and most of his ministers are fleeing from the country on the one day when they all should be here. As good leaders they should be with and among the people on Ireland's national day, St. Patrick's Day. Sadly cabinet ministers prefer a quick promotional trip to foreign places to joyful celebration at home.
It has been argued that the visits are valuable to promote Irish industry, trade and tourism, but I am not so sure if it is worth the bother any more. We are meanwhile a wealthy and successful country, with more money than common sense, and we need hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to fill all the jobs on the island. The amount of foreign investment is still strong, and there is not a lot for any minister to improve on by visiting a foreign city on March 17th.
With regards to tourism those trips are even more futile.
As long as the US dollar stays weak, many Americans can simply no longer afford holidays in Ireland and will go to some cheaper country, if they go at all. And in order to attract more European tourists we need only to do two things: lower our ridiculously high prices and improve the standard of our services. No ministerial visit on our own National Day can achieve that.
What really annoys me most is that for many years now our Taoiseach seems to be obliged to go to Washington D.C. on St. Patrick's Day, in order to present the President of the USA with a bowl of Irish shamrock. This was not started by Bertie Ahern, so he is only following in the footsteps of his predecessors. But it is nevertheless wrong. And it reminds me strongly of the ancient times when the subordinate rulers of vassal states had to turn up once a year at the court of the king, in order to pay homage and present him with tribute and gifts.
A bowl of Irish shamrock might not have much financial value, but it still is a symbolic tribute of homage, given to the ruler of the country that now controls more or less the whole world, both in political and economical terms. Why is this happening? I always thought that we are a free and sovereign country - at least on paper - and have no need to pay homage to anyone. At least that is the task our ancestors fought and died for, achieving freedom for 26 of our 32 counties at last in 1922.
Neither Éamon de Valera nor John Costello traveled to Washington every year with a bowl of shamrock, and I do not think Seán Lemass, Jack Lynch or Liam Cosgrave did it either. (Since I spent most of the FitzGerald and Haughey era abroad, I am not sure about the way they behaved on St. Patrick's Day.)
I think that it is about time to end this senseless custom.
When I saw this morning a photo of the Taoiseach handing a bowl of shamrock to the war criminal and torturer George W. Bush, I almost choked. I'm not happy with Bertie Ahern, his policies, practices and personal attitude, and I never voted for him or his party.
But nevertheless he is An Taoiseach, the leader of the Irish nation, and as such he can demand my basic loyalty.
Sadly he is not a true leader and gets his priorities wrong. If he were a real leader, he would spend our National Day at home and hand out bunches of shamrock to ordinary people, to the old and sick, the poor and disabled, soldiers of our Defense Forces and those who give their time and personal commitment to Ireland and to the local community. They would be grateful, happy and proud to receive such a gift from the Taoiseach, and they would deserve it.
Instead our cabinet ministers are flown around the world - at taxpayers' expense - to attend a number of more or less tasteful celebrations, and our leader pays homage to a war criminal. No time and no reason to be proud to be Irish.
The Emerald Islander