Yesterday Ireland commemorated 50 years of participation in UN peacekeeping missions (see my entry below) and there were several ceremonies held in various military barracks around the country.
The largest of those took place at McKee Barracks in Dublin, with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Defence, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and many other generals and senior officers in attendance. The weather was wet, but the rain did not stop the military parade, held in memory of the Irish soldiers who served with the United Nations and especially the 85 servicemen who died on foreign soil during UN peacekeeping missions.
The top brass of the Irish Defence Forces took the march-past of troops from the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps with the appropriate and usual seriousness and sombre expression, but Taoiseach Brian Cowen (right) and Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea (pictured below) showed a staggering lack of sense and sensibility. Standing in the front row on the parade podium, in full view of troops and attending media, they had their minds obviously on other matters than the ceremony and the troops in whose honour it took place.
It appears that the Taoiseach had nothing better to do than telling his Defence Minister a joke, while soldiers marched past them in perfect order. Even though it is not known what this joke was about (as both politicians refused to comment on the matter later on), it was obviously so hilarious that Willie O'Dea could not hold his composure and broke out in uncontrolled laughter. (A complete set of three photos, showing the incident, can be seen on the front page of today's edition of the Irish Independent newspaper.)
There is nothing wrong with politicians telling each other jokes, and it is in fact good to see that members of our government have not lost their sense of humour after their crashing defeat in the referendum over the Lisbon Treaty.
But there is a right time and place for everything. And a military ceremony that commemorates the exemplary service of our soldiers and honours those who have died wearing our nation's uniform and the blue beret of the United Nations is certainly not the place for jokes and funny banter.
Having been an officer myself for many years, I never saw a single case of such disrespect during a military ceremony ever before. It appears that our new Taoiseach lacks a good bit of common sense and even more the good manners one would and can expect from the political leader of the country.
His unsuitable behaviour yesterday at McKee Barracks comes on top of the undemocratic and rude threats towards the opposition parties in the Dáil (where he said "he could organise that the opposition would no longer be heard in the House" and shouted down by Fianna Fáil members) and the use of very rude language - including the f-word - in the Dáil chamber (while talking to the Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Mary Coughlan).
It might well be that things in Co. Offaly - the Taoiseach's home turf - are less formal and that in the bucolic atmosphere of the countryside both manners and language are more robust than in Dublin. But after 24 years in the Dail and 16 years in the cabinet one would expect that Brian Cowen knows by now how to behave in public and shows at least some of the dignity his office demands. This applies especially to situations when the dead of the nation are remembered and honoured.
Cowen's predecessor Bertie Ahern has a great sense of humour, but never displayed it in public in an unsuitable or embarrassing way.
Perhaps the new Taoiseach should employ an expert on good manners and behaviour who could advise and train him in the proper ways of appearing in public.
The same expert could then also take care of the Minister for Defence, who seems to be in need of some more dignity and respect for his troops as well. Alternatively there are of course always the options of making Willie O'Dea Minister for Fun or returning him to the backbenches, where his antics would be less noticeable.
The Emerald Islander