Sunshine and water cannons

Political Reporter Michael O’Farrell says despite some cynicism, it was a day to be remembered.

AS PRESIDENT Mary McAleese approached, Corriere Della Sera's man at Áras An Uachtaráin asked: "Is that the Queen?"

The fleeting moment of Italian humour from the best dressed press man in town wasn't appreciated by the Government press officer who rushed to head off a potential diplomatic incident.

With Sky News counting down to go live to the official EU enlargement ceremony in the sun-kissed Phoenix Park, the front lawn of the Áras was about to become an outdoor TV studio with the next half hour's events carefully choreographed.

We were even told exactly when to applaud.

First up President McAleese began by telling how the new enlarged Europe "will learn about each other and from each other".

In the press gallery we were already learning a great deal thanks to a debate between two British hacks about their nation's reluctance to embrace the European ideal.

Debating whether Tony Blair's late arrival could be construed as a diplomatic incident, they wondered aloud if it would be considered a snub to Europe.

Both toyed with opening sentences to their editors. "Tony Blair last night kept Europe waiting," offered one.

"Prime Minister holds up Europe," decided the other.

But as Bertie spoke of how war had led to peace; hatred to respect and division to unity, even the most cynical were briefly silenced by the sheer history of the occasion. The moving sight of 25 nation flags rising together for the first time left few untouched. Few but the two British doubters that is.

Having finished their stories they wondered aloud whether they should stand for Ode To Joy, the European anthem. They did so reluctantly, aptly mirroring the sentiments of their homeland.

Then as children cheered with gusto and the leaders of Europe hugged and slapped backs it was all over bar the fighting.

And thankfully, no matter what the few anarchists intent on violence will claim, the disturbances outside the Halfway House on the Navan Road were minor by any standards.

But the unseemly scenes provided an entertaining spectacle for those drinking in the evening sun outside the pub.

"Give us that bleedin' helmet and your baton and I'll sort them out for you," said one customer to a bemused riot squad member, as the bottles and cans began to rain down on garda front lines.

There was no need for any such assistance though as the massive water cannon on loan from the PSNI, swept away all before it.

"Shame on you, shame on you. Our streets, our streets," came the chant as the 2,000 protesters were pushed back towards the city centre.

Just behind the front line of riot police, uniformed reserves bundled those arrested into paddywagons as superintendents Mick Byrne and Tom Conway paced up and down behind the water cannon directing operations.

"Well done lads, well done lads" repeated Mick time and time again, as he rallied his men and shouted orders.

In stark contrast to previous May Day form the garda operation was remarkably restrained, disciplined and good-natured.

"Here lads we're live on Sky news," said one officer on the phone to his wife as a bottle smashed beside him. "Tell her to tape it," came the reply from his colleagues.

After little more than an hour the protest had already been pushed back to Cabra garda station where the soaked crowd dispersed.

Some headed for a half-hearted sit down protest outside the GPO where they nursed their egos and complained of rights denied.

But May Day was over. Marked by the fionn uisce of Seamus Heaney's poem and the dirty canal water of Ireland's borrowed water cannons, Europe had completed a landmark transformation and welcomed home 10 member states.

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