SHAUN CONNOLLY: Let’s be straight about ministerial Patrick’s Day junkets

The so-called trade missions are free holidays, but while our representatives are being feted abroad at our expense in cities of their choosing, they could make a stand, such as for the right of gay people to join New York’s parade

St Patrick's Day is ‘not about sexuality’, Enda Kenny has helpfully informed us. Damn straight it’s not, Taoiseach.

So, if St Patrick’s Day is not about sexuality, what is it about, Mr Kenny? Ah, yes — a Cabinet scramble to the four corners of the Earth for a free jolly.

And they’re off! The great St Patrick’s Day ministerial race around the world, to rack-up the biggest hotel bill for the taxpayer, is on.

Time was, St Patrick expelled snakes from Ireland with a wave of his trusty staff. Now, ministers get booked into business class and wave bon voyage to each other in the VIP lounge at Dublin airport.

But that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? It is all about jobs, not junkets, these days, surely? Yes, a tireless trade-push by our selfless superiors (and, inexplicably, often their spouses) to drag business investment home on the back of a shamrock.

Well, that’s what they keep telling us, but, as the two rising global super powers, Brazil and India, have been mysteriously wiped-off the ministerial map, that does not quite ring true.

Maybe they didn’t fancy the food in downtown Mumbai, or perhaps the upmarket travel mags have branded Brazil ‘soooo last year’, but no-one seems to have put the business mammoths on their little ministerial wish-lists.

And, yes, that’s right, the ministers submit a list of their five destinations of choice, in order of desirability, before finding out what they have won. It’s a bit like ‘secret Santa’ — except we’re footing the bill and we’re not getting much back in return.

But with 28 out of 30 ministers getting a free trip to exotic locations (well, apart from poor old Pat Rabbitte, who got stiffed with Birmingham), it is as if the crash never happened.

The one trip that really matters is the Taoiseach’s annual trek to Washington DC, as the political capital of the world effectively stops to fawn over the leader of a country with the population of Yorkshire. I was once in a 15-vehicle motorcade, for which the police motorcycle outriders kept halting rush-hour traffic across DC, just so then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern could get from Andrews air force base to his hotel without having to slow down. David Cameron, Vladimir Putin and Francois Hollande would kill for the kind of access lavished on Mr Kenny by the US president and the congressional leadership, when he rocks up at the White House every year.

But, as for most of the other ministerial globe-trotting, we’d be lucky to get as much as a postcard back for our money.

Brazil has just overtaken Great Britain to become the world’s sixth-biggest economy, and India is nipping at its heels, in ninth place, but why bother visiting either, to tap them up for jobs, when a minister can pick up such a nice box of chocolates in Belgium?

When this column asked about the glaring omissions, the Foreign Affairs Department was floundering, as it ‘explained’ that as Frances Fitzgerald did such a ‘thorough’ visit to India last year, it was unnecessary to go again this time.

Now, the Children’s Minister is a perfectly nice woman, but she would have to be the Beatles, Jesus Christ, and Bill Gates rolled into one to still be having such a massive impact on the Indian sub-continent, a year on.

You can just imagine the panic in New Dehli’s corridors of power, as the ministerial wish-list was being drawn-up in Dublin: “No, people of Ireland! Please do not send us your Franny Fitz again — we cannot take the mass hysteria her mere presence induces. There is barely a rupee left in the entire country, after all the inward investment the intoxicating sorceress magicked from our hands last year. Can we have Phil Hogan, instead?’

The no-show in Brazil elicited an even lamer excuse: ‘Well, we will be opening a consulate there soon’.

Well, that’s alright then. Let’s wait a few more months, until it overtakes France in economic size, before we bother trying to get a bit of business put our way, shall we? It’s not like we have mass unemployment at home, or anything.

But it’s not all about money. Oh, no, as the Government insists the jollies (sorry, missions) are also about showcasing new, groovy, open-minded Ireland in all its diversity.

Oh, right, so that’s why Enda is going to a New York parade that even the city’s own mayor is boycotting, because of the way it treats gay people, is it?

That’s why Transport Minister Leo Varadkar is willing to attend a men-only St Patrick’s dinner in Savannah, Georgia, that the Tánaiste refused to go to last year, because of its ‘segregationist’ attitude to women?

The people angry about exclusion do not want to make it St Patrick’s Gay, they just want to be included in the global celebration of Irishness on St Patrick’s Day — especially in New York, the city that gave birth to the gay liberation movement, in the Stonewall riots of 1969. The presence of the Taoiseach, and Minister Varadkar, at such events insults equality.

LADS, if you’re going on a free holiday at our expense, at least show a little bit of spine when you’re in these cities, and do the right thing. Discrimination takes different forms across different levels, but, really, what is the difference between Irish-Americans shouting ‘no gays! no women!’ and the notorious signs my parents saw in the windows of 1950s London lodging houses, which screamed: ‘no blacks. No dogs. No Irish’?


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