INSIDE POLITICS - IRELAND'S HOUR AT WESTMINSTER
Westminster. The Houses of Parliament. Imposing. Rust-coloured grandeur. Big Ben. The pretty filigree effect. For Irish people it's always been a double-edged sword. The cradle of democracy perhaps. But also the symbol of 800 years of oppression.
It was quite something yesterday to listen to Bertie Ahern address the House of Parliament and House of Lord in the exquisite ultra-establishmentarian surroundings of the Royal Gallery.
I thought he did a magnificent job. Sure, he stuttered a couple of times and he'll never get a job as a postman (he's hopeless at delivery). But still, posterity will dwell on the words and the sentiment, not on how they were spoken.
Writing for tomorrow's Irish Examiner, I have honed in on the same four words out of the speech that everybody else has: Ireland's hour has come.
It was wide-ranging, recalling famous Irish Westminster parliamentarians like Daniel O'Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and Edmund Burke. It traced the long, difficult and complex history between Ireland and Britina. He didn't filch either when it came to pointing out to past suppression, the loose threads of collusion allegations and stating his own republicanism.
The dominant theme was that Ireland is no longer suberservient, is no longer hostile, is no longer a lesser entity.
I think the key quote was:
"For decades our relations have been filtered through the prism of conflict. Now building on the peace and progress of the last decade, we can begin to pay greater attention to the wider partnership of common."
Pat Rabbitte gave out about the timing of this, said it was inappropriate. Labour say that wasn't the reason Rabbitte didn't show up today (he had previous commitments). Enda Kenny was there, and praised the Taoiseach for a "fine speech".
The timing doesn't actually matter. This isn't going to have any impact on the election campaign, good, bad or indifferent. The election is being fought on a different pitch - and is a different kind of game.
Maybe, like Blair, Ahern is moving towards the end of his time, too - the opinion polls are all trending against them.
This was important for posterity. This was a legacy speech. This was written for years hence. And as such has little effect on May 24th.