Belfast Telegraph

It's in Dublin's interest to give VIPs a regal welcome

Not only one, but two heads of state to visit the Republic in May: the Queen from May 17 to May 20 and President Barack Obama a week later.

The cost. The cost. Some are appalled at the cost this may entail for a cash-strapped country. It has been calculated that the security bill alone will be €18m.

One lady wrote to the papers to express outrage; surely the money would be better spent on the children of Japan? Compassionate, but not very practical. Japan is a rich and a proud country. It would almost certainly rebuff any financial offerings from the West.

And you can look at the €18m to be spent on this double-security enterprise as an investment. You've got to speculate to accumulate. Political anti-Americans or republican anti-monarchists should get one thing into their heads; these visits benefit the host country - the Republic - rather more than they'll benefit the visitors.

Granted, Obama may find more favour with the 40 million American voters who claim Irish ancestry. And his expected trip to Moneygall - to evoke his 3% Irishness - will be, no doubt, be a delightful occasion that will do much to boost the charms of Co Offaly.

The Queen's visit is different, in some crucial respects, from Obama's. There are, obviously, no votes in it for her. There isn't anything in it for her, unless she gets to see a few good-looking horses.

She's coming here because she's been told to do so by David Cameron. These events are set up by the politicians. The Queen has neither power nor political influence - a point often missed.

There are some bitter complaints that she has done nothing to alter the Act of Settlement, which forbids an heir to the British throne to marry a Roman Catholic. But it's not up to her to change laws.

Will Obama receive a warmer welcome than the Queen? Traditionally, American Presidents emphasising their Irish roots generally do so. They can visit the Republic at any time. But no British monarch has done so since 1911. And still there are those who object, both on financial and political grounds.

But if the Queen's welcome goes wrong in any way, just think what that would mean - not for Elizabeth herself, but for Ireland.

Just picture the global headlines in which the Republic is portrayed as unfriendly, unkind and unreceptive to a visiting head of state. The historical perspective will not be greatly factored into the equation: Ireland will just look bad. What we must hope is that both visitors receive a warm and dignified Cead Mile Failte when they step on Irish soil.

It is decent and proper to make a visitor welcome, but it is also advantageous to the host to be portrayed as a friendly and hospitable agency - especially when Failte Ireland has gone to such pains to portray Ireland as a super-friendly place. Their investment millions would be undone if either of these visits miscarried.

One of the functions of a ceremonial head of state is that they should be seen. They should be able to ride in open carriages so everyone can have a gawk. Security measures mean a regrettable ring of steel around a sovereign personage.

But, even so, these events are an investment - for the Republic. That's the primary point that should be understood.

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