It’s fair to say that the visits of the last week went well enough, but Obama’s must be seen as the better.
The Queen of Great Britain visiting these shores is an important moment in our history and in Anglo-Irish relations, but it is not the milestone that many are portraying it to be. I doubt relations have gotten that much better over it, but her visit has immense symbolic significance if nothing else.
However, it will be impossible to separate the positive images of her visit from the negative ones: that is, the bomb threats, the protests, the “ring of steel” that at time of writing remains in Dublin. The security operation was truly gargantuan, and diminishes the occasion somewhat. That being said, it was hilarious seeing the four main protests groups all blunder about in a hapless manner – Sinn Fein trying too hard to be respectable, Republican Sinn Fein inviting journalists to a protests that never took place, eirigi spending too much time trying to tell its membership to be peaceful and 32 CSM having their “march” on Dublin Castle shut down quite quickly with eirigi refusing to join them.
Obama, while having the shorter visit, made an impression that will last far longer. Everything was meant to instill a sense of wonder. From the baby kissing in Moneygall, paying for his own pint, and the impressive rally, he’s a guy Ireland will remember. His speech I didn’t find all that memorable, it being more or less the same kind of thing he always does, but it did capture the spirit of the occasion well. More notable was Kenny’s fiery introduction of the President. Naturally, Kenny was trying to be Obama, at least for a little while, and I’m not sure it really worked all that well.
Obama’s visit can really be seen as little more than an election pit-stop for him, but it is big for Ireland, at least in a morale sense. It is good for this country, for the most powerful man in the world to take an interest. A lot of eyes follow Obama around. It’s good that those eyes look at Ireland, and see cheering crowds, sunny days and lots of cute kids lining up to see the President.
It’s that kind of long term gain that is more important the soundbite heavy week that has just passed.