CANADA

AN IRISH HOLIDAY

BRIAN MULRONEY DISCOVERS MORE FRIENDLINESS IN IRELAND THAN HE DOES BACK HOME IN CANADA

July 22 1991
CANADA

AN IRISH HOLIDAY

BRIAN MULRONEY DISCOVERS MORE FRIENDLINESS IN IRELAND THAN HE DOES BACK HOME IN CANADA

July 22 1991

AN IRISH HOLIDAY

CANADA

BRIAN MULRONEY DISCOVERS MORE FRIENDLINESS IN IRELAND THAN HE DOES BACK HOME IN CANADA

Leighlinbridge is a tiny, frequently windswept village in the lush Irish countryside 100 km south of Dublin that boasts 595 residents, one church, two graveyards—and six pubs. As Prime Minister Brian Mulroney passed one of the establishments, Kelly’s pub, last week, a patron offered him a glass of Ireland’s famous stout. Mulroney, a teetotaller, diplomatically offered the glass to his wife, Mila, who took a sip. But that was the only small hitch in the village’s effusive welcome for the Canadian Prime Minister, whose family emigrated from the area in the 1830s. Villagers greeted the Mulroneys and their four children with banners, streamers and an outpouring of hospitality. The Canadian leader, clearly moved, responded warmly: “After seeing this, I wonder why the Mulroneys ever left here.”

That sentiment was easily understandable in view of the infectious enthusiasm displayed for Mulroney’s presence in Ireland—and his plummeting popularity at home. In fact, two days before the Mulroneys left Canada on July 10, a

new poll released by Gallup Canada Inc. showed that 68 per cent of respondents now wish that he would resign and leave office. But in Ireland, Mulroney basked in Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey’s description of him as a “statesman of international stature” and the warm reception of a public that, even beyond Leighlinbridge, greeted him as a returning son. His visit, which preceded this

week’s meeting in London of the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, also gave Mulroney a platform to express his views on several topics expected to be high on that gathering’s agenda. Among them: reduction of existing trade barriers between nations, curtailment of agricultural subsidies under the GATT treaty and how to respond to the request for urgent economic aid from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who will also be in London.

In fact, the subject of agricultural trade subsidies led to a polite but sharply worded disagreement between Mulroney and Haughey. Ireland, which depends heavily on agriculture, has bitterly protested a European Community proposal to sharply reduce the amount of trade subsidies that member governments may provide to their farmers. In a report released last week, the EC acknowledged that such subsidies give recipient producers unfair trade advantages. And Mulroney, whose government supports the EC proposal, underscored that position by telling a joint news conference the two leaders held in Dublin that Canada is “taking a hell of a beating” from countries employing such subsidies. That led Haughey to remark that Canada, which offers some farm subsidies of its own, is “also a sinner.” Smiling, Mulroney directed a barb at the Irish: “We are all sinners—but some among us are mortal sinners.” Still, that exchange did not affect the obvious bond between Mulroney and the Irish leader—whom he frequently referred to as “Charlie.” And the high regard that the Irish hold for Mulroney was evident in prominent media coverage of his visit. For its part, the country’s leading newspaper, The Irish Times, published lengthy articles outlining Mulroney’s views on such international issues as the secession crisis in Yugoslavia and the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

As well, large crowds greeted Mulroney at all his public appearances, and he was given a prolonged standing ovation by a sellout crowd attending a luncheon in his honor held by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. In return, Mulroney appeared markedly more relaxed than during his last public appearance on Canadian soil, a news conference with President George Bush in Toronto just before last week’s baseball all-star game (page 36). Mulroney clearly revelled in the attention paid to him in Ireland, and occasionally contrasted it with his present standing at home. At one point, he joked: “Someone once said that Ireland is a place that makes venom and poison disappear. I think there are a

number of people in Canada I would like to have visit here—and stay for quite a while.” And in fact, aides to the Prime Minister conceded that the Irish visit was intended mainly to serve as a pleasant prelude to this week’s G7 meeting. With Gorbachev attending in the wings, the summit is expected to be one of the most significant in the group’s 16-year history. Although the Soviet leader was not invited to join the private discussions of the Western leaders, he will meet them individually after the summit closes, when he is likely to seek commitments for substantial direct aid for his country’s crisis-ridden economy. But Mulroney echoed the cautious approach of other G7 leaders in his speech to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. Observing that Canada supports technical and structural aid for the Soviets, but not financial assistance, Mulroney said Canada will recommend that the Soviet Union be granted an unspecified “special relationship” with the International Monetary Fund. As well, he indicated that Canada will support a new form of associate G7 membership for the Soviet Union and offer to help the Soviets achieve agricultural and environmental reforms. But he added a clear cautionary note to those offers, declaring: “There will be no miracles.”

On a personal level, however, Mulroney’s Irish visit seemed to work a change in his demeanor that was little short of miraculous. Throughout his four-day stay, his easy manner and evident delight in his surroundings marked a dramatic change from his often stiff comportment at home. And as the trip drew to a close, Mulroney told his hosts—almost wistfully— that “there have been many magic moments that I will always remember.” Indeed, Mulroney is likely to need all of the restorative magic that he can retain from his visit to Ireland, as he tackles the difficult issues that await him in London—and at home.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH in Leighlinbridge