Sydney Morning Herald -- Thursday May 25, 2006
Snub of the Irish fails to ruffle Howard
No 19 gun salute, black tie dinner in Dublin for Wee Johnnie. Rather, a Bumpy ride … Mr Howard poses with some of the drivers who worked with his entourage on his official visit to Ireland [Photo: Andrew Taylor]
By Phillip Coorey Political Correspondent in Dublin
THE Prime Minister's trip to Dublin petered out on Tuesday with a low-key speech to the Irish parliament for which about one-quarter of the MPs did not bother to show up.
As John Howard became the third successive Australian prime minister to address a joint sitting of the Dail, there were large and conspicuous gaps among the Opposition, minor party and independent benches in the tiny 166-seat chamber.
About 40 Labour, Greens, Sinn Fein, and independent MPs stayed away.
The action was a snub for Mr Howard, who is unpopular with the left because of his support for the Iraq war and the US, as well as his immigration and industrial relations policies at home.
Mr Howard was warmly applauded by those on the Government benches, but there were no standing ovations such as those he received from the Conservatives in Canada last week.
At the end of Tuesday's speech, one Government backbencher did stand to applaud but sheepishly sat down when he noticed no one else was joining him.
Afterwards Mr Howard told ABC radio that the poor reception had not marred his four-day visit to the Irish capital. "I said yesterday that one of the things the Irish brought to Australia was dissent, and good on 'em," he said. "If they don't agree with me, they don't have to turn up."
Mr Howard was not perturbed by the contrast between his visit here and that 13 years ago by his predecessor, Paul Keating, who was feted like a rock god.
"I think the greeting of your own people is the most important greeting," Mr Howard said. "It's a great place to visit. There's enormous warmth in this country towards Australia and it's reciprocated. I'm very glad I came."
He is due back in Canberra today to take the reins from the Treasurer, Peter Costello.
Mr Howard's speech broke no new ground. He spoke of the close ties between the Irish and Australian people and the large role the Irish had played in developing the Australian character. He praised the resilience of Irish immigrants, highlighting the discrimination they faced because they were Catholics.
Mr Howard also pushed the case for global free trade, saying Ireland had to embrace further reform to keep its strong economy going. He again urged the scrapping of European Union domestic agricultural subsidies which threaten to scuttle the Doha world trade initiative.
Mr Howard acknowledged the difference of opinion between Ireland and Australia on the Iraq war but urged all to applaud the Iraqi people for having the courage to vote three times since the war started to finally establish a permanent government.
"The formation of an all-party government in that country does represent something of a watershed," he said.