The Union Jack was briefly reinstated in Portlaoise last week, prompting one wag to remark that it was great to see “the old flag fly over Maryborough again”, as the EU Regional Ministers meeting got underway in the Heritage Hotel on Thursday and Friday.
The familiar crosses of St Patrick, St George and St Andrew joined the flags of other EU member states atop County Hall and bedecking the Togher Roundabout.
Together with the high profile garda security cordon around the Heritage Hotel, they were the most visible manifestations of the EU Ministers’ presence in the town last week amidst a late winter cold snap which left many people indoors.
The EU cavalcade arrived into town at various stages on Thursday with a flourish of garda outriders heralding the appearance of a sleek ‘04 Audi Quattros which ferried the dignitaries to and from locations.
The regional policy commissioner Michael Barnier addressed a joint meeting of the BMW regional assembly and the southern and eastern assembly, at County Hall on Thursday afternoon where he outlined the commission’s proposals for structural funds post-2006.
The social agenda included gala dinners in Kinnitty Castle on Thursday night and Castle Durrow on Friday, where the entertainment included Sharon Shannon and the Celtic Tenors. Elsewhere the EU entourage toured both Laois and Offaly on Friday and visited locations such as Emo Court, the Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre, Birr Castle and the Rathdowney Designer Outlet Centre.
The meeting formally concluded with a press conference in the Maryborough Room of the Heritage Hotel on Friday evening.
“We had a very successful meeting,” said Minister of State Tom Parlon, who chaired the meeting.
“The commission last week published its third cohesion report, setting out for discussion its vision of cohesion policy in the new enlarged Europe. This was the first opportunity for regional ministers to exchange views on the report.
“All member states contributed to the discussion, as did our special invited guests from Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. I was very glad to have Commissioner Michael Barnier at this meeting.
“Commissioner Barnier was particularly welcome in a part of Ireland which has visibly benefited from the applications of cohesion policy. The commissioner made a comprehensive clear presentation of the commission’s proposals about how cohesion policy can continue to play a central role in the development of Europe’s regions,” stated Minister Parlon, adding that all participants will have found this a most useful preliminary exchange of views in advance of the commission’s detailed proposals.