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Ireland / Chronicle of a ministerial visit

Gwendal Sousset - Dublin, Irlande - 17 décembre 2014

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Friday, 12 April 2013. Dublin (Ireland).
4 a.m. : I opened my eyes. My alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but my subconscious had dragged me from the arms of Morpheus. I looked at my mobile phone : four missed calls, two messages and a voicemail. The Ambassador had tried to call me at 11:30 p.m., as had the Minister’s diplomatic adviser. The press review would have to be ready for 7 a.m..

I had gone to bed very early the night before (10 p.m.), anticipating one of those days where you cannot be sure when (or if) it will really end. The French delegation was arriving at 11 p.m. to attend the Ecofin meeting of finance ministers the following day under the Irish Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Everything was planned and timed down to the last minute, from the reception at the airport (Ambassador, adviser, drivers) to the official arrival at Dublin Castle at 8:30 a.m. the following morning. That evening, the Minister of Finance had made the television news headlines in France. To summarize : the Cahuzac affair was creating a stir in the political and media sphere. That afternoon, I had had a brief conversation with a diplomatic adviser : a dozen journalists would be accompanying the Minister and we would have to deal with this unexpected influx of people. Stress.

4:15 a.m. : Coffee. Sitting on my bed with my laptop, I devoted myself to my favourite exercise : selecting articles for my press review. Finding little on the news feeds, I turned to the leaders and feature articles. I compiled a draft (the front page of Les Echos set the tone : “Bercy, the fortress rattled”) and sent a message to the head of the watch unit at the Press and Communication Directorate, the "mothership” in Paris. Every morning at 6 a.m., he and his team draft the Points Chauds des Quotidiens, an internal reference document sent to all senior officials at the French Foreign Ministry at 8:40 a.m., giving an exhaustive summary of all topical news stories. It would be too late to include them in my press review, but he replied fairly promptly : “We’ll email you the Points Chauds and try to send you a few articles beforehand. Regards to Mosco.” Gratitude.

6 a.m. : A quick shower. My press review was about twenty pages long : three-quarters of it on “the Affair”, and the rest on the bank supervision mechanism and the measures that the European Council wanted to adopt to combat…tax evasion. Ironing, coffee, then another survey of the most recent dispatches.

6:52 a.m. : I sent the press review to the Minister’s Private Office, the Ambassador and the economic adviser. I was picked up at 7 a.m. to head to Dublin Castle. At the embassy, the intern from the French National School of Administration (ENA) would be responsible for supplying me with articles for most of the day. Self-sacrifice.

7:10 a.m. : Arrival at the castle. Andrew, an Irish liaison diplomat, led me to the press centres. Once there, we went over the arrangements. A few hundred journalists were already “settled” (or should I say, “crammed in” ?) behind the security barriers. A few hundred metres away was the red carpet which the ministers and their delegations would walk along. I greeted a few acquaintances and located the France24 correspondent, who had managed to find a prime position, at the very start of the “media walk”. Concentration.

7:30 a.m. : Arrival of the Minister. I went down the steps and headed quickly for his adviser to indicate where he should stop to say a few words to the press (preferably to “our” media). As usual, everything happened very quickly. It was all ok. A thumbs-up from the France24 correspondent told me that they had managed to get some sound and some images. Enough for a short report in the next bulletin. Relief.

8 a.m.-1 p.m. : Toing and froing between the press centres, our delegation’s area and the conference rooms. I printed a selection of the latest dispatches for the Minister, replied to the journalists’ requests, and held a few off-the-record meetings on the economic topics of the day. A bilateral meeting was scheduled with the German minister. Work.

Source : présidence irlandaise, eu2013.ie

1:30 p.m. : A quick bite to eat with some of the delegation, discussing television series and swapping anecdotes. Conviviality.

2 p.m.-6 p.m. : More toing and froing. We had scheduled a press conference with the Minister at 6 p.m.. French television channel TF1 had to deliver a report for the 8 o’clock news (7 p.m. Irish time). The meetings dragged on. The Minister did not arrive. The tension rose. Impatience.

6:40 p.m. : The Minister arrived at last ; the questions came thick and fast, without animosity ; the answers left no room for doubt. Everyone was happy. Relief.

7:30 p.m. : I looked after the journalists in the city centre, while the delegation went to the official dinner in Kilmainham, west of the centre of Dublin.

10 p.m. : The pressure began to fall. On the way back, the rich colours of the buildings in the city centre were reflected in the river Liffey : a multicoloured image of the day’s emotions. Dublin is beautiful at night.

11 p.m. : Back home. I treated myself to a glass of wine with my flatmate. Half an hour later, Hypnos and Nyx had got the better of me. The next day : meeting at 10 a.m.. Curtain.

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