In the coming weeks, Ireland will host two of the world’s most recognizable VIPs: Queen Elizabeth II and President Barack Obama. And as the country gets ready, the taxi drivers of Dublin are seeing the careful and sometimes inconvenient preparations up close. “The police have been down every manhole in Dublin twice at this stage,” says one, describing the increase in security that includes the inspection of the city’s sewers for bombs.
Ireland is taking no chances with its high-profile guests: reports say that around 10,000 police officers and military personnel will be deployed over the course of the two visits. But it is the Queen’s arrival in Dublin on Tuesday that makes the Irish police force most nervous. Not everyone in Ireland is happy to see the Queen, whose four-day visit the first ever by a British monarch to the Republic has put into action the state’s biggest-ever security operation.
But given that the Irish are living under tight austerity measures after getting a $96 billion bailout from the E.U. and the International Monetary Fund, can the country even afford its famous guests? Security costs for the visits by the Queen and Obama a week later will reach an estimated $42 million, according to unconfirmed reports.
James Connolly Heron, the great grandson of James Connolly, an icon of the Irish struggle for independence, questions the appropriateness of spending taxpayers’ money to play host when the country is broke. “It appears no consideration was given to paring down the visit as regards to where we are economically,” he says, adding that he feels talk of Ireland “moving on” is nonsense given the level of security required during the Queen’s time in the country.
But Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has called both visits “an investment for the future,” citing the benefits they will bring in the way of tourism and business. Given all the bad news surrounding the country of late, Kenny added, they could also be good for Ireland’s image. And many Irish hope he’s right. “The eyes of the world are going to be on Ireland, so hopefully the Queen’s visit will showcase the country,” says taxi driver Stuart Batt. “It’s an opportunity for the world to view us positively in these negative times.”
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