Booking a trip to Austria next January, consulting the passports was necessary to ensure ticket and immigration details coincided. Given the requirement for a passport even to travel to Britain, there is rarely a moment when they are given a second thought, but, sitting talking on the telephone, there was a chance to compare the two.
The good lady of the house carries the passport of her native island and inside the front cover appears the sort of detail that hardly gets noticed. In Irish, it reads:
Iarrann Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha na hÉireann ar gach n-aon lena mbaineann ligean dá shealbhóir seo, saoránach d’Éirinn, gabháil ar aghaidh gan bhac gan chosc agus gach cúnamh agus caomhnú is gá a thabhairt don sealbhóir.
Underneath, in English, the request is repeated:
The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland requests all whom it may concern to allow the bearer, a citizen of Ireland, to pass freely and without hindrance and to afford the bearer all necessary assistance and protection.
Coming from the neighbouring island and carrying a British passport, comparing the two was telling. The British passport has an altogether more imperious tone about it:
Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
Compare “requests all whom it may concern” with “requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern”; the polite request in the name of the Minister of Foreign Affairs is modestly diffident and unassuming compared to the assertiveness in the name of the British Foreign Secretary.
Does anyone take this stuff seriously?
Does a statement issued in the name of a politician in Whitehall really carry any weight? Had there been an ambush on a road through Burundi in July last year, would the insurgents have waved us on because the passport said it was required in “the Name of Her Majesty?” Had there been a kidnapping, some minor diplomat would have been sent to make very polite and discreet requests, there would have been no requiring of anyone to do anything. Suggesting Her Majesty’s Secretary State might do anything would have been greeted with laughter.
Why do we persist with these fictions?