Brian Cowen's summer holiday
Earlier this week I had an opportunity to meet Ireland’s taoiseach (~ prime minister) at the Consulate in New York. It was Cowen’s first visit this year, and he was variously drumming up business, or showing that he isn’t totally done for, depending on your perspective. At home, Cowen is facing harsh criticism, with an astonishing degree of success — indeed, he faced down a vote of no confidence from within his party just last month.
New York provided an opportunity for the beleaguered taoiseach to relax. Local Irish media reports have been politely positive and his speech at the Consulate on Tuesday was received with applause and even, from a blond lady behind me, a shriek.
The taoiseach spoke without any notes, not even a scrap of paper. This is very difficult to do, unless you’re well-practised or a brilliant orator. Probably as a result of this his language was convoluted and repetitive. He talked of the need ‘to ensure that our investment strategy,which has been so successful, is being allied with a continuation of that strategy.’ Referring to his trip to the New York Stock Exchange the day before, and to his own research into how to promote Ireland as an innovative place, he said, ‘the fruits of that work were coming to fruition yesterday.’
And he made another statement that seemed exceedingly strange but was probably meant to pander to his audience of former emigrants. Ireland is not so much a geographical location, it’s about ‘what’s in your heart.’ We are as determined as ever, Cowen said, to show that this generation is as able as earlier ones to overcome the problems of unemployment.
It didn’t seem to matter to him that emigration is often seen as a dark part of Ireland’s history and that young people’s enforced departure from Ireland now is a renewal of that tragedy. The audience clapped and cheered. Perhaps I hadn’t understood.
Later on I asked Cowen what specifically he planned to do to help young people whom circumstances are forcing to emigrate to the States. ‘It’s an issue I’m working on all the time,’ he said, smiling at me. He added that it’s very political (which immigration certainly is in the US), and said he’d met with immigration lobbyists earlier in the day — I assume this means the Irish Immigration Lobby for Reform. ‘We’re looking for more flexible arrangements.’
The statement seemed vague and I wonder if it’s enough, coming from Ireland’s current leader in the midst of the greatest financial crisis the country has seen. Working on it all the time? It’s better, I suppose, than saying he’s not working on it.
Below is a virtual flip-book of photos from the speech.