Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen came, saw and conquered at the launch of Irishcentral.com last night. The Taoiseach was on the top of his game showing once again that he has a deep sense of the common links and bonds that join Irish America and Ireland together.
Cowen came forward with new proposals. One was to make it easier for great grandchildren of Irish emigrants to achieve Irish passports. The other was opening Irish consulates in Atlanta and Houston. A third was to convene leaders of all different Irish organizations across the United States to create an advisory council for the Irish government.
But most of all this Prime Minister showed how easy and familiar he is with Irish America. As a student he worked on construction sites and played Irish football in Gaelic Park. He has many direct relatives in New York he keeps in touch with.
His predecessor Bertie Ahern paid all the lip service but never really understood the Irish American dynamic. On his way out of office he revealed his shortcomings when he clashed with Irish American groups seeking immigration reform and essentially dismissed them as a bunch of bar room talkers. That did not go down well.
In retrospect, Ahern’s farewell tour of America, accompanied by much fanfare last year, appears to be the last hurrah of the stricken Celtic tiger.
On that occasion he had many of the same people, major property developers, bankers, crony politicians who later became the villains of the piece. A year is a very long time in politics
There was another star of the Irishcentral evening too, however, Northern Irish Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who laid out in very forthright terms that there would be no going back to violence in the North.
It was the message the crowd of 200 or so Irish dignitaries wanted to hear. McGuiness has really put himself out on a limb in the past week, calling those who carried out acts of violence in Northern Ireland traitors. Such tough talk went right to the heart of the debate between men like McGuinness who have taken the political path and those such as the dissidents who continue to kill to achieve their goals.
McGuiness has traveled his own path from gunman to great political talent. Along the way he encountered many of the same dissidents who wanted no truck with politics. He overcame them then and he certainly feels he can overcome them now.
The dissidents know Martin McGuinness is their greatest enemy. No one commands greater loyalty among the broader republican community and his challenge to the dissidents is one aimed at many former friends and colleagues. He will clearly not shirk from doing so.
A third star of the night was Senator Chuck Schumer. The senior New York senator has totally come into his own since Hillary Clinton has moved on. He also deeply connects with the Irish community, stating clearly that without their support at the beginning of his political career when he took a congressional seat in Brooklyn he would not have succeeded.
Right now Irish hopes for immigration reform are focused heavily on Schumer. As head of the immigration sub committee in the senate he is in a key position to deliver on such promises. It seems we are in good hands.