By Ray O’Hanlon
A visibly shaken Brian Cowen placed his government and the Irish people firmly in the front line against international terrorism last week.
Cowen, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs, met with journalists after a Thursday evening visit to lower Manhattan and the ground zero site of the collapsed World Trade Centers.
Speaking slowly and in subdued tones, Cowen, viewed as one of Ireland’s tougher political campaigners, said that there was no neutrality in the face of international terrorism.
At one point in his delivery, Cowen appeared close to tears.
He nevertheless vigorously reaffirmed the Irish government’s commitment to providing overflight rights and refueling facilities for U.S. military aircraft at Shannon Airport in County Clare.
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“One needs to be there to realize how mindless this was,” Cowen told reporters gathered for a press conference in Fitzpatrick’s Grand Central Hotel.
The attack on the Trade Centers, he said, “was a perversion” of a world religion as respected as Islam.
“There were no moral constraints on those who did this. The only constraints were technical and logistical,” he said. “The magnitude of this makes you very humble. It’s just terrible.”
Cowen said that after what he had seen at Ground Zero he was “all the more convinced” of the need for an effective program of action to deal with international terrorism.
He also said he was convinced of the correctness of the Irish government’s decision to allow overflights at and refueling at Shannon.
“We have a responsibility as a member of the Security Council to demonstrate that within the limited means available to us that we are prepared to do what’s necessary to facilitate that resolution being complied with and implemented,” he said.
Cowen said that Irish neutrality was in no way compromised by this approach, as this neutrality was concerned with the joining mutual defense pacts and alliances.
Ireland, which will take over the chairmanship of the UN Security Council for the month of October, has a responsibility in this matter, he noted.
“I fail to see how the credibility of Ireland can be maintained or enhanced by having been part of adopting that Security Council resolution . . . if we seek to resign from it in terms of not making whatever limited means we have available to ensure its implementation,” he said.
Cowen had earlier relayed Ireland’s intentions with regard to UN action, overflights and Shannon to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at a meeting in Washington.
Speaking after their talks, Powell said that he and Cowen had enjoyed a productive discussion.
“It meant a great deal to us to be joined by our Irish brothers and sisters in recognizing the enormity of this tragedy,” Powell said. “I especially want to thank the Irish people for the day of mourning that they held on the 14th of September. . . . It showed a remarkable demonstration of the love that exists between our peoples and the solidarity that exists between our two nations.”
Powell said that he had also extended his regrets and condolences to Cowen for the loss of Irish citizens at the World Trade Center. He said that he had also thanked Cowen for the “overflight assistance” Ireland had offered the U.S.
“As the minister said to me, we have to go beyond just sentiment to action,” Powell said.
Irish Community Mass
During his visit to New York, Cowen met with Irish-American community leaders and immigrant representatives, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki. On Sunday, he attended an Irish Community Mass at Holy Trinity Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“Given the scale of casualties, the number of Irish-born lost is, thank God, mercifully low,” Cowen told the gathering, which included several bishops from Ireland, both Catholic and Church of Ireland. “But being Irish, we have discovered, is not something that can be sharply defined. Our shared grief was lightened only by the pride we felt in Ireland for the valor of so many rescue workers who bore Irish names.
“Fr. Mychal Judge, comforting the injured only to lose his life in the World Trade Center collapse. Irish names so common among the firefighters, police, medical staff and emergency rescue workers rushing to the scene of danger to help. Their dauntless energy and courage in searching for survivors.
“Like you, I have been inspired by the resilience of New Yorkers in the face of this catastrophe. So much of this city’s history is intertwined with the Irish that it is part of our common heritage. We know that Irish construction workers, like generations before them, will help in the rebuilding effort.
“We know that the places of fallen comrades will be taken by new recruits to the uniformed services who come from Irish-American heartlands in and around the city and indeed from Ireland itself. Like their emigrant forebears, Irish people from every vocation will be part of the new New York.”