Ireland has had a president named Mary throughout the 1990s. The first President Mary made quite an impact this side of the Atlantic and there is no reason to suggest that President Mary McAleese will not continue the Robinson tradition of presenting the emerging Ireland in a most favorable light to interested Americans, Irish or otherwise.
But McAleese also early on signaled that she has no intention of merely being a clone of her predecessor. McAleese has her own style, make no mistake about it. She is also clearly able and willing to step out from the role cast for her if need be. Sure, she has to trumpet the Belfast accord and the virtues of investing in the little economic powerhouse that is the Celtic Tiger. But McAleese also rightly pointed this week, both in Ireland and on her U.S. visit, the need for a caring and nurturing society in Ireland.
She is not alone. Many are beginning to realize that with rapid economic progress there is inevitably a price to pay. That price, in Irish terms, can be severe economic dislocation, a feeling of isolation amid the tigerish roars that is reflected at one level in a rapidly rising Irish suicide rate. Even the very symbols of prosperity can be lethal. Eight young people were killed on Ireland’s crowded roads last weekend alone. The Republic now has double the per-capita rate of death on the roads than the United Kingdom. So McAleese, a most welcome visitor to these shores, is quite correct in pouring a little cold water on the tiger image and reminding its most fervent boosters that a society’s success is measured by more than just soaring GDP, GNP or car ownership.