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In whirlwind visit to N.Y., Ahern keeps tabs on North

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

A week is a long time in politics and a day is no time at all. Just ask Bertie Ahern.

The taoiseach was in New York last week for his first "official" visit to the city. And if life in the Celtic Tiger is getting more hectic by the minute, so too are official visits by those charged with guiding the tiger’s course.

Ahern’s primary message during a back-to-back series of engagements, interviews, meetings and briefings was double edged. It roller-coastered with the politics of Northern Ireland and soared with the economics of the South.

The taoiseach, who was accompanied on the visit by his partner Celia Larkin, began his business in earnest Thursday morning by briefing the Irish-American press. At this juncture, Ahern was buoyant over the way things were apparently proceeding in Belfast.

It had only been a few months since David Trimble and Gerry Adams would not even meet. Now they were talking for hours on end, he said.

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Ahern, fresh off the Irish government jet and appearing none the worse for jet lag, reckoned that if nothing else, sheer exhaustion would win out after weeks of negotiations and something positive would emerge from behind the gray Stormont walls.

Twenty-four hours later, with the Unionists balking again at the brink, it began to seem that the only thing to ultimately emerge from the talks would be fatigue itself. Ahern, flanked by Gov. George Pataki, was himself looking a bit jaded. But he would not surrender to pessimism entirely. Everyone, he said, should take account of how far forward the peace process had come. This was more important than just dwelling on "what we didn’t get."

The surging economy of the Republic proved to be more trustworthy ground for the taoiseach to talk over during his two business days in Manhattan.

He could discourse on Ireland now being the second largest exporter of computer software in the world, second only to the U.S.; on the fact that the Irish economy had doubled in size in 12 years; that the population was rising for the first time since the Famine, and that the most obvious problem concerning jobs was now actually getting people to fill them.

For the first time in a century, Ahern said, emigration was "not emptying the countryside."

Ahern replayed his upbeat message in a number of settings. He sat down with the New York Times editorial board and was interviewed by CNN International. He spoke with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and huddled with the members of the Irish Business Organization.

On Friday, Ahern held discussions with the Irish American Economic Advisory Board and the heads of the various Irish government agencies based in New York. Interviews with the "Out of Ireland" television show and the "Adrian Flannelly Radio Show" immediately followed.

The meeting with Pataki was a confirmation of growing economic links between Ireland and New York State. It was also an opportunity to touch base with a rising politician who is evidently becoming more attached by the day to his Irish-American roots.

The last port of call for Ahern was the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, where he gave a speech over lunch.

By mid-afternoon, all matters official complete, Ahern was flying east, back to his point of departure, an island where prospects for both peace and prosperity — an elusive duet in Ireland’s history — were seeming now rising, inexorably, in glorious unison.

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