By Ray O’Hanlon
Ireland is poised to open diplomatic relations with Cuba. Fidel a fidel-o. The revolution must be well and truly spent if Castro feels comfortable shaking the paw of the Celtic Tiger, capitalism’s mini-miracle of the age. C’est la vida loca.
Still, a formal Irish connection with Cuba would seem to be timely given the fact that great changes will take place on the island in the next few years. Might as well get one’s foot in the crumbling door.
Irish-Cuban connections already exist of course, literally, and in an historical sense. You can fly from Shannon to Havana via ‘roflot, the Russian carrier. Eamon de Valera’s father had both Spanish and Cuban connections and even the Castro revolution of the late 1950s had its Irish twist. Che Guevara’s father was Ernesto Guevara Lynch, a member of a long-established Irish-Argentinean family.
Ireland’s first ambassador to Havana will be Art Agnew, currently posted in Buenos Aires. The County Louth native will not, however, be always yer man in Havana. As being Ireland’s first-ever ambassador to Mexico, he will be based in Mexico City. Yer man in the smog.
The expansion of the Celtic moggy’s diplomatic reach is not entirely without secondary motive. Ireland is seeking a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2001 and quite clearly the more embassies you have around the globe the more friends you can wine and dine in advance of the General Assembly secret ballot that will fill two rotating seats on the council for a two-year period beginning Jan. 1, 2001. Italy.
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Norway and Turkey have also declared their interest in a seat. There are currently 185 nation states represented in the General Assembly and with the expected addition of three Pacific island nations in the coming months, that total will have risen to 188 by the time the vote comes around in October 2000.
During his recent visit to New York, Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews made contact with representatives of several dozen countries. But there remains a lot of handshaking and backslapping to be done. Ireland was last on the Security Council in 1982 and the feeling in Dublin is that a 20-year Irish absence is long enough. The Irish view is that Ireland has a good record at the UN, has always pulled its weight, particularly in the area of peacekeeping, and has the resources and capacity to be an effective member of the Security Council at the outset of the new century. Still, there are no guarantees. The election of Security Council members has been compared to Papal Conclaves and they, as we all know, can produce surprises.
Frank’s " ‘Tis" teases reviewers
The jury is still out and clearly a bit hung over "’Tis," Frank McCourt’s sequel to "Angela’s Ashes." Some reviews have been rave, some so-so and some, heaven help us, a tad critical. This was not the case with "Angela’s Ashes," a work which met with almost universal acclaim. Still, the McCourt juggernaut looks set to roll on anyway.
"Frank McCourt triumphs again," was the cover page headline in the September-October issue of the literary magazine Book, which styles itself "The Magazine for the Reading Life." Our Frank, not surprisingly, is beaming in the accompanying photo. A review in the Orlando Sentinel by Todd Pack stated simply that " ‘Tis" was "a fine sequel to Angela’s Ashes." The crucial Sunday New York Times Book Review assessment, penned by Maureen Howard, was certainly respectful if a little shy of gushing. The review in the weekday Times arts section, by Michiko Kakutani, a big "Angela’s Ashes" fan, was far more critical all the way, from the headline — "For an outsider, It’s mostly Sour Grapes in the Land of Milk and Honey" — to the heart of the review, where Kakutani opined that " ‘Tis" lacked the "lyricism" or "searing intimacy" that made "Angela’s Ashes" such a great work. "IF," readers can be assured, will be scouring the land for signs of spilled milk or splattered honey.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal spoke its mind in a review headline that was as short as it ’twas blunt: "Alas, ‘Tain’t." The Irish Times employed equal brevity with the headline "’Tisn’t." New York Magazine, with its rather hip readership, had a different idea. McCourt’s "latest" said the review, was "another virtuoso display of charm and sheer likability." The New York Observer’s Terry Golway decided that McCourt himself was anything but a hip writer — hip in Golway’s view being a codeword for fake. "Mr. McCourt is an authentic writer who does not fear the effects of authenticity. No wonder some people find him disturbing," Golway concluded.
McCourt, of course, can afford to be sanguine. " ‘Tis" will sell regardless of those whose preference is yet for childhood misery in Limerick as opposed to a long, hard, but ultimately successful slog in the land of, well, the jury’s still out on that one too.
From Harry McGee in the Sunday Tribune:
"In a strange kind of parallel to youth culture’s current nostalgia for the 1980s, the decade has also become an obsession . . . for our political and legal classes. Moriarty, the Public Accounts Committee and Flood have spent thousands of hours combing through the minuti’ of events of a decade or more ago. . . . Deep recession, huge national debt, soaring unemployment, 50,000 young Irish people a year emigrating because this country could not sustain them. . . . But it wasn’t lousy for everyone as the events of the past week have reinforced. And if those young people boarding boats back in the 1980s had known what we know now, their bitterness would surely have turned angry and mutinous. As the PAC hearings have revealed, every town in the country has its own little khan, becoming non-resident so as to circumvent paying taxes.
"The investigation by officers from the Department of Enterprise has uncovered 120 captains of industry and political life who held illegal offshore accounts worth anything up to £150m. What’s really galling is that these were the kind of guys who were pompously lecturing us back then that we were living beyond our means. It seems that the authorities were far more concerned about the flow of capital from the country than the flow of emigrants. The greed of those who feathered their nests with complete indifference to the plight of others was an affront to democracy."