By Ray O’Hanlon
The Italians won the day in Genoa in 1990, the Irish got their own back at Giants Stadium in ’94. The decade just gone witnessed more than one sporting scrap involving the successors of C’sar and the boys in green. The new century is no different, although in this instance the field of play is the United Nations in New York. The trophy? A coveted seat on the Security Council.
The voting date to elect new non-permanent members to the council is Oct. 10. Ireland, Italy and Norway are competing for the two rotating seats set aside for Europe. The Norwegians are apparently assured of one seat. The other is up for grabs and the Irish and Italians both have their hands out.
The Italians seem to have the bigger hands and are reportedly offering la dolce vita all over the planet in return for the votes of countries great and small. In a move that would make Machiavelli proud, the charm and guile brigade at the Italian Mission to the United National apparently set themselves to finding out who Bertie Ahern met in his series of private bilateral meetings during the recent UN summit. What, if anything, they found out is anyone’s guess. But to say that intrigue in the great glass forum on the East River is running at a high level is an understatement.
The Irish are clearly facing an uphill battle and foreign affairs minister Brian Cowen’s visit this week has taken on an even more urgent tone. Indeed, Cowen’s ability to persuade the fence sitters, wobblers and even a few supporters of the Roman cause in the next few days might just decide the issue.
"They are formidable opponents," said one Irish source of the Italians. "But we’re still in there."
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
In where? The Colosseum?
And still on matters Italian. The Fenians were on the wrong side of history as far as the recently beatified Pope Pius IX was concerned. But the same couldn’t be said of all fighting Irishmen in uniform at the time. Pius had his own army fighting against Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Italian nationalist Redshirts. Hundreds of men in the papal army were from Ireland.
A showdown between both sides took place at the siege of Ancona in September 1860. The heavily outgunned and outnumbered papal forces were defeated, but the Irish contingent got in the last word even after laying down their arms.
"Pius IX forever," they roared as they were led off to prison. Among the Irish was a young Myles Keogh. The Carlow man would later distinguish himself in the American Civil War on the Union side only to die in 1876 alongside Custer at the Little Big Horn. Legend has it that the papal medal Keogh was wearing, presented by Pius himself, stopped the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors from mutilating Keogh’s body and that the medal ended up around Sitting Bull’s neck. A Papal Bull to a Sitting Bull.
The George W. Bush letter to Bertie Ahern, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon was a shrewd move even if its very existence in the world was apparently beyond the radar of the Bush campaign publicity people.
In the letter, Bush reiterates his earlier promises with regard to what he, as president, would do in order to maintain the U.S. role in the wee North’s peace process.
For the record, here’s what the letter said, at times in — dare "IF" say it — Clintonesque tones: "I want to extend my personal greetings to you, and to express my admiration for your commitment to peace in Northern Ireland. The road has been long, and it has not been easy, but you have succeeded in furthering reconciliation and bringing an elected representative Assembly to Northern Ireland.
"You may be assured of my personal interest and full commitment to helping move the peace process forward. I believe that the support of the United States was an important element in helping the parties achieve the Good Friday Agreement, and that America should be ready, if necessary, to appoint a special envoy to further facilitate the search for lasting peace, justice and reconciliation.
"I am encouraged by the very real economic growth that has come to the entire island of Ireland. At least part of this growth can be credited to the strengthening of business ties between the United States and Ireland, and I strongly support continued and increased private American investment in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.
"I am also encouraged by the work of Chris Patten and his Commission in reviewing and recommending reforms of the police authorities in Northern Ireland. I appreciate the importance of traditions and symbols, and the sensitivities of the communities in Northern Ireland on this issue, and support the full implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.
"Please know that you and the people of the entire island of Ireland have a friend in George W. Bush. American should remain engaged in the Irish peace process, and I will work hard and pray always for a lasting peace in Northern Ireland."
People familiar with Clinton rhetoric will immediately recognize the "road has been long" line, but where Dubya really pulls a Bubba is in stressing his "personal interest" in the quest for peace, justice etc. That personal touch has been played up by the Clinton White House over and over again in recent years. The Bushies have obviously taken note.
When Irish Times Washington Correspondent Joe Carroll takes himself off to a well-earned break in the Costa Somewhere or Another he will be replaced in D.C. by the paper’s current man in Brussels, Patrick Smyth.
As readers will recall, the race for Washington came down to a contest between Smyth and U.S.-based freelance writer Elaine Lafferty. Smyth won out and is expected to occupy the Times-owned digs by the Potomac early in the new year.
Word is also about that the Times is planning a New York operation led by former D.C. correspondent Conor O’Clery. O’Clery has been covering the not inconsiderable expanse of Asia for the IT in recent years out of an office in Beijing. It appears that the planned New York office will be dealing with global economic issues, the price of eggs in Swaziland as opposed to the Bronx, and so forth. These are expanding times for the auld biddy of D’Olier Street. Will one planet be enough?