When Irish Taoiseach (or Prime Minister) Brian Cowen joins political leaders from Northern Ireland in Washington for next week’s St Patrick’s Day jamboree, President Barack Obama will hopefully show them more courtesy than he did UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week. He should, because rather than bore the new president with wonkish jabbering about the merits of the G20, the Irish will give Obama a spin on the time machine, a Tardis ride to an older Ireland assumed to be but an artifact. Given the context, that all might come off as somewhat glib. An old anecdote tells of a British pilot, making his landing announcement on a flight from London to Belfast, sometime in the early 1970s. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are commencing our descent into Belfast. Please set your watches back 300 years” – in reference to Northern Ireland’s seemingly anachronistic sectarian disputes.
The tale could begin, “During the short reign of the Ritalin King cameth the downturn. . . .” During his six-month EU presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy laced into any number of challenges with a typically hyperactive gusto and self-importance. The spirit of the Sun King may have been whispering in Sarko’s ear, as he put his own stamp on Louis XIV’s famous motto…”L’Europe, c’est moi.” When time came to pass the EU crown to Prague, the Frenchman threatened to boycott the handover, after unsuccessfully pushing for self-serving alternatives to existing EU mechanisms.
SINGAPORE — Two of the world’s most open and successful economies face tough times as the global downturn marks the end of one era and opens a new period of peril and possibility for both. Singapore and Ireland have staked their fortunes on being small, export-oriented, investor-friendly dynamos. Singapore was one of the original Asian Tiger economies, and the label passed to the Atlantic nation in the 1990s, as 15 years of 5 percent average growth earned Ireland its “Celtic Tiger” reputation. But as Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singapore diplomat and author of The New Asian Hemisphere – The Irresistible Shift of Power to the East, told The Washington Times, “being globalized has its downside – when the world economy stutters, the more open economies feel the pain first.” Both Singapore and Ireland are officially in recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Last week, U.S. computer giant Dell Inc. culled 2,000 jobs at its plant in Limerick in the west of Ireland, while Singapore’s Trade Ministry stated Jan. 2 that it expected the economy to contract 2 percent in 2009, the worst predicted performance of any Asian economy for the coming year.
DUBLIN — EU foreign ministers faced mounting confusion at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday in an attempt to salvage a political union of the 27-nation bloc after a veto by Irish voters. Some are urging other EU countries to press ahead with ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, even without Ireland’s approval, while others are demanding that the pact be scrapped altogether. “The rules are absolutely clear: If all 27 countries do not pass the Lisbon Treaty it cannot pass into law,” said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband. French European Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet told French radio that there was “no other solution” than for Ireland to hold a second popular referendum, akin to the scenario in which Ireland rejected an EU treaty in 2001 before passing it during a second attempt a year later.
DUBLIN — The party once led by the current European Union ambassador to Washington is claiming that the U.S. is actively opposing European integration, posing a potential embarrassment as Prime Minister Bertie Ahern prepares to address a joint session of Congress today. Lucinda Creighton, a spokeswoman for Ireland’s largest opposition party, Fine Gael, said in a web posting that “U.S. foreign policy has traditionally been opposed to EU integration.” “The U.S. supports the EU as an economic bloc but nothing more. The idea of a politically strong EU, acting as a check or counterbalance on the U.S. does not sit well with our trans-Atlantic friends,” said Creighton, a member of Ireland’s parliament.
DUBLIN — Before his recent resignation, outgoing Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern prefaced the annual St. Patrick”s Day pilgrimage to the White House by predicting “a hard year” ahead for the Irish economy. The banking crisis and credit crunch in the United States, as well as the falling dollar, worry Irish policy-makers. Ireland has 25 percent of its trade in dollars and has bet much of its recent economic boom on a 12 percent corporate tax rate — an enormous incentive for U.S. multinationals such as Intel and Microsoft to run pan-European operations out of Ireland. Google has the headquarters of its European and Middle East operations in Dublin. “The company is very pleased with how the Dublin operation continues to develop,” a Google spokesman said.
DUBLIN — Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced yesterday that he will step down next month after accusations of corruption. Ireland achieved record economic growth and peace with Northern Ireland during Mr. Ahern’s 11-year tenure, but an ongoing inquest into the prime minister’s personal finances has undermined his record. When Mr. Ahern became prime minister in 1997, Ireland was three years into a period of soaring economic growth and employment. One year later, Mr. Ahern left his mother’s funeral to finalize Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace agreement. Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time, praised Mr. Ahern’s role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. “He will always be remembered … for transforming relations between Britain and the Irish Republic,” Mr. Blair said.
DUBLIN — Ireland’s Prime Minister Bertie Ahern this morning announced his resignation after 11 years in power, Mr. Ahern’s tenure saw Ireland achieve record economic growth, with Northern Ireland at peace. However, a recent inquest into Ahern’s personal finances saw questions raised over almost $781,000 in payments. Ahern will formally step down on May 6, after addressing Congress in Washington and receiving the Japanese prime minister in Dublin. “I have done no wrong and wronged no one,” said a visibly emotional Ahern at a press conference on the steps outside Dublin’s government buildings this morning. He said he had “never done anything to corrupt my office.”