Better late than never for Hillary Clinton’s Irish love-in
One hour behind schedule, the US Secretary of State bounded from her car and bustled over to the Taoiseach, who was waiting with Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin and US Ambassador Dan Rooney, to greet her at the entrance to Farmleigh House.
“Sorry I'm so late, thanks for waiting,” Hillary Clinton greeted him. “You probably have somewhere else to go,” she added apologetically.
Brian Cowen looked momentarily nonplussed. When the person who sits at the right hand of the Leader of the Free World is running a little late, nipping off to the Hole In The Wall pub for a swift one in the interim is not really an option.
And for the political head of a nation battered by economic storms, it seemed worth the wait. For Hillary, looking trim and elegant in a smart dark blue trouser-suit, wasted no time in pledging her country's strong support for Ireland, and heaped praise on the Government.
Straight away she offered her congratulations “on the resounding vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum”. She added: “Our commitment to working with like-minded friends such as Ireland means that we'll be seeing a lot of each other, and consulting often about what more we can do to provide the conditions for peace, security and prosperity.”
She even gave the Government's recent moves to rescue the banking system her seal of approval. “Ireland has moved aggressively to stabilise its financial markets, to jump-start its economy, and we will continue to work with our Irish friends,” she assured Brian.
Several times, the Secretary of State reiterated America's strong links with Ireland on both sides of the border, and Hillary made reference to the recent appointment of Irishman Declan Kelly.
“The appointment of a special economic envoy is a very tangible signal that we want to invest in the peace dividend that will come with the final devolution of power and authority and the full acceptance of responsibility by the people of Northern Ireland themselves,” she said. “The step of devolution for policing and justice is an absolutely essential milestone.”
It must surely have been music to the ears of the Taoiseach who lost little time in describing Hillary Clinton as “a great friend of Ireland” and “fundamental to the new US administration's commitment . . . to build a better world to tackle global problems”.
Despite a gruelling schedule — she's in the middle of a five-day whistlestop tour of Europe, including talks with British foreign secretary David Miliband in London yesterday morning, before popping over to Dublin for talks in Farmleigh, followed by a visit to the President at Aras an Uachtarain and then on to Belfast last night — Hillary showed little sign of fatigue.
She presented an upbeat face on the various global travails, especially the state of the economy in the US. “We're beginning to see some positive signs, but we're very conscious that the United States must right its own economic boat in order to lead the global recovery,” she said.
“It is certainly of concern to us that good friends like Ireland have suffered negative growth, but it's also very heartening to see the positive steps that this Government has taken to begin to deal with the underlying economic challenges”.
Both the Taoiseach and the Secretary of State trod carefully on the issue of the undocumented Irish in America. “This is a very difficult and sensitive issue as a policy matter within the United States itself and we respect and understand that,” said Brian diplomatically. “It is a priority for our Government.”
“I can attest the lobbying is very effective. It is well organised,” said Hillary.
“But the Taoiseach is right, this is an issue we have to deal with in the overall need for comprehensive immigration reform.”
Bathed in sunlight, the rolling green fields of Farmleigh looked at their best, and Hillary remarked that there was, “no greater joy than to come back to Ireland, to be in Dublin today. “I said to Brian, ‘I wish we could take a day off, wander around this beautiful park and enjoy some of the hospitality that I have experienced before'.”