Paul Hosford's New York diary: Micheál Martin the statesman is unveiled

An Taoiseach will adopt a larger perspective this week when he will chair the UN Security Council and address the General Assembly
Paul Hosford's New York diary: Micheál Martin the statesman is unveiled

Micheál Martin has travelled to New York in his first non-EU trip since his leadership began last year.

The 9/11 monument in lower Manhattan manages to achieve something truly spectacular.

In one of the most bustling parts of the busiest city in the world, it is a place of reflection, it's peaceful even.

Featuring two recessed fountains at the footprint of the Twin Towers, the cascading water and the swamp white oak trees combine to create an oasis of contemplation in a city that is all about immediacy.

It was here, in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, that An Taoiseach Micheál Martin's first day of engagements in New York ended as he toured the site, taking in the names of 2,983 victims of terror attacks. 

Mr Martin stopped to read and place a flower on the names of Irish people who lost their lives in the tragedy, including 46-year old Cork native, Ruth Clifford McCourt.

Ms McCourt, a Boston-based business owner, and her four-year-old daughter, Juliana, were among the passengers aboard United Flight 175.

Time for solemn respect

It was an appropriately sombre and respectful event, with no media questions and little chat as the plaza was cordoned off for the Taoiseach's arrival, which came just after the Ukrainian delegation — also in town for UN talks — had conducted a similar tour.

Mr Martin would leave the site with his delegation just before 7pm local time, probably glad of the chance to eat and go to bed early with a busy schedule ahead.

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin and New York governor Kathy Hochul talk to reporters after their meeting in New York on Monday. Picture: Seth Wenig/AP
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin and New York governor Kathy Hochul talk to reporters after their meeting in New York on Monday. Picture: Seth Wenig/AP

Earlier on Monday, the Taoiseach had met with Kathy Hochul, the first female Governor of New York. 

The meeting between the proud Irish-American woman and the Taoiseach was described as constructive, with Ms Hochul hitting all the right notes in the press briefing that followed. 

She refused to hit out at Ireland's tax regime, she called on Irish J1 students to flock to the Empire State when given the chance, and she played her GAA bona fides.

Gaelic connections

Having both a father and grandfather who played Gaelic football, Ms Hochul brought with her a gift for the Taoiseach — a jersey of the New York City GAA team but she made sure to play up local rivalries by bringing her own Kerry jersey to the podium in her downtown Manhattan office to share the moment with the Corkonian taoiseach.

In response, the Taoiseach gifted Ms Hochul a book commissioned to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in Ireland which features a poem by the late Eavan Boland. 

While Ms Hochul is not a head of state, per se, she is the head of a quasi state and one which is important to Ireland both historically and economically. 

In that regard, the two having a friendly and even jokey meeting will have been welcome for the Taoiseach. 

In a reign which has had scant opportunity to travel because of Covid-19, Mr Martin has had little opportunity to appear statesmanlike. Monday offered just that.

Rise of a statesman

Indeed, Mr Martin urged reporters who asked about Katherine Zappone to view things in a larger perspective. 

In a week when he will chair the UN Security Council and address the General Assembly on issues like climate change, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, it is a point that is easy to understand.

Mr Martin has long tried to pitch himself as being above the sometimes petty or trivial squabbles of day-to-day politics. 

At the UN this week, he has a chance to hammer home that image as well as deliver a call to action on climate change on a major stage.

That will signal a new phase in his career — as Micheál the statesman is fully unveiled. 

We will see on Thursday and Friday what that looks like. But until then, there will be plenty of dry runs as the Taoiseach takes on a series of bilateral meetings on Tuesday.

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