Paul Hosford: This time, New York saw a different Micheál Martin

In contrast to the Irish delegation's 2018 trip to New York which was about wooing foreign heads of state, the current visit including the historic United Nations session has been about serious business
Paul Hosford: This time, New York saw a different Micheál Martin

Taoiseach Micheál Martin briefing media after the UN Security Council debate on climate and security at UN Headquarters in New York City yesterday. Picture: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutterstock 

Live from New York, it's Friday afternoon...

When the Taoiseach took to the storied Saturday Night Live stage in NBC Studios at Rockefeller Plaza, he resisted the urge to make the show's opening proclamation.

In truth, it was a strange choice for a tour stop for Mícheál Martin, despite the subsequent meeting with NBC Universal executives about their plans to film in Ireland. 

Back in 2018, when Ireland was vying for the seat on the UN Security Council, ambassadors were invited to a U2 gig in Madison Square Garden and received a stage shout-out from Bono. 

However, those were different times. 

Three years on, it's a different world

Indeed, for some of the veterans of that 2018 trip, 2021 feels like a different world.

Mr Martin's appearance at the UN came in the shadow of Covid, of growing concern about climate change and just weeks after Afghanistan descended into chaos once more. 

This was not a visit about shaking hands or schmoozing for the Taoiseach — it was about the serious issues at hand. Gone were the entertainment and parties of other years,  replaced by discussions and sobering arguments — this was a business trip.

Taking to the podium in the General Assembly, he made an impassioned plea for global equality in vaccine administration.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a shadow over our world," he said.

It has deepened global inequality, even as it has heightened our sense of interdependence. The people of the world now look to us, to this General Assembly Hall, to act and to lead. We cannot let them down. Vaccine inequity is a moral test for our global community.

He added that Ireland is donating 1.3m vaccine doses to low-income countries, mainly through the COVAX programme, with another announcement in the coming months, before touching on Syria, Afghanistan, the Middle East and, most keenly, climate change.

"We can no longer deny the reality: climate change is the single greatest challenge facing our generation."

It was a speech that put forward Mr Martin's and Ireland's priorities at the UN this year, but which also presented a Micheál Martin the Irish people haven't seen as Taoiseach. 

A sober business trip rather than schmoozing

With his St Patrick's Day trip to the White House done virtually and with all other foreign travel kiboshed until now, this week was Mr Martin's first opportunity to go abroad as leader of Ireland and it was largely a trip in keeping with his image as Taoiseach. 

There was little appetite from Mr Martin to discuss the Katherine Zappone controversy or other matters of inter-personal or party politics.  Save for a brief laugh at being asked about Garth Brooks, his answers were serious and policy-based.

Some New Yorkers had urged world leaders to stay away from their city, worried about importing Covid cases in a city scarred by the horrors it endured in the earliest days of Covid-19 as refrigerated trucks were used as morgues and deaths spiked at over 750 a day. 

In the end, around 60 heads of state jetted in, but with smaller delegations than usual and, as mentioned, without the kind of schmoozing one would expect from a town full of ambassadors.

Signs of reopening in New York 

New York feels, in many ways, like it is waking up.  Around the city, there are signs of normality. 

Some, but not all, Broadway shows are back on, TV shows like Late Night With Seth Meyers — whose set the Taoiseach visited — can have audiences and bars and restaurants are populated, if not full.

Mr Martin will take solace in the fact that one of the busiest and most crowded cities in the world is feeling the benefits of vaccinations as he returns to Ireland ahead of the October 22 reopening date.

One might say, that will be down to business.

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