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In the economic crisis, Irish ministers have to cancel their St. Patrick's Day junkets.
Cowen justified maintaining half of the usual ministerial trips — to cities such as Chicago, Houston, Toronto, London, Paris, Rome and Sydney — as the best way to tell the world that Ireland has “a clear and comprehensive strategy for dealing with the impact of the economic crisis.”
Reacting to tabloid headlines in Dublin such as “Let the Paddy’s Day junkets begin as ministers globetrot,” Cowen said that the trips provided cabinet members with an unparalleled opportunity to nurture the country’s "unique global connections" as it struggles to regain economic growth.
Opposition members of the Irish parliament have criticized the money spent on hotels and airfare, with the notable exception of independent Sen. Joe O’Toole, who argued that it's never been more necessary to promote the economy abroad.
“If that means going over there [to the U.S.] and sloshing horrible-tasting green beer, shaking hands with the ancient order of this, that or the other thing, or meeting the various brotherhoods, then so be it,” he said.
The renewed violence in Northern Ireland has also cast a shadow over this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
The first minister and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, twice postponed a visit to the United States after two soldiers and a policeman were killed by dissident republican terrorists.
Originally intended to boost U.S. investment, their joint appearances in Washington, New York and Los Angeles this week now will be a demonstration that both communities in Northern Ireland are united against a return to the erstwhile "Troubles" that caused 3,466 deaths.
Robinson is a member of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and McGuinness of Sinn Fein is a former IRA commander.
On March 10, the once-bitter political foes stood shoulder to shoulder with the commander of the Northern Ireland Police Service (PSNI), Hugh Orde, to call for the apprehension of those who killed the soldiers and policeman.
McGuinness — who once organized attacks on Northern Ireland’s old police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and who now argues that there is a peaceful way to achieve Irish unity — called the splinter groups “traitors to the island of Ireland.”
The clear message he brings to any Irish Americans who might still support the use of violence in Northern Ireland is that “the war is over,” with all that that entails, including full support for the police.
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