Cablegate: Scenesetter for Irish Prime Minister's Address To

DE RUEHDL #0192/01 1021438
P 111438Z APR 08

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/11/2018


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Classified By: Ambassador Thomas C. Foley; Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).


1. (C) Prime Minister (Taoiseach, TEE-SHUCK) Bertie Ahern's
address to a Joint Session of Congress on April 30 will be
framed by the Northern Ireland peace process, Irish economic
growth (the "Celtic Tiger"), Ireland's view of its place in
the world, and Ahern's announcement that he will step down as
Prime Minister on May 6, a bombshell he dropped on April 2
(Ref F). During his almost 11 years as Irish Prime Minister,
Ahern has established policies that dovetail with U.S.
interests, deepening and broadening the strong U.S.-Irish
relationship. Now, even as the very last days of his Prime
Ministership descend upon him, he has stated repeatedly that
the greatest honor of his political career lies yet ahead --
to address a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress. End summary.

The Ahern Legacy

2. (SBU) On April 2, Bertie Ahern announced to a stunned
nation that he would step down as Prime Minister and leader
of the Fianna Fail party effective May 6 (Refs F and G).
Despite this shock, Ireland is already beginning to sort out
its next government. On April 9, Deputy Prime
Minister/Minister of Finance Brian Cowen was chosen as the
next leader of Fianna Fail and, by virtue of being the leader
of the largest party in the governing coalition, Ireland's
next Prime Minister (Ref B). Cowen is expected to assume his
new duties on May 7, following a vote by the Irish

3. (C) After nearly 11 years as Prime Minister, Ahern is
leaving behind a formidable legacy. In private meetings and
in his speech to Congress, Ahern will likely touch upon the
most important aspects of that legacy, including the Northern
Irish Peace Process, Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" economic
revival, Ireland's leadership role in Europe and on global
development issues, and, of course, deepened and broadened
U.S.-Ireland relations.

Northern Ireland

4. (C) Prime Minister Ahern has been widely hailed as one of
the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process. In his
speech, he will highlight two important "next steps" in the
process. First, Ahern will likely thank Congress and the
President for U.S. support of the peace process over the
years, especially since the Good Friday Agreement, which was
brought into being in 1998 with U.S. Government help. Ahern
will also thank Congress for sustained U.S. economic support
in the North and urge continued high-level U.S. Government
engagement in the May 2008 USG-supported investment

5. (C) Secondly, Ahern will press for strong U.S. Government
support for the devolution of policing and justice from the
British government to the Northern Ireland Assembly before
the end of the year. The Irish believe that implementation
of the St. Andrews agreement continues to go well, with many
bread and butter issues being resolved within the Northern
Ireland Assembly and the basic power-sharing government
governing better than many in Ireland expected. North-South
institutions, such as the North-South Ministerial Council and
InterTradeIreland, are up and running to Irish satisfaction,
and the Irish Government has pledged over $900 million for
infrastructural links between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Ireland remains concerned, however, that the powers of
policing and justice not remain under the direct control of
the British Government for very much longer. Ireland will
look to the United States to use its influence with the UK
and the key parties in the North to ensure that the
devolution of policing and justice actually occurs as the
next major step in the peace process.


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The "Celtic Tiger"

6. (C) Ahern presided over the "Celtic Tiger's" dynamic,
sustained economic growth during his eleven years at the
helm. Ireland's economy is closely tied to the economy of
the U.S., as well as to American investment. Over 600 U.S.
firms established operations in Ireland; the stock of U.S.
investment in the country is, in fact, significantly more
than the U.S. combined total in the BRIC countries (Brazil,
Russia, India, and China).

7. (C) Ireland is concerned that U.S. economic difficulties
will reverberate negatively in Ireland. As in the U.S.,
Ireland is experiencing slower growth, driven by a slowdown
in the housing market, tightening credit, and inadequate
infrastructure that has not kept pace with the growth of the
"Celtic Tiger." In his speech, we expect Ahern to reaffirm
that Ireland's economic policies will remain staunchly
pro-business and pro-American. The foundation of Ireland's
Celtic Tiger transformation has been low corporate tax rates,
industrial peace, pro-investment policies, fiscal
responsibility, and effective use of EU support funds. He
will undoubtedly call for increased levels of American
investment in Ireland.

Ireland in Europe ...

8. (C) During the past eleven years, Ireland has assumed an
increasingly greater leadership role in Europe and on certain
global issues. In many ways, Ireland and Ahern came of age
during Ireland's widely praised 2004 EU presidency. Most
notably, Ahern and his team brought to conclusion the EU
debate over its constitutional treaty, which eventually
failed in Dutch and French referenda, and which was slightly
modified and recast as the Lisbon Treaty.

9. (C) With plentiful jobs, Ireland has also become a magnet
for inward immigration, attracting over 100,000 new arrivals
since the accession of ten new EU Member States in 2004.
Economic success has made Ireland a role model for the new EU
members and a more confident diplomatic go-between for the
United States and the EU, as personified by the EU Ambassador
to the United States, former Irish Prime Minister John Bruton.

10. (C) Looming large on Europe's political horizon, most
likely in June, is Ireland's referendum on whether to endorse
the Lisbon Treaty. As the only EU state holding such a
referendum, Ireland has become a battleground for the future
of the EU. Ahern's Washington speech will be widely reported
in Ireland and will be the last major speech of his political
career. We can expect Ahern to sound his support for the
Lisbon Treaty in his remarks in Washington in an attempt to
bolster the "yes" vote in Ireland and make clear Ireland's
leading role in Europe (and, incidentally, position Ahern for
the EU President job that would be created by the Lisbon

11. (C) Ireland's EU membership facilitated another key
aspect of Ahern's legacy: vastly improved relations between
the UK and Ireland. Much of the improvement in relations
came about as a result of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Ahern and UK Prime Minster Tony Blair both arrived on the
scene one month apart in 1997, and immediately agreed to take
a huge risk by going for a deal in Northern Ireland. The
1998 Good Friday Agreement was the result (Ref A).

12. (C) Working from a solid basis of trust forged in the
sometimes interminable Good Friday Agreement talks, Ahern and
Blair were then able to take a very pragmatic approach over
the next eleven years to resolve numerous outstanding
bilateral issues. From human rights to Kosovo to Burma, the
UK and Ireland now share similar views on most international
issues, and Ireland is no longer afraid to be seen as working
in concert with the UK. It is a mature, normal bilateral
relationship, unimaginable even a decade ago. Indeed, there
is talk of a State visit to Ireland by the Queen in the near

... and in the World

13. (C) Prime Minister Ahern is proud of the development of
Ireland as a force to be reckoned with in international
affairs. Whether wielding its influence in EU or UN
corridors, engaging in peacekeeping efforts, or providing
humanitarian and development assistance overseas, Ireland has

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become widely admired as a nation that "punches above its
weight" in international affairs.

14. (C) In his speech, Ahern may call for increased
cooperation on humanitarian and development assistance.
Ireland aims to contribute 0.7 percent of GDP to overseas
development assistance by 2012. Africa is a particular
focus. The new Department of Foreign Affairs Conflict
Resolution Unit has chosen East Timor as its first major
conflict resolution effort. Ahern is likely to praise the
U.S. Government's initiatives on fighting HIV/AIDS, TB, and
malaria, particularly in Africa.

15. (C) Ahern may speak about the U.S. and Ireland's common
platform in promoting democracy and human rights, and in
combating trafficking in persons. Like the U.S., Ireland is
a bastion of democracy and human rights. Around the world
(and in the EU and the UN), Ireland has joined the U.S. in
criticizing undemocratic practices, for example, in Burma and
Zimbabwe. In the past year, Ireland has put measures in
place to further criminalize trafficking in persons and
provide assistance to victims of trafficking.

16. (C) Ahern will also probably highlight Ireland's
peacekeeping tradition in his remarks. The Irish Defense
Forces have roughly 760 troops serving in multilateral
peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Chad, Bosnia, Afghanistan,
and elsewhere. Ireland is contributing 350-400 troops to the
EU's ESDP mission to Chad, which is led by an Irish General,
and sees this peacekeeping effort as contributing to the
situation in adjacent Darfur. The Irish Government prefers
not to expand its military engagement in Afghanistan, though
it will consider additional development and humanitarian

17. (C) Ahern may also highlight Ireland's constructive role
on Kosovo. Ireland has consistently worked within the EU to
forge a common position on Kosovo's independence and
supported the Ahtisaari Plan. On February 28, 2008 Ireland
recognized Kosovo's independence; the fourteenth nation in
the world to do so. It plans to continue its engagement in
KFOR (for which it is the framework, or lead, nation and
contributes 270 troops), contribute officers to the EU's ESDP
police mission, and allocate substantial additional
development and humanitarian assistance.

18. (C) hern is likely to express dismay at the level ofviolence in the Middle East, and urge Congress andthe
President to use their offices to the best o their ability
to make headway in the Middle EastPeac Process. Ireland
supports the internatioal community in calling for Hamas to
renounce vilence and to recognize Israel's right to exist.
t supports the two-state solution. While concerne about
Hamas' rocket attacks on Isael, Ireland also believes that
Israel's armed response has been disproportionately fierce.

19. (C) Ahern will likely stress the responsibility of all
nations to address the threat of climate change. Although
the Irish public and media criticize the United States for
remaining outside the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland's rapid
economic growth has made it difficult for the country to meet
its own Kyoto commitments. Under the Protocol, Ireland
pledged to reduce emissions to 13 percent above the 1990
levels by 2012, but emissions now stand at 25 percent above
the 1990 threshold. In this context, the Government has
welcomed U.S. Government proposals for a cooperative approach
to climate change. Embassy Dublin is working on bilateral
initiatives focused on ocean/wave energy, methane capture,
and clean coal technologies.

U.S.-Ireland Relations: Broader and Deeper

20. (C) Throughout his time in office, Ahern has assiduously
worked to enrich the U.S.-Irish dialogue beyond the key
issues of Northern Ireland and immigration. In their 2004 EU
presidency roles, Ahern and then Foreign Minister Brian Cowen
were justifiably proud of their efforts to improve the
transatlantic relationship that had been badly frayed by
debates over the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ahern is also
pleased that the St. Patrick's Day Shamrock ceremony is now
much more about the bilateral relationship and less about
Northern Ireland. Under Ahern's direction, Ireland has
agreed to resettle Cuban refugees currently at Guantanamo
Bay. Ireland is participating enthusiastically in
negotiations for the establishment of full pre-clearance
facilities in Ireland for both commercial and general
aviation flights to the U.S., helping us to better secure our

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21. (C) Despite not agreeing with our approach on Iraq,
Ahern has been behind Ireland's steadfast support for the
U.S. in permitting U.S. military transits at Shannon and
Dublin Airports (347,000 troops in 2005) that backstop U.S.
actions, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. This policy has
been deeply unpopular -- the Irish Government has rebuffed
repeated calls from opposition parliamentarians and the
public to investigate the alleged use of Shannon Airport for
terrorist rendition flights, citing earlier U.S. assurances
that no such practice involves Ireland. Yet, there has been
no interruption in U.S. access. Ahern may note this policy
as part of Ireland's contribution to the war on terror.

22. (C) The Irish Government continues to consult and lobby
with Congress and Irish-American groups on behalf of Irish
residing illegally in the U.S., variously estimated at
between 5,000 and 50,000. A special unit of the Department
of Foreign Affairs, set up in 2006 to assist the Irish
Diaspora, assists Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Michael
Collins in this endeavor. While the Irish Government
understands that Irish illegal aliens will not be dealt with
separately from comprehensive U.S. immigration reform, Ahern
takes this emotive domestic issue personally. He is likely
to express his deep concern for these illegals and may ask
Congress to move to regularize their status as soon as
possible. He may also push for approval of a special visa
category, such as the Australian E-3 visa or a modified J-1
visa, which would enable Irish citizens to live and work in
U.S. for durations longer than currently available under
existing visa regulations.


23. (C) Over the years, Ahern has established policies that
frequently dovetail with U.S. interests. While this is most
evident in the growth of the "Celtic Tiger," there are many
global issues where Irish and American interests and policies
have coincided under his stewardship -- and, of course, he
contributed immensely to peace in Northern Ireland. Ahern
may well move on to greater things in the future; the
Presidency of the European Union has been mentioned.
However, even as the very last days of his Prime Ministership
descend upon him, he says that the greatest honor of his
career lies yet ahead -- to address a Joint Session of the
U.S. Congress.

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