By Ray O'Hanlon
Taoiseach Brian Cowen will be in the U.S. next week for a three day visit that will include stops in New York and Atlanta.
Cowen, who has been under mounting criticism of late for his handling of the Irish economy, most especially during his time as finance minister, is expected to focus primarily on economic issues affecting Ireland and the U.S., not least investment, trade and tourism.
Cowen will be in the U.S. from the 12th to the 14th. His visit to Atlanta comes in the light of the Irish government's plan to open a new consulate in the Georgia city.
The U.S. trip will likely provide a little high summer political relief for Cowen who has been fending off criticism from some Fianna Fáil backbench TDs over the government's performance and recent tough measures aimed at righting the Republic's listing economy.
Fianna Fáil fell sharply in a recent opinion poll and now trails badly in third place among the Republic's major political parties.
However, unlike his Fine Gael counterpart, Enda Kenny, Cowen has not faced a direct challenge to his leadership of his party.
This has prompted several TDs to voice criticism of Cowen's leadership, though none has emerged as a clear cut contender for the leadership of Fianna Fáil.
"My job is to continue to lead the party in that effort and that's what I intend to do," Cowen said at a Monday press briefing outside Farmleigh House in Dublin where the tenth plenary North/south Ministerial Council meeting was being held.
As things stand, it would appear that Cowen will be able to fly to the U.S. in the knowledge that he yet enjoys the support of the majority of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, both TDs and senators.
Meanwhile, Cowen's visit to New York will be the last major event hosted by Irish Consul General in the city, Niall Burgees.
Ambassador Burgess is returning to Dublin to take charge of the Anglo/Irish division at the Department of Foreign Affairs.