By Patrick Markey
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last week unveiled a ship sculpture at the United Nations New York headquarters to commemorate the contribution Irish emigrants have made throughout the world.
The 26-by-24-foot work in bronze entitled "Arrival," by Dublin-born sculptor John Behan, will stand at the UN Plaza alongside the works by such famous artists as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
"This sculpture celebrates the Irish people who traveled the world in search of a new life and all the nations and countries which welcomed them and offered them a chance for that better life," the taoiseach told a gathering of UN officials and Irish American representatives.
"We in Ireland owe a debt of gratitude to our emigrants, as it is largely due to them that the name of Ireland is respected throughout the world," he said.
Deputy Secretary General Louise Fréchette and president of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri, a former member of George Mitchell’s Northern Ireland peace team, received the gift at a formal ceremony Friday afternoon.
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Weighing more than 11 tons, the £500,000 "Arrival" sculpture depicts emigrants disembarking from the ship along two gangplanks toward New York’s East River. Altogether, 150 figures were cast in bronze, most of them standing amid the ship’s deck rigging.
Speaking at a dinner at the Waldorf Astoria later to mark the unveiling, the taoiseach touched on Ireland’s fledgling place on the UN Security Council and also the progress of policing under the Good Friday peace accords.
Ahern said Ireland was acutely aware of the trust placed in the nation by its election to a seat on the Security Council, which will begin next month.
"Last September, in my address to the UN Millennium Summit, I committed Ireland to achieving the UN official target for official assistance of 0.7 percent of GNP by the end of 2007, one of the very few countries in the world to do so," the taoiseach said.
Ireland was voted onto the 15-member Security Council for a two-year term along with Colombia and Singapore earlier this year.
While progress had been made in Northern Ireland, tough issues had to be confronted, issues such as policing, the taoiseach said.
"We must deliver a police service to which all of the people of Northern Ireland can give their support and allegiance, service in which they can trust and which they will be proud to see their young people joining, be they from the Falls or the Shankill, Crossmaglen or the Bogside," Ahern said.
After it was cast in a Dublin foundry, the "Arrival" sculpture was transported from Ireland in August and set up at the UN Plaza in September.
Martin Cullen, minister of state at the Department of Finance suggested the idea of an Irish gift to the United Nations after a visit to New York about 18 months ago.
Behan’s previous works includes the National Famine Memorial at Murrisk, Co. Mayo, which also features a ship.
The artist’s work has collected by President Clinton and Samuel Beckett, amoung others.