Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States marks a turning point for the US and presents an important opportunity for Ireland to re-examine and rejuvenate the deeply valuable and historic relationship it shares with America.
The Taoiseach's recent call for a review of US-Ireland relations couldn't come at a better time. For the review to be truly effective, it is essential to begin with a realistic understanding of what Irish America is, and is not, and to pose this important question: what do we want the US-Ireland relationship to be in the 21st century?
It is necessary to understand that there is no such thing as a monolithic "Irish-American vote". Irish-Americans are Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and Protestants, wealthy and working class.
They want our economy back on track and they want decent jobs with fair wages so that they can support their families. They want a healthcare system that is not so expensive that it forces them to choose between buying groceries and buying their medications. They want college to be affordable. They want us to stop ignoring the increasingly serious problems of the environment.
There is no such thing as an "Irish-American" vote motivated solely, or even primarily, by issues relating to Ireland.
What does this mean? In the New York Times Magazine of August 10th, in an article entitled, "Is Obama the End of Black Politics?", Matt Bai wrote: "For a lot of younger African-Americans, the resistance of the civil rights generation to Obama's candidacy signified the failure of their parents to come to terms, at the dusk of their lives, with the success of their own struggle - to embrace the idea that black politics might now be disappearing into American politics in the same way that the Irish and Italian machines long ago joined the political mainstream."
If there was ever a time to recognise and embrace the fact that Irish-America is now part of the US political mainstream, it is now. The Obama administration offers an opportunity to redefine the US-Ireland relationship - one that is built on mutually beneficial objectives and a recognition that, in addition to the enduring value of the ancestral ties and shared history of the two countries, Ireland has much to offer the United States and the world.
Many leading political figures in the United States, for example, have cited the peace process in Northern Ireland as a lesson in conflict resolution which can be used to bring people together and help countries around the world to both avoid and resolve conflicts.
When we look ahead, we see boundless opportunities to strengthen old ties and create and establish new and important links between the United States and Ireland.
First and foremost, economic innovation should be a key part of the relationship. In the recent US presidential campaign, Ireland was cited repeatedly for its low corporate tax rate.
Senator John McCain wanted to lower the US corporate tax rate to encourage overseas American companies to come home to the US, and Senator Obama suggested closing tax loopholes that now encourage American firms to move overseas.
What will this mean for Ireland? It's impossible to know at this point, but it is hard to imagine any sudden exodus of US companies from Ireland. Recent years have demonstrated that Ireland has a global economy, but the strength of the Irish economy should not rely predominantly on multinational investment. In other words, Ireland should not put all its eggs into the one basket of its low corporate tax rate.
Instead, Ireland should be equally, or better known, for a world-class innovation economy.
Ireland can and should be a leader and a model in the creation and development of "green jobs" - jobs focused on environmental protection, whether through alternative energy, technology, or jobs such as retrofitting homes and office buildings for energy conservation.
With this in mind, the US-Ireland Alliance has been having conversations with Irish business and political leaders about convening a US-Ireland conference on The Green Economy - Jobs and the Environment.
Ireland has the ability, the natural resources, the branding and the structure to become a global leader in this field. It is a natural partner for the United States on this vital 21st century issue, not least because Barack Obama has already declared that alternative energy and job creation, particularly "green" jobs, will be a priority of his administration.
Irish and Northern Irish universities already have strong environmental programmes in place. They should be strengthening and developing these programmes, and also working together to position themselves at the forefront of the environmental movement. Leadership from Ireland on these issues will help create a new conversation with America.
Education is another area in which the US-Ireland relationship can flourish. We have seen this already with the George Mitchell Scholarship programme, which gives future American leaders an opportunity to study on the island; the goal is to create and nurture interest in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Because of the success of the programme, colleges and students across America are turning their attention to Irish universities like never before. The publicity surrounding what has become one of the most prestigious scholarships in America has given Irish and Northern Irish universities a higher profile than money could buy.
It is extremely important that, despite the unfortunate downturn in the economy, Ireland does not lose sight of the long-term value of a strong third-level educational system, with its obvious ripple effects.
The idea that "if you build it they will come" is fundamentally true. We have witnessed this truth with the Mitchell scholars, whose connection to Ireland lasts far beyond their year on the island. Education is a powerful and constructive way to connect new generations to the island, and it is imperative that Irish universities be world class.
This past year, Trinity and UCD moved up in global university rankings. Such progress is necessary, but hardly sufficient.
One of the strongest cards Ireland has to play is the culture card, which has the potential to attract tourists to Ireland and can be used to promote Ireland abroad. In fact, the extraordinary literary, dramatic, and musical traditions of Ireland appeal to many people, not just Irish-Americans.
In other words, it's time to think outside the checked Irish-American box, particularly in light of the declining demographic of Irish-America. For example, in February, the US-Ireland Alliance honoured James L Brooks, producer of The Simpsons, at our annual Oscar Wilde event, which honours the Irish in film. We selected Brooks (along with Fiona Shaw and Colm Meaney) because The Simpsons is wildly popular in Ireland and we knew that Brooks himself was a fan of Ireland.
The Irish Film Board was unhappy because, "He's not Irish." But Brooks was thrilled to be selected, and gave a delightfully amusing acceptance speech noting that he had grown up thinking he was Irish until he discovered that his grandparents' last name was Jewish. Since then, an "Irish" episode of The Simpsons has been made and Brooks has expressed an interest in making a film in Ireland.
As more and more people recognise, Irish-America must be reimagined, and it has immense potential. The US-Ireland Alliance is eager to embrace that potential. We hope that the Taoiseach's review will lead to initiatives that seize the moment and build a new relationship for the years ahead based both on our remarkable shared history and the extraordinary possibilities for the future.
There will always be resistance to change. But change, as Obama's campaign and election make clear, is coming. Ireland must either participate or be left behind. Is féidir linn!
• Trina Vargo was an adviser on Irish issues to the Barack Obama election campaign. From 1987 to 1998, she was foreign policy adviser to Senator Edward Kennedy. In 1998, she created the US-Ireland Alliance and serves as its president.
• Mary Lou Hartman is the director of the George Mitchell Scholarship programme. She is a former Peabody Award-winning television producer for CBS and CNN.
This article appeared in The Irish Times on November 14, 2008.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
“Today, Americans spoke loud and clear and demanded change by electing Barack Obama as our next President. They understood his vision of a fairer and more just America and embraced it. They heard his call for a new generation of Americans to participate in government and were inspired. They believed that change is possible and voted to be part of America’s future.
“Barack Obama is my friend and tonight, I’m very proud to call him my President. I look forward to working with him and Joe Biden on the many challenges facing our country here at home and around the world.”
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Irish-Americans, like all Americans, are struggling in the current economic downturn. As president, Barack Obama will provide urgently needed financial relief for working and middle class Americans. He will:
- Enact an emergency economic plan to jumpstart the economy;
- Provide a middle class tax cut of up to $1,000 for 95% of workers and their families;
- Provide affordable, quality, portable health care to every American, saving a typical family up to $2,500 each year;
- Make college affordable by providing a tax credit that makes the first $4000 of a college education free for most Americans.
Barack Obama will focus on issues that are of special importance to Irish-Americans. Both Senator Obama and his running mate Senator Joe Biden come from Irish stock. Obama’s great, great great grandfather on his mother’s side, Fulmoth Kearney, set sail from County Offaly in 1850, arriving in New York and eventually settling in Ohio. Obama, who has lived and worked on the south side of Chicago, the heart of the city’s strong Irish community, has a first-hand understanding of the remarkable contributions made by Irish immigrants to the United States.
And since Obama’s father came to the United States from Kenya on a scholarship, Senator Obama has a unique sense of the “melting pot” that makes America great.
PEACE. While Senator McCain opposed granting a visa to Gerry Adams during the critical period of the peace process and accused President Clinton of pandering to the Irish in pursuing peace, Obama will make it a priority of his Presidency to build upon the ground-breaking work of the Irish and British Governments, the Clinton Administration, and the parties to the conflict in Northern Ireland and help solidify the peace. Senator Obama will commit all necessary resources to helping with the final steps of the peace process, including devolution of justice. He will invest the weight of the Presidency and appoint a prominent special envoy in order to advance this vital cause.
COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM. While John McCain has backed away from supporting meaningful immigration reform, Obama will fight for a reform package that keeps open the doors of opportunity in our country. Obama has played a leading role in crafting comprehensive immigration reform and believes that our broken immigration system can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a solution that strengthens our security while reaffirming our heritage as a nation of immigrants. As president, he will fight to strengthen border security, fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy, and require a responsible path to earned citizenship for undocumented workers and their families.
STRENGTHENED BOND. American investment in Ireland played a leading role in fueling the Celtic Tiger, and Ireland’s economic prosperity in turn led to a boom in Irish investment in the United States. Obama believes that cultural, educational and business exchanges will draw us closer together, as do our common causes and common beliefs. As president, Obama will do all he can to strengthen U.S.-Irish cultural, educational and trade ties which are central to the identities of the United States and Ireland.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
As we move through this last month of presidential campaigning, the time has come for us all to assess the candidates and make a decision, based on what we believe is right for America in general, and Irish America in particular.
The campaign, while at times seeming interminable, has nevertheless given us ample opportunity to assess the candidates, their advisors, and their positions. It is certainly no secret that I have been staunch supporter of Senator Hillary Clinton and I continue to believe that she would make a magnificent president. Nor is it a secret that during the course of the campaign I have been critical of Senator Obama's campaign.
Nevertheless, the time has come to make our choice between the two candidates that will be on the ballot on November 4th. I am going to vote for Barack Obama.
I have been a lifelong supporter of two causes that Irish Americans hold dear: freedom for northeast Ireland, and an end to the historical discrimination embodied in our immigration laws against the Irish.
In both instances I have more confidence in Senator Obama than in Senator McCain.
While Obama's record on Irish issues is relatively thin, it stands in clear contrast with McCain's record of opposition to the historical Irish American initiatives that have brought peace to Northern Ireland.
Irish American political involvement clearly led to the granting of a visa to Gerry Adams. It was not only the capstone of Irish American influence in American political life, it was the single most precipitating event that started Northern Ireland on the way to peace, and Ireland on the road to prosperity.
All of us can be proud of our role in bringing that about and will be forever grateful to President Clinton for his courage in the face of strong opposition in granting the Adams visa. As Senator, John McCain was both openly critical and dismissive of President Clinton's actions. If history be our guide, we can expect no better from President McCain than we received from Senator McCain.
On the question of immigration, I have previously expressed my admiration for Senator McCain's courage in advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.
Unfortunately, as the presidential campaign has progressed, McCain has distanced himself from his previous views and has instead embraced the anti-immigrant rhetoric we have long fought against.
The Republican Party platform, which is largely shaped by the candidate and upon which Senator McCain is running, is an unmitigated disaster for those of us who believe in a compassionate immigration policy. I maintain my respect and admiration for Jeff Cleary and Grant Lally, both passionate advocates for Irish immigration, but their influence has clearly waned in the face of the right wing of the Republican Party. We can expect little or nothing from a McCain presidency on the question of immigration reform.
In clear contrast, two of Irish America's most passionate advocates, Congressmen Richard Neal, and Joseph Crowley, have come to the forefront of the Obama campaign.
Both have spent their entire political careers as skillful champions of those issues important to Irish Americans.
Like many other immigration advocates I believe that the end of the suffering of the undocumented Irish and the end to the historical discrimination inherent in our immigration laws can only be achieved within the context of comprehensive immigration reform. I believe that the best chance of achieving our goals is within an Obama administration.
This story appeared in the Irish Echo newspaper on October 22-28, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts with everyone gathered here today. It’s an honor to join in celebrating the life of the first immigrant to enter our country through Ellis Island, Annie Moore. This is a great opportunity to celebrate the richness of our nation’s ethnic heritage, and the unique role that Irish-Americans have played in writing the American story.
Today, you’re looking back at Annie’s life and at the lives of your ancestors. As you do this, I also encourage you to take a moment to look around you. Because in its own way, this gathering is just as remarkable as Annie’s first steps into the New World. She came with little more than her two brothers and the clothes on her back. She lived the hard tenement life of an immigrant in New York City, but she worked hard, overcame adversity, and raised a family.
And now, just a couple generations after her passing, you are PhDs, investment counselors, actors and writers, and live in every corner of the country. Aside from that $10 gold piece shining in her hand, she wasn’t given anything more than an opportunity. But she went forward knowing that her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren would enjoy greater opportunities and lead better lives.
The idea of honoring those who came before you by sacrificing on behalf of those who follow is at the heart of the American experience. Irish Americans like your ancestors, and mine from County Offaly, understood this well. And because of that understanding and that spirit, America has led the world through great challenges over the last century. Now is our time to lead again. Together, we can overcome the challenges of our time with the same spirit and resoluteness that carried Annie Moore to our shores.
Once again, thank you for allowing me to be a part of today’s celebration. Please accept my wishes for an enjoyable event and continued success.
This letter from Barak Obama was read aloud at a ceremony at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, NY, commemorating Irish immigrant Annie Moore, the first person to come through Ellis Island in the 19th century. The ceremony took place on October 11, 2008.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Mon, Oct 13, 2008
SUPPORTERS OF Barack Obama gathered in Dublin yesterday to attend the first fundraising event held in Ireland for the Democratic presidential candidate.
More than 100 US citizens attended the fundraiser which was hosted by Massachusetts native Moira Shipsey at her Dalkey home yesterday afternoon. Ms Shipsey is a refugee lawyer who is married to senior counsel Bill Shipsey.
Among the guests was novelist and filmmaker Rebecca Miller, who lives in Co Wicklow with her husband, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, and their two sons. Ms Miller said she had made her fourth donation to the Obama campaign yesterday but declined to say how much she had contributed.
With three weeks to go until election day, Ms Miller said she was feeling "hopeful but very nervous at the same time".
The US had been "hijacked" in the eight years since George W Bush was first elected, Ms Miller argued. "We need to get our country back and reclaim patriotism for ourselves," she said, and she would be "very sad and disappointed" if John McCain were to win on November 4th.
"McCain and Palin represent our more primitive self as a nation . . . one that is afraid of the future and afraid of change," she said. "We need to elect the man who is going to lead us forward instead."
Other guests included US-Ireland Alliance president Trina Vargo, who was attending in her capacity as adviser on Irish issues to Barack Obama, and former Progressive Democrats junior minister Liz O'Donnell.
US citizens at yesterday's gathering were asked for a minimum donation of €100. Under US electoral legislation the maximum allowable contribution per person is $2,300.
Ms Shipsey, who organised a similar event in 2004 to raise funds for John Kerry's unsuccessful bid for the presidency, said she was "cautiously optimistic" about Obama's chances following his recent move ahead in the polls.
"It's encouraging but there is no room for complacency. Twenty days is a long time in politics."
Emily Mark FitzGerald, a Los Angeles native who lectures in art at UCD, wore a green T-shirt with the slogan "Vote Irish, Vote O'Bama". "I've been donating to the campaign regularly," she said. "Today I donated €150 which brings the total amount I have contributed to around €400. Fundraising is still really important even at this stage."
The event was supported by the Irish chapter of Democrats Abroad. Its chair Kate Fitzgerald said the final fundraising push would be used to step up Obama's campaign in crucial swing states.
"It's important to make sure the message is out there in those states. We can never really get complacent," she added.
Liv Gibbons, a Dublin-based Democrats Abroad superdelegate, who attended the party's convention in Denver in August, agreed. "I'm relieved to see Obama is in front in some battleground states but he's not too comfortably ahead. A lot can happen in the next three weeks."
So far the Obama campaign has raised more than $468 million, about half of which has come from relatively small donations.
This article was published in The Irish Times on Monday, October 13, 2008.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
(Pittsburgh) –Sister Patricia McCann taught Catholic Church history at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and is today an archivist at Carlow University, a Catholic women’s school in Pittsburgh.
She belongs to the Sisters of Mercy order and has worked her whole life on issues of social justice.
She is actively campaigning for the Obama/Biden ticket in Pennsylvania.
Across town, Jim Lamb, who has been involved in economic development in Northern Ireland for over fifteen years and comes from a well-known Irish-American political family, has organized a coalition of Irish-Americans to campaign for Obama/Biden in western Pennsylvania.
McCann and Lamb are part of a robust movement of Irish-Americans and Catholics in western Pennsylvania who are holding rallies, staffing phone banks and organizing voter registration drives over the next month.
Their success may well influence whether Barak Obama or John McCain becomes the next president of the United States. In key states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, Catholic and ethnic communities have emerged as crucial voters being targeted in this election.
Organizers here are urging voters not to cast their ballot based on single-issues like abortion or immigration, two hot-button issues for American Catholics and Irish-Americans. Instead, they say, voters should arguably consider a broader range of issues that speak to the larger issues dominating this election, especially the war and the economy.
Last week a group called “Catholics for Obama,” organized by Cody Fischer, Deputy Director of Catholic Vote, met at Carlow University to discuss the Catholic perspective.
Keynote speaker Nick Cafardi, dean of Duquesne University Law School and former general counsel for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, missed the meeting due to a family emergency.
But his speech, “Senator Obama: A Moral Choice for Catholics” was read aloud to the 75 people in attendance.
The lecture sought to define the term pro-life as having a larger meaning than just the abortion issue. The term must also include genocide, war, slavery, violence toward women, and other ‘intrinsic evils’ as defined by the Catholic Church.
Said Cafardi, “Senator Obama supports government action that would reduce the number of abortions. He has consistently said that “we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.””
The lecture prompted a lively discussion over whether Catholics should be “single-issue voters.” In the audience were pro-life students who had come from Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, to voice their views.
McCann attended the meeting, and said later that Obama’s perspective is compatible with her lifelong activism in social justice issues like the Vietnam War and Civil Rights.
“Most of my friends are Obama supporters. Most of us have worked with the poor and with people not at the top of the socio-economic scale. We look at pro-life in a larger sense,” she said, adding, “When economic times are good, abortions go down.”
The Pittsburgh Irish
The following night Lamb’s group, “Pittsburgh Irish for Obama,” held a debate party at Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle in Pittsburgh, where leaders from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Irish American Unity Conference joined a variety of campaign workers, community activists and public officials committed to the Democratic ticket.
Attending from Pittsburgh’s Irish-American political establishment was Michael Lamb, City of Pittsburgh Controller, who met Obama’s ethnic outreach supporters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.
Since then he has been volunteering with his brother Jim to help organize the Pittsburgh vote.
Jamie Rooney and Anne Gleeson, who worked for former US Congressman Bill Coyne from Pittsburgh, attended the event, along with AOH leaders Denny Donnelly, Rich O’Malley and Tommy Long, and Sarah McAuliffe Bellin and Jim Caldwell of the Irish American Unity Conference.
In the battle between Obama and McCain in Pennsylvania, a key factor in tipping the scales toward Obama may well be Joe Biden, who is popular with both Irish-American and Catholic communities throughout the state.
Mary Ester Van Shura, a longtime activist involved in Democratic politics for nearly thirty years, is a friend of Biden’s sister, Valarie Biden Owens, one of Senator Biden’s key advisors.
Van Shura says that Biden “epitomizes the Irishness of life, which is a life driven by passion and principle, courage and commitment, and faith and fortitude.”
She says that Biden “kept faith with the needs of the American people so they can all achieve the life envisioned by our ancestors when they left distant shores. Indeed, he is 'one of us.'"
This article appeared in the Irish Echo newspaper on October 8-14, 2008.
Monday, October 6, 2008
WHEN IRISH Americans vote in November, the choice is clear: Barack Obama and Joe Biden are the candidates who are best prepared to lead us through the difficult times that lie ahead.
For many Irish Americans, Ireland is extremely important. They want a president who is deeply committed - as Bill Clinton was - to peace in Northern Ireland and strong relations with Ireland.
But commitment is not enough. Judgment is essential too. Unfortunately, John McCain's judgment has often been wrong on Northern Ireland.
Beginning in 1993, I served as Bill Clinton's ambassador to Ireland. After decades of violence, a peace process was being born.
The Clinton administration was considering whether to issue a visa for Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, to come to the United States.
By the end of December 1993, there were strong indications that the IRA might be prepared to end its violence and that a visa for Adams to come briefly to the US could help bring about a ceasefire.
John Hume, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for his efforts in Northern Ireland, and the then taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, supported the visa.
But the British government strongly opposed it, and so did many in the state department.
I, my brother, senator Ted Kennedy, and many others urged Bill Clinton to grant it. We agreed that IRA violence was indefensible, but we concluded that granting the visa could help bring it to an end.
The opportunity for a major breakthrough for peace was worth the political risk.
The visa was granted and the strategy worked. The IRA ceasefire came at the end of August 1994.
John McCain was among those who opposed Bill Clinton's peace efforts in Northern Ireland.
McCain followed Britain's lead and opposed giving Gerry Adams the visa. He described Clinton's involvement in Northern Ireland as "mistaken".
He dismissed those who urged Clinton to grant Gerry Adams the visa as "motivated by romantic, anachronistic notions of Irish republicanism".
I found that especially insulting since my brother, and many other Irish American leaders, including house speaker Tip O'Neill, senator Pat Moynihan, and governor Hugh Carey of New York had long opposed IRA violence.
McCain expressed concern about offending our British allies, and later said it was a "terrible mistake to give Gerry Adams the publicity that a visit to the White House gave him".
He publicly defied "anyone to show me how that contributed to peace in Ireland". If it had been left to John McCain, there would have been no Northern Ireland peace process and no peace today.
There have been many ups and downs in the peace process along the way. The ceasefire was temporarily broken in 1996. But 12 years later, it is abundantly clear that the strategy pursued by the Clinton administration - and strongly opposed by John McCain - helped pave the way for the historic 1998 Belfast Agreement.
I returned to Belfast in April of this year to mark the 10th anniversary of the agreement. Obviously, some problems continue, but the progress has been immense, because Catholics and Protestants are genuinely sharing power in Northern Ireland, and the peace process is now frequently cited as a model for achieving peace in other parts of the world.
On his historic visit to Ireland in 1963, another brother, John F Kennedy spoke of Ireland and the United States as two nations "divided by distance, united by history".
"No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States," he said.
If John F Kennedy were here today, I'm sure he would agree that no two people are more committed than Barack Obama and Joe Biden to strengthening the ties that bind America and Ireland.
They are committed to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, they are committed to restoring our respect and reputation in the world.
Irish Americans should be committed to them as well.
Jean Kennedy Smith was US Ambassador to Ireland from 1993 to 1998.
This article appeared in The Irish Times newspaper on Monday, October 6, 2008.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Dear Senator McCain,
Thank you for meeting with us on Monday September 22 in Scranton Pennsylvania to discuss our issues concerning the Irish American community. You did address the seven issues which we had given to you on a previous occasion and we were generally satisfied with your answers and your ideas to implement action on our behalf should you be elected in November. It was a great meeting but when you began your speech with a joke about the Irish, I and many of our fellow Irish Americans in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, were shocked. It was really an insult to a whole nationality to be stereotyped as drunks. The Irish are a jovial people who enjoy life, work hard, help the needy, support our community and our country yet get depicted as drunkards and partiers. As you stated in your speech yesterday the Irish have a great education and work ethic. Senator, I was not the only one offended and I received numerous complaints from a variety of people throughout Pennsylvania and other parts of the country. On behalf of these people, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and myself and my family, I wish you would refrain from demeaning the Irish or any other ethnic group by telling such jokes in the future. I think an apology is in order to those millions of Irish in the United States who were offended by your joke.
Ancient Order of Hibernians in America
Friday, September 19, 2008
"After consultations with the members of his senior panel of advisers on Irish issues and informal soundings with British and Irish officials, Senator Obama has said that if he becomes president, he will appoint a senior envoy to Ireland who will build on the groundbreaking achievements of the Clinton Administration and help bring the historic process to final fruition."
Issued by the Obama Campaign on September 18, 2008.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Recently, Senator Barack Obama asked me join a distinguished group of leaders who will advise him on Irish-American affairs. As the Chairman of the Friends of Ireland in the U.S. House of Representatives, it was a great personal honor to be chosen to serve on this senior advisory panel.
I know both Senator Obama and Senator Joe Biden share my longstanding desire to strengthen Irish-American political, economic and cultural ties. And I am certain that an Obama administration will make the pursuit of permanent peace and stability in Northern Ireland a top priority, will enact comprehensive immigration reform that keeps America ’s doors open and will improve the quality of life of Irish-Americans; and will restore America ’s standing in the world.
Like many of us, Barack Obama and Joe Biden come from Irish stock. Senator Obama’s great, great, great grandfather on his mother’s side set sail from County Offaly in 1850, arriving in New York and eventually settling in Ohio.
Senator Biden, who was born in the Irish-American stronghold of Scranton, Pennsylvania, traces his ancestry to County Mayo. Since the 1980’s, Obama has lived and worked on the South Side of Chicago, a neighborhood known for its large and prominent Irish-American community. This experience has given him a first-hand account of the remarkable contributions made by Irish immigrants to the United States.
I strongly believe the peace process in Northern Ireland is one of the most significant foreign policy accomplishments in recent memory. And the role the United States played in that effort was indispensable.
The peace accord in Northern Ireland, based on principles developed by George Mitchell, should be viewed as a model for successful conflict resolution around the globe. I know that Senator Obama agrees, and the creation of the advisory panel is an indication of the commitment his administration will bring to securing lasting peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
Just last week, he welcomed the latest report of the Independent Monitoring Commission that concluded the IRA does not present a threat to peace or democratic politics in Northern Ireland. That report was another reminder that the sectarian conflict is now well and truly over.
But while Northern Ireland experiences a period of unprecedented transformation, progress needs to be made by the political parties on the outstanding issues such as the devolution of policing and justice powers. I am confident that as President Barack Obama will be an enthusiastic supporter of the historic power-sharing government. And I am thrilled that he has pledged to visit the island of Ireland during his administration.
By contrast, John McCain has spent years ridiculing and minimizing U.S. efforts to help resolve the Troubles. In an article in Foreign Affairs, he said President Clinton’s efforts were “romantic” and accused him of undertaking his tireless work for peace in order to curry favor with Irish Americans.
He criticized the decision to grant Gerry Adams a visa, a development now considered crucial to the success of the peace process. He claimed our role in Northern Ireland was severely damaging our relationship with Great Britain.
Yet in a speech before Congress in 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly thanked America for its support of the peace process.
Quite simply, in the long march towards peace and stability in Northern Ireland, John McCain has been on the wrong side of history every step of the way.
Many people have now heard the inspiring story of how Barack Obama’s father came to the United States from Kenya on a student scholarship in the 1950s. On many occasions, Barack Obama has discussed how his father’s remarkable journey, and his own multi-ethnic family, have helped shape his view of the immigrant experience. As a result, he has developed a unique view of the “melting pot” that helps make America great.
While John McCain has shifted his position on immigration reform to appeal to his right wing base, Senator Obama has remained steadfast in his determination to fix a broken system. He attended a huge march in Chicago on behalf of immigration reform and played a leading role in drafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation. As President, he will forge a bi-partisan consensus to strengthen border security and fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy.
And John McCain? He was for comprehensive immigration reform before he said he would vote against it.
Here in the United States, Irish-Americans are suffering through the economic downturn like everyone else. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I know Senator Obama will reverse the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, tax cuts John McCain intends to preserve, and offer significant relief for working and middle class Americans.
He will enact an emergency economic plan to jump start the economy, provide a middle class tax cut of up to $1,000 for 95 percent of workers and their families, provide quality and portable health care coverage for every American, and offer a tax credit that will make college more affordable.
Whether it is immigration reform, the economy, energy policy or war and peace, the differences between Barack Obama and John McCain could not be more dramatic or profound. The Obama-Biden team is offering Americans an exciting blueprint for change while John McCain is running to give George W. Bush and his failed agenda four more years.
As Senator Obama said in Denver, this country has reached a defining moment in history. We either can look to the future with Barack Obama or return to the past with John McCain.
Congressman Richard E. Neal represents the second congressional district of Massachusetts.
This article appeared in the Irish Voice newspaper, September 18-24, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Irish advocates across the United States should be reassured by presidential candidate Barak Obama’s statement on Ireland, Northern Ireland and Irish-America, which he released the week of the Democratic National Convention.
It was the fourth of five Irish statements Obama’s campaign has issued in the past year, and it addressed immigration reform, investment in the island of Ireland and keeping the peace in Northern Ireland.
It also included a welcomed shout-out to Irish-Americans, focusing on the domestic policies Obama hopes will help blue-collar ethnic communities across America.
You can read the entire statement here.
What drew some attention is Obama’s passage on the US Special Envoy position to Northern Ireland, which reads:
Barak Obama will consult with the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister, and party leaders in Northern Ireland to determine whether a special U.S. envoy for Northern Ireland continues to be necessary or whether a senior administration official, serving as point person for Northern Ireland, would be most effective. As president, Barack Obama will personally engage on Irish issues whenever necessary.
I am encouraged by how this statement acknowledges the intricacies and nuances of Northern Ireland, and how it points to a fresh new approach to American foreign policy that has been sadly lacking these past eight years.
Barak Obama explicitly did not say that he would do away with the Special Envoy post, as some critics are unfairly suggesting. What he did say is that we need to evaluate the position to see how it serves the peace process.
Indeed, why shouldn’t a new president reach out to the people of Northern Ireland, to British and Irish government officials, and to party leaders? I would be happy if that brand of consensus-building becomes the hallmark of an Obama/Biden administration, not just in Northern Ireland but around the world.
But consensus-building is notably absent from the McCain campaign regarding this issue. Instead of consulting the people of Northern Ireland, as Obama would do, the McCain campaign is demanding that we automatically rubber stamp the Special Envoy position. End of conversation, no discussion needed.
It’s an unusual argument, given that Mr. McCain has not weighed in on the Special Envoy issue much over these past fourteen years. Now, some 50 days before the election, he wants it to be a permanent fixture in our foreign policy.
It’s also a faulty argument. The fact is the Special Envoy job has never been etched in stone, neither in definition, style, nor even in name. It is an evolving position that responds to the urgency of the moment in Northern Ireland, and to the priorities of the United States, especially after 9/11.
Over the past fourteen years, the United States has dispatched four Envoys to Northern Ireland – George Mitchell, Richard Haass, Mitchell Reiss, and Paula J. Dobriansky - spread across four terms of Democratic and Republican administrations.
President Bill Clinton first appointed George Mitchell in 1994, not as a Special Envoy, but as an Economic Envoy. Mitchell organized a successful White House Conference for Trade and Investment in May 1995, but it wasn’t until 1996 that Mitchell fully took on a Special Envoy role, heading up a three-man international commission to study the question of arms decommissioning.
Mitchell helped to usher in the 1998 Belfast Agreement, and many believe that may have been the high point of the Envoy role to date. Since then the other three envoys have done a commendable job keeping the peace process on track by essentially mediating and cajoling the people of Northern Ireland into governing themselves.
Paula J. Dobriansky is the current US Special Envoy, and has held the post since February 2007. By all accounts she is an outstanding public official and has carried out her tasks admirably. But she also has a much larger portfolio than just Northern Ireland.
As US Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, she is the point person on global human rights and labor; environment, oceans, health and science; population, refugees and migration; and women's issues. She is Special Coordinator on Tibetan Affairs, serving as a liaison between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama. This year alone Ambassador Dobriansky has been involved in Asian-Pacific Partnerships, US-India Global Issues, a Day of Solidarity with the Cuban People, and of course the US-Northern Ireland Investment Conference held in Belfast last May.
So, given the complexities and the range of American diplomatic issues in a post 9/11 world, Obama’s promise to evaluate the Irish Special Envoy post seems particularly timely and relevant. It will enhance everyone’s understanding of the position, not diminish it.
He has formed a Committee of our best Irish-American politicians to advise him. They include former Special Envoy George Mitchell, Senators Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd and Patrick Leahy, Congressmen Richard Neal and Joe Crowley and Governor Martin O’Malley. Along with vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, these politicians have decades of experience on Northern Ireland and a genuine commitment to the peace process.
When I read Obama’s statement that he will “personally engage on Irish issues when necessary,” it reminded me of a younger Bill Clinton, whom many of us campaigned for during the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns. Bill Clinton made good on his promise, and I believe Obama will too.
Former Envoy George Mitchell agrees. In a comment published in this week's Irish Echo, Mitchell said, "I don't think there is much doubt that he (Obama) will in fact continue the recent practice of appointing a special representative to the position that I myself held. I don't think it's an issue. I think he will do that."
What I admire about the Obama/Biden approach is the tone of respect it seeks to establish toward the Irish-American community. Both men understand the intricacies of the world we live in, and are determined to keep the peace process moving forward, not just in Northern Ireland but across the world.
That’s good for the United States, and frankly, that must be the foremost concern of every American voter.
But it is also good for Northern Ireland. Obama’s approach bespeaks diplomacy and statesmanship to the core, and after all, isn’t that what the Special Envoy position is all about?
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Friday, September 5, 2008
Ireland has been a trusted friend and cherished partner of the United States for many generations. When the Irish have landed on American shores, they have enriched the American spirit and helped fuel the U.S. economy. In recent years, Ireland has built an outstanding education system and transformed itself into an economically vibrant country that has inspired other nations. Northern Ireland’s example has also convinced millions of people living in violence and terror that peace is still possible -- through patience, political compromise, and tireless diplomacy.
Senator Obama has created this panel because as president he intends to do all the United States can do to help deepen the peace that so many have worked so hard to establish, and to strengthen U.S.-Irish cultural, educational, and trade ties, which are central to the identities of the United States and Ireland. “I am delighted to be able to call upon a ‘Dream Team’ of leaders who cherish the U.S.-Irish bond as I do,” said Senator Obama. “I look forward to putting in place policies that will fortify this indispensable relationship.”
- Issued by the Obama Campaign on September 1, 2008.
(Boston) – It doesn’t matter to me if Barak Obama can trace his Irish ancestry back to County Offaly. Or whether he marched in a recent St. Patrick’s Day parade, or whether he wears a shamrock on his lapel. And it shouldn’t matter to the Irish community in America either.
These are just incidentals that media pundits are grasping at to gauge Obama’s relationship with the Irish-American community.
To get a true measure of Obama’s stance on Irish issues, you need only refer to statements issued by his campaign over the past year. In those statements Obama has expressed support for issues important to Irish-American activists:
- Ensuring that Northern Ireland continues to progress under the principles of the Belfast Agreement;
- Continuing to develop trade and economic opportunities between the United States and Ireland and Northern Ireland as a way of strengthening cross-Atlantic partnerships; and
- Calling for comprehensive immigration reform to correct the failures of America’s current policies, while seeking a fair and equitable solution for the twelve million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the United States.
These issues are distilled from the five-point Irish Agenda that was developed in 1992 by a group called Irish-Americans for Clinton Gore. I was part of that effort, and crisscrossed the country with my then-boss, Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and others on the presidential campaign in 1992 and 1996.
When he became president, Bill Clinton embraced the Irish Agenda, and by doing so the United States helped to usher in relative peace and prosperity throughout the island of Ireland. Hope and history did indeed rhyme in the 1990s, as Seamus Heaney knew.
Because of that progress, the Irish Agenda is not as pressing today as it once was, but the United States can continue to play a role, especially in regards to monitoring progress in Northern Ireland. I am gratified to know that Senator Obama publically supports these issues.
That said, it is important to emphasize that this presidential race is not about Ireland and the Irish. It is about the United States and Americans. That must be the focal point for anyone who is planning to vote this November.
I mention this because some pundits are still acting like its 1992. They’re trying to cast the choice between Barak Obama and John McCain as a referendum on which candidate embraces Irish issues most enthusiastically. It’s not about that.
Others are suggesting that voters in America’s heartland who happen to have Irish surnames might not vote for Obama because he hasn’t reached out to them as Irish-Americans. That is a ruse that I find offensive.
As someone born and raised in Pennsylvania, and having lived in Ohio, Alabama, California, New York and now Massachusetts in my adult life, I can tell you what Americans in the heartland with Irish surnames are thinking about.
It’s exactly what people with Polish, Chinese, Italian and Hispanic names are thinking.
They’re weighing up which candidate will best lead the United States over the next four to eight years. They’re considering which candidate has the best ideas for improving America’s economy, health care, education and environment. They’re deciding which candidate can best solve America’s problems having to do with war, immigration, race relations and energy resources.
And yes, they are looking for someone like John F. Kennedy who has the vision to lead our country in a manner that lives up to America’s enormous promise as a nation blessed with unparalleled opportunities, resources and freedoms.
It is inevitable that special interest groups play a role in American politics, and the Irish are no different in that regard. But I want to suggest that the times are different, certainly much different than they were in 1992, and Irish advocates need to keep this in mind.
In 2008, what matters more than ever is the well-being of our nation, the United States. There is a huge difference between Barak Obama and John McCain, and it doesn’t revolve around who is more Irish. It revolves around which candidate is best for America.
If Americans don’t get that right in this election, the whole world, including small countries like Ireland, will suffer in the long run.
Michael P. Quinlin is president of the Boston Irish Tourism Association and the author of the book Irish Boston.
- This article appeared in the Irish Echo newspaper, August 27-September 2, 2008.
BARAK OBAMA: ON IRELAND, NORTHERN IRELAND AND IRISH AMERICA
Irish Ancestry: Barack Obama was delighted to learn last year that a maternal ancestor, Falmouth Kearney, emigrated to America from Ireland. Falmouth, Barack Obama’s great great great grandfather, left Moneygall, County Offaly, on a ship called Marmion. He arrived in New York on March 20, 1850, and first settled in Wayne, Fayette County, Ohio, joining relatives who had previously settled there.
Contribution of Irish Immigrants to America: Barack Obama recognizes the important contributions that generations of Irish Americans have made to the United States, many of which were written about in 1958 by then Senator John F. Kennedy in his book, A Nation of Immigrants. The Protestant Scots-Irish were some of the earliest American immigrants; they fought in our war for independence. Many Catholic immigrants fled Ireland’s Famine in the mid-19th century. They built our railroads and canals and contributed to society as influential political and labor leaders. The 38 million descendants of the Irish and Scots-Irish continue to serve our country and honor the sacrifices of their ancestors.
Supporting Irish Americans: Barack Obama understands that there is not a monolithic ‘Irish American’ vote. He appreciates the support of Irish Americans and, as president, will work with the Irish American community to stand up to special interests. He will bring America together to reclaim the American dream and restore America’s standing in the world. Obama will provide affordable, quality and portable health care coverage for every American that will save a typical American family up to $2,500 every year; enact an emergency economic plan to jumpstart the economy; help families offset some of the costs of filling up the gas tank and surging food prices; prevent the layoff of one million workers, and get our economy back on track; create a middle class tax cut of up to $1,000 for 95 percent of workers and their families; eliminate income taxes entirely for seniors making less than $50,000; make college affordable by providing a fully refundable tax credit that will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans. Barack Obama will achieve success in Iraq and bring the war to a responsible end.
Support a Lasting Peace in Northern Ireland: Barack Obama is committed to continuing U.S. support for solidifying the peace in Northern Ireland. He pays tribute to the work of many Americans in the peace process: Senator Ted Kennedy, for more than 35 years, has been the leader of Congressional support for peace in Northern Ireland. Along with Tony Lake, then national security adviser, and Jean Kennedy Smith, then Ambassador to Ireland, Senator Kennedy and others helped persuade President Clinton to grant Gerry Adams a visa to visit the United States in 1994 because they believed it could contribute to the efforts for peace. President Bill Clinton’s commitment, persistence, and personal involvement were crucial to achieving the Good Friday Agreement. Senator George Mitchell’s tireless work and unceasing patience in chairing the negotiations resulted in the Agreement; he often persevered when others would have given up. First Lady Hillary Clinton encouraged the women of Northern Ireland to participate in the political process; as a U.S. Senator, she has continued her strong commitment and helped advance that process. Numerous other members of Congress have devoted their time and attention to the cause of peace in Northern Ireland. And countless private individuals and organizations, including community leaders, labor leaders and business leaders all played significant roles in achieving peace.
In early 2007, Barack Obama noted that the IRA had abandoned violence and arms and Sinn Fein had voted to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). He called on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to take the next step outlined in the St. Andrews Agreement and create a power-sharing executive so Northern Ireland could continue the process of peace that its people so clearly wish to follow.
In March 2007, Barack Obama welcomed the power sharing agreement reached between the DUP and Sinn Fein, which led to the creation of a devolved government in Northern Ireland in May. He lauded the first faceto- face meeting between Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley, Sr. and welcomed the news that, Reverend Paisley, who would become the First Minister in the Assembly, would be having a series of meetings with Martin McGuinness, who would become the Deputy First Minister.
In April 2008, Barack Obama welcomed the 10-year anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, observing that neither the work for peace nor our responsibility to help achieve it ended with the Agreement. He reiterated his call for the devolution of justice and policing and noted the need for reconciliation so that Northern Ireland's people can live together as neighbors instead of being segregated by “peace walls.” Obama recognizes that the Bush Administration continued to support this process, which ultimately resulted in the establishment of the Assembly that the people of Northern Ireland have today.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Barack Obama spoke with then Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and reiterated his strong commitment that his Administration will be a good friend of Ireland and Northern Ireland. He congratulated the Taoiseach on the tremendous progress made in Northern Ireland over the past year with the establishment of the Assembly and the Executive. They discussed the outlook for the future of Northern Ireland and Barack Obama raised the issue of the devolution of justice and policing, which he said he hoped would occur very soon.
Barack Obama understands that U.S. attention and support will be required to solidify the peace. But he also recognizes that the crisis period for Northern Ireland has passed and that the people of Northern Ireland are now in charge of their own destiny. He will consult with the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister, and party leaders in Northern Ireland to determine whether a special U.S. envoy for Northern Ireland continues to be necessary or whether a senior administration official, serving as point person for Northern Ireland, would be most effective. As president, Barack Obama will personally engage on Irish issues whenever necessary.
Barack Obama will continue the tradition of welcoming the Irish Prime Minister to the White House on St. Patrick’s Day, and he intends to visit Ireland as president.
Support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Barack Obama will pursue comprehensive immigration reform that keeps open the doors of opportunity in our country. His father’s experience has informed his own views on the issue, and he has seen the enormous contributions that Irish immigrants have made to this country. In 2006, Obama marched in Chicago, IL, on behalf of immigration reform, walking shoulder to shoulder with many Irish Americans who shared their own personal stories of hope and opportunity. Barack Obama has played a leading role in crafting comprehensive immigration reform and believes that our broken immigration system can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a solution that strengthens our security while reaffirming our heritage as a nation of immigrants. His plan will strengthen border security, fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy, and secure a responsible path to earned citizenship for undocumented workers and their families.
Support a Changing Relationship with a Changed Ireland: The ties between America and Ireland go far beyond bloodlines. U.S. investment in Ireland helped create the Celtic Tiger, and Ireland’s economic success in turn led to a boom in Irish investment in the United States. Incalculable cultural, educational, and business exchanges draw us together, as do common causes and common beliefs.
Barack Obama knows that Ireland has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, and for the better. Northern Ireland does not require our daily attention, and as Ireland is now one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is natural that our relationship will evolve accordingly. Prime Minister Cowen clearly recognizes this as well, and Barack Obama welcomes the Taoiseach’s recent call for a review of Ireland-U.S. relations. Barack Obama looks forward to building on this important relationship in a way that treats the Irish as the full partners that they are.
- Issued by the Obama Campaign on August 25, 2008.
- See previous Obama statements at:
- See previous Obama statements at: