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Friday, September 5, 2008

Obama's Irish Statement Issued at Democratic National Convention

The determined optimism of the Irish people has enabled them to grab hold of hope in the United States, from South Boston to the south side of Chicago. It’s an optimism expressed in three issues so important to Irish Americans today: a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, an American immigration policy that keeps faith with our tradition of offering opportunity to those who seek it, and strong economic and cultural ties between our two nations.”

[Barack Obama, February 2007]


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:

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