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: