PRESIDENT Barack Obama will be the sixth President of America to visit Ireland when he arrives today.
Just like his five predecessors he can lay claim to Irish roots and say that his very welcome arrival on our shores is part homecoming, part political mission and, as sceptics can insist, part election photo opportunity.
Just as with Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush, genealogists can confirm that Barack Obama can trace a strand of his ancestry to one of the millions of Irish people who went to America over the last four centuries to try to build a new life.
That these Irish emigrants made a very significant contribution to building a new country, stabilising a fledgling democracy and helping it to become the world’s great superpower, is why this link has remained so strong and so celebrated.
Long may it remain so.
From an Irish point of view it is an amazing achievement that we should be so often represented — even if only tenuously — at the very highest level in the world’s great superpower. This representation has been echoed right across the highest levels of American business and public life. It may be that the influence of the Irish in America has passed its high water mark but the ties remain strong enough to shape modern Ireland in the most basic ways.
Without President Bill Clinton’s unwavering commitment and forcefulness the North’s path to peace would have been even more difficult that it already was. His interest and persistent optimism made a huge contribution to the establishment of the political processes that made terrorist violence even more pointless than it already was.
It is not stretching things too far to say that without President Clinton’s commitment — and especially that of his ever-patient envoy Senator George Mitchell — last week’s hugely successful visit by Queen Elizabeth would not have been possible.
The depth of that relationship is reflected too in our commitment to maintaining our current arrangements on corporation tax. A shared heritage can open doors, but it takes something more tangible to sustain the flow of direct investment by American firms to Ireland. Though Ireland has a lot to contribute to the dynamics of a successful industrial investment our corporation tax rate has been central to the creation of hundreds of thousands of invaluable jobs. It is a vital link in that chain and it must be protected.
From an American point of view it is not surprising that a great number of their presidents could claim Irish roots as so many of the 312,000,000 or so Americans alive today can claim some link with a range of countries, including Ireland.
The ebb and flow of political and social power in America reflects the changing demographics of the world’s great melting pot. President Obama may be the epitome of that energising diversity but we should all celebrate the fact that he chooses to celebrate his links with Ireland however distant.
It would be nearly impossible for him to overshadow the significance and great historical emotion inherent in last week’s state visit by Queen Elizabeth, but he is nonetheless very welcome to the country that sent Falmouth Kearney, his great-great-great-grandfather, from Moneygall to New York in 1850.
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