Obama visit will be hot on queen’s heels

BACK-TO-BACK state visits will take place at the end of May, with US President Barack Obama likely to arrive on the 21st — just a day after the Queen of England departs.

Hopes are high that the US president will come to Cork as part of what is expected to be a two or three-day visit in which his wife Michelle will meet children at a number of schools around the country.

As details of the presidential trip are worked out by governments both sides of the Atlantic, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would “love to” accompany the president if her schedule allowed.

It is uncertain if the president will visit Enda Kenny’s home county of Mayo. It’s more likely that Vice-President Joe Biden will travel to the county, where his mother came from, when he pays an official visit later in the year.

Hopes that the president will visit Cork were given a massive boost after he mentioned anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass during his St Patrick’s Day reception in the White House.

While the president is expected to visit his ancestral home in Moneygall, Co Offaly, influential Irish-American politicians working on a human rights initiative in Cork in honour of Douglass said his comments are hugely significant.

Mr Obama said Douglass and emancipator Daniel O’Connell “shared a universal desire for freedom; one that cannot be contained by language or culture or even the span of an ocean”.

“Stories like this remind us just how deeply intertwined our two nations are,” he said.

Four US congressmen including Joseph Crowley, a six-term member of the US House of Representatives and co-chair of the house’s committee for Irish affairs, have now formally invited the president to visit Leeside to unveil the Frederick Douglass Monument and Memorial Lecture Series in University College Cork.

“The statue will be the first monument in Ireland honouring an African- American, and as such will serve as a powerful symbol of the shared history between Irish-Americans and African-Americans,” said Mr Crowley.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last night that the visit means Mr Obama “believes in Ireland” and it is now time to start believing in ourselves. He said no country could expect to have the British queen and the American president visit within a week of each other, and it is a huge opportunity for Irish tourism, Irish business and the Irish people.

Mr Kenny said when Mr Obama referred to offering Ireland “practical assistance”, he meant close co-operation.

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