Tom Foley, who served as US ambassador for nearly three years under George W Bush, is amazed the president has not even managed to nominate someone for the post. The vacancy was one issue raised by Taoiseach Enda Kenny during his meeting with President Obama in the White House last week.
The president is “intent on dealing” with the replacement of Dan Rooney, who left the post in December 2012, the Taoiseach was assured.
But Mr Foley, a Republican currently running for Governor of Connecticut, believes the president is overwhelmed, leaving many jobs undone, including the filling of diplomatic posts.
Ireland is one of only a handful of countries without a US ambassador, but these include ones where relationships are frosty at best, including Venezuela and Bolivia.
In the absence of an ambassador, the work is carried out by the Charge d’Affaires, a career civil servant but someone who “does not have the juice,” Mr Foley said.
“The ambassador has a personal relationship with the president. If something needed to be done, he or she can call the president. There’s a lot more juice,” said Mr Foley, who spent much of his time in Phoenix Park from 2006 to 2009 shoring up his administration’s image and reputation, deeply tarnished by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr Foley said he cannot understand why there has not even been a nomination. Ambassadors have to be confirmed by Congress before taking up posts.
“To not even nominate somebody for nearly 18 months? He knew Dan Rooney was leaving Thanksgiving 2012, but has not even nominated somebody. I think a president more on top of his game would have done so.
“It’s too much golf and not enough work . . . If he knocked off one round of golf he could take care of it.”
Mr Foley added: “I think the Irish should not take it too personally, because there is an awful lot of other diplomatic appointments not made or stalled.”
Leading Irish-Americans are, however, deeply critical of the administration’s failure to appoint an ambassador, with New York-based lawyer and activist Brian O’Dwyer describing it as a “slap in the face” to Irish America and Ireland.
Among the names touted as possibilities are Missouri businessman Tom Carnahan and Washington lawyer Mark Tuohey.
Another possibility is Bill Daley, President Obama’s ex-chief of staff and brother of Chicago’s former mayor Richard Daley.