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Irish still give Obama a green light

Obama, with an assist from Hillary Clinton, has kept Ireland happy during his first year in office.

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, leaves the U.S. Capitol Building following lunch there with Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, right, on St Patrick's Day in Washington, March 17, 2009. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

DUBLIN, Ireland ― One year after President Barack Obama took office, the “special relationship” between the United States and Ireland is as strong as ever.

The term was once used exclusively to denote the close Washington-London alliance but it was hijacked by Ireland after relations with Dublin blossomed during the Clinton administration.
President Clinton made Ireland the only country with guaranteed top-level access to the White House on one day every year — St Patrick’s Day.

President George W. Bush continued this practice and so too has Obama, somewhat to the relief of the Irish government, which feared he might have other priorities.

But, then, Barack Obama is from Chicago which, as everyone in Ireland knows, is an outpost of the Emerald Isle. And so far, the Irish have been pleased with what they see:

  • On March 17, 2009, the president welcomed the Irish prime minister, Brian Cowen, for the ritual gift of shamrock and substantive discussions on Northern Ireland and trade and investment.
  • His appointment of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a long-standing supporter of Ireland, as U.S. ambassador to Dublin was very well received in Ireland.
  • So, too, was the visit in October of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been to Dublin and Belfast so many times as first lady and senator she knows everyone by their first names.
  • The U.S.-Ireland relationship was further strengthened by Clinton's appointment of New York-based Irish businessman Declan Kelly as U.S. economic envoy to Northern Ireland.
  • Clinton’s visit was marked by an announcement that the New York Stock Exchange would open a branch in Belfast creating 400 jobs, and of continuing U.S. commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process.

All this showed that “the fear that this administration would in some way sideline Northern Ireland has proven to be unfounded,” said Kingsley Aikins, president and CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Funds, a global philanthropic network supporting projects on both sides of the Irish border.

Aikins believes that “despite the tougher ride critics in the U.S. are currently giving President Obama, one year on Irish people still hold him in high regard and less to blame for current woes.”

(Read about Ireland's enthusiasm for O'Bama at the time of his inauguration.)

This view is widely shared in Dublin, partly for historical reasons, and partly because his predecessor was so unloved, and Irish people really want the new president to succeed.

“I think people in Ireland are very positive towards Obama as they are traditionally inclined to support the Democratic Party, and George W. Bush was very unpopular because of his international policies, particularly in Iraq,” said public relations executive Michael Keane of Insight Consultants in Dublin.