A palpable sense of history being made, says Cowen


POLITICAL REACTION:TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen yesterday led Irish tributes to the election of Barack Obama talking of a "palpable sense of history" being made with the election of the first African-American president.

Mr Cowen said that Senator Obama's success reminded the world of those who struggled for civil rights in America for so many years, as well as all who worked for justice. Speaking at Government Buildings, Mr Cowen said that it was a historic day for America and the wider world.

"On a personal and human level, his story is a wonderful one and the fact that a person such as Barack Obama has been elected to be the president of the United States is a further indicator of how strong democracy is in the US, where people of opportunity and talent can strive for the highest office," he said.

He also congratulated the vice president-elect Joe Biden, whom Mr Cowen said was "very proud of his Irish roots in Pennsylvania and Delaware". And in a tribute to Senator John McCain, Mr Cowen said that he had also contributed to democratic life in the United States.

"He's been a great friend of Ireland. I think that everybody has been very impressed by his concession speech," he said.

The Taoiseach, when asked about Senator Obama's criticisms of insufficient tax being repatriated to the United States, said it might not necessarily have implications for US companies investing in Ireland.

"Usually these comments are directed against designated tax havens which certainly Ireland is not one. We have genuine economic activity going on here by 500 US companies providing a lot of investment and opportunity at home but also assisting those companies in the competitive role that they have worldwide," he said.

Mr Cowen extended an invitation to the president-elect to visit Ireland during his term of office. He also voiced his hope that the St Patrick's Day "shamrock ceremony" - which has become an annual event at the White House in recent years - would continue under an Obama presidency.

"[ Senator Obama] has some ancestral roots here in Ireland and he would be welcome to come at any time for whatever political or personal work he would like to conduct here.

"Our next scheduled meeting would be in the US during the St Patricks's Day celebrations. We would be hopeful we would be able to meet him then and discuss many issues of mutual concern as he settles into his new role," said Mr Cowen.

President Mary McAleese also warmly congratulated Mr Obama praising the transformational power of his election.

"It serves as a beacon of hope, not just in America, but around the world, particularly in these turbulent times of anxiety and uncertainty," said Mrs McAleese.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the victory would have profound implications for governance in many countries.

"Barack Obama epitomises the hopes of a new generation and the realisation of lost opportunities for older people. Most of all, he has tapped into and redirected the frustration of millions of people into the Democratic cause.

"His presidency will have a truly transforming capacity not only in America but also in many other countries, with particular impact on countries in Africa," he said.

Mr Kenny said he trusted that Mr Obama would continue the strong relationship with Ireland. Like Mr Cowen, he also said he would like to Mr Obama visit Ireland.

Eamon Gilmore, leader of the Labour Party, also portrayed it as an historic day for the United States.

"I hope that it will now open a new and more hopeful chapter for the American people and the people of the world," he said.

However, he expressed concern about some of the tax policies of his campaign which may make it more difficult for US companies investing in Ireland.

Green Party leader John Gormley said he was encouraged by the new policy pledges, especially on climate change and energy issues.

"His commitment to re-engage with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is already encouraging," said Mr Gormley.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams also congratulated Senator Obama and said he had been encouraged by his commitment to continue US support for the Irish peace process.