Cowen begins St Patrick's Day visit to US


TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen will today begin his trip to the United States with a visit to Chicago.

He will be in the city for the St Patrick’s parade this weekend and will meet mayor Richard M Daley and governor Pat Quinn.

From there he flies to Silicon Valley, then to Washington where he will meet secretary of state Hillary Clinton. On St Patrick’s Day, he will make a call on the White House to present a bowl of shamrock to President Barack Obama, and attend the Speaker’s Lunch on Capitol Hill.

Speaking to The Irish Times in his office at Government Buildings shortly before departure, Mr Cowen said he was glad to have time with President Obama.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with him again, he’s a very personable, gifted politician,” Mr Cowen said.

So would he be urging Mr Obama to come to this country in the near future?

“Well he knows there’s an open invitation there for him, I don’t think it’s necessary to continually refer to that. He’s aware obviously of his Irish heritage and whilst it’s some way back in his family history, he is conscious of it and he’s aware of it and asks about it.

“We’d love to see him come but that’s a matter for himself because he has a lot of things on his plate at the moment.”

In reference to a newspaper report that Mr Obama might visit this summer, a Government spokesman said he was not aware of any plans for the president to visit Ireland at a specific time.

Mr Cowen met US ambassador to Ireland Daniel Rooney at Government Buildings last Tuesday evening to discuss this week’s visit.

The Taoiseach believes there is a special regard for Ireland in the US political system, especially at this time of year.

“I’m very conscious of the fact, that, it’s a great day for Ireland, having such access to the biggest powers in the land both in terms of the executive through the presidency and the vice-presidency and obviously on the Hill as well.

“Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the house, again, has some strong Irish connections and from my point of view when you go to the Speaker’s Lunch and you see the many people who are there who are major political players it underlines the goodwill there is for the country.

Mr Cowen says “there is a strong sense of kinship” among Irish Americans in the US.

“I often feel with regard to coverage at home about St Patrick’s Day abroad, as if it’s just based on some sort of sentimentality: for Irish-Americans it’s a lot more than that.

“We’ve seen, through the peace process, through the political contacts we’ve had with them, the economic dividend we’ve drawn from America, the terms of, not just foreign direct investment but how Irish business is internationalised in America.

This meant there was “a growing, mutually beneficial trade relationship as well as being a strong political linkage” between Ireland and the US.