Dublin first to greet Obama on EU tour


BARACK OBAMA will begin the last European journey of his first term as president of the United States in Dublin on Monday morning.

He will spend Tuesday and Wednesday on a state visit to Britain; Thursday and Friday in Deauville for the G8 summit; then Friday and Saturday in Warsaw.

Ireland is the most personal, least political, leg of a trip that is intended to reassure Europeans that the US president values relations with Europe, the EU and Nato. Following French and British accusations of weak leadership in the Libyan crisis, Mr Obama is eager to reassert his role in international affairs.

Though the president is scheduled to spend only an hour in Moneygall, Co Offaly, the village his maternal great-great-great-grandfather Fulmouth Kearney left in 1850, the stop is considered the high point of the European tour by the American press.

“This is a homecoming of sorts for President Obama,” says Ben Rhodes, deputy national national security adviser for strategic communications and a speechwriter for the president. “He is very excited to see the small town in Ireland from which he has roots.”

Mr Obama’s first stop on Monday will be at Áras an Uachtaráin, where he and Michelle Obama will call on President Mary McAleese and Dr Martin McAleese. He will “honour Mrs McAleese’s extraordinary legacy of serving the people of Ireland and advancing the peace in Northern Ireland”, Mr Rhodes said.

Mr and Mrs Obama will then go to Farmleigh, where he will discuss bilateral issues with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. As Ireland’s Ambassador to the US Michael Collins notes, “the whole relationship is free of any major controversies or difficulties, so the president can come to Ireland very much in a celebratory mood.”

Prominent Irish-Americans who were briefed in a telephone conference by the deputy national security adviser Denis McDonagh yesterday asked whether the president would discuss the undocumented Irish in the US. Mr McDonagh referred them to the president’s recent speech in El Paso, which called for comprehensive immigration reform.

Mr McDonagh said the president would reiterate US support for the peace process in Northern Ireland, and US concern about recent sparks of violence. But he is unlikely to discuss the cessation (in congressional budget cuts) of US support for the International Fund for Ireland.

Mr Obama is also expected to express support for Irish peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, in particular Ireland’s participation in the Feed the Future global hunger and food security initiative.

The programme for the president’s public event in front of the portico of the Bank of Ireland on College Green on Monday evening will include a variety of musical and theatrical performances. Croke Park was rejected as a venue by the White House because it did not “look Irish” enough.

Mr Rhodes said the president’s speech on College Green “will be very Irish-focused. It’s a chance to talk about the enormous affinity that Americans have for Ireland, rooted in part in the huge population of Irish-Americans . . . It is a speech about the ties between our peoples, rather than a statement on policy.”

If any additions are made to the president’s schedule in Ireland, it will be a stop at Glasnevin Cemetery, to pay homage to Daniel O’Connell and the US abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Mr Obama will depart for London by mid-morning Tuesday.

The state visit to Britain will begin with lunch at Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. After a ceremony in Westminster Abbey and a first meeting with prime minister David Cameron, the Queen will hold a state dinner on Tuesday evening.

Mr Obama will attend a full bilateral meeting with Mr Cameron on Wednesday. He will deliver the “anchor speech” of his journey in the British parliament.

On the sidelines of the G8 summit in Deauville, Mr Obama will hold bilateral talks with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan. In Warsaw, the focus will be on security issues.