With role of US ambassador still unfilled, what’s going on behind the scenes?
America Letter: The inordinate delay in the appointment is frustrating Irish-Americans
President Michael D Higgins and his wife, Sabina, with former US ambassador Dan Rooney at a reception for members of the diplomatic corps at Áras an Uachtaráin last year. Photograph: Alan Betson
The only time there was a longer delay in the appointment of a new US ambassador to Ireland was in 1935, and then the official title of the position was envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Irish Free State.
Dan Rooney stood down as ambassador on December 14th, 2012, after more than three years in Dublin, making it almost a year since the US has had an ambassador in Ireland.
By the time Alvin Mansfield Owsley was appointed US envoy in May 1935 by Franklin D Roosevelt, it had been 13 months since the death of his predecessor.
The role of ambassadors is important in the exchange of information and maintaining good relations between countries. Talking directly to the US ambassador lets the Government know that it has the ear of someone who in turn has the ear of the US president. Access is everything.
At a time when Ireland’s economic recovery rests on foreign direct investment, for the most part from the US, and when the hopes of thousands of undocumented Irish in the US rest on immigration reform, the US ambassador’s role takes on even greater importance.
Remember the bashing Ireland got in May when a US congressional panel slammed iPhone-maker Apple for its racy tax structures in Ireland? A well-timed meeting between a member of the Government and a politically connected US ambassador could have helped soften those blows.
It is understandable, therefore, that there should be much hand-wringing and frustration among Irish-Americans at the inordinate delay in the new appointment. Irish lawyer and lobbyist Brian O’Dwyer has described it as a “slap in the face” to the millions of Irish- Americans who supported US president Barack Obama.
While it is not the most important role in the US diplomatic service, the ambassadorship is attractive in a country full of politically connected Irish-Americans who wear their Irish heritage so proudly.
Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, lawyer Mark Tuohey and former Missouri congressman Russ Carnahan have all been linked to the vacant ambassador’s job on the Washington cocktail party circuit and elsewhere.
The raging speculation is that two candidates did not pass the vetting process or withdrew their names – in other words, they did not pass the vetting process – and that a third name is being considered.
Vetting can be onerous and protracted. One long-serving diplomat told me that even though they had cleared a diplomatic check many years previously, it took months for them to be vetted for a new role. Different answers to the same questions, asked decades apart, can be scrutinised, dragging out the process. One can only imagine the hoops that a non-political business figure must jump through.