HEAD TO HEAD

 

Would an Obama presidency be best for Ireland? Kate Fitzgeraldargues 'yes', Obama would benefit Ireland by reviving the economy, remaining engaged with Northern Ireland and favouring diplomacy over aggression, while Grant Lallysays 'no', Barack Obama's suggestion that there might be no need for a US special envoy to Northern Ireland shows his naivety and lack of experience.

YES:THERE HAVE been few more important friendships than that between the United States and Ireland. For many Americans, being of Irish descent is a badge of honour, and for many Irish, America has been a beacon of hope and opportunity. The Irish were key in building entire American cities, and in return, many years later, America gave back by investing in the Irish economy and by giving Irish immigrants a chance, so that one day they would return and make Ireland the economic success that it is today, writes Kate Fitzgerald

The last eight years have been difficult for this friendship. In the days following September 11th, Ireland and the world gathered in support of the US. This overwhelming show of support and sympathy was squandered by the Bush administration through misguided wars. If America was to counter the threat of something as intangible as terrorism, it could only lead by example.

Barack Obama understands the importance of America's responsibility to the world. As the son of an immigrant who has lived outside of the US, he has seen America from the outside. He won the Democratic primaries as the only candidate who voiced his opposition to the war in Iraq. He understands the effect of American choices on the world - economic mismanagement, costly wars, excessive dependence on oil, and neglect of the environment.

Democratic policies have been, historically, far more in tune with Irish ideals, and those of the EU.

The Democratic Party has enshrined in its platform not only the vital importance of working with other countries for common security, but also support for the EU as a strong partner for the US in the coming years.

This is an election year when the majority of Americans no longer see the option of diplomacy as a weakness but as a necessity to American strength and leadership in the 21st century world.

The Bush administration has spent an average of more than $12 billion a month on Iraq for the last eight years. The war was based on false threats and was sold to the American people as an important step in the "War on Terror".

The Bush administration failed to properly seek the support of Europe and the rest of the world, taking a stance that countries were either "with us or against us". Because of all of this, America is still pouring large amounts of money into cleaning up in Iraq, raising its national debt and reducing its economic stability. It is often said that when America sneezes, the world catches a cold. This has never been more true for Ireland. Ireland exports about 10 per cent of its GDP to the US and, according to the American Chamber of Commerce, US companies directly employ over 100,000 people in the Irish workforce.

Obama has pledged to reinvigorate the US economy through a $50 billion stimulus package aimed mainly at assisting middle- to lower-income families in the US. Once the US economy gets back on its feet, more trade and investment is possible for Ireland.

The Celtic Tiger was helped greatly by the economic prosperity under the Democratic Clinton administration which encouraged the expansion of many US companies to Ireland.

Ireland remains a particularly attractive destination for expanding American companies with a low corporate tax rate and a highly skilled and educated workforce.

Obama recently reaffirmed the importance of the Irish-American economic relationship, as well as the ties the two nations have, not only through bloodlines, but through common beliefs, aspirations and causes.

He has recently gone a step further in assembling great Irish-American politicians like Ted Kennedy and George Mitchell, to reach out to Irish-American voters.

Obama has also recently restated his commitment to a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Clinton played a significant role in crafting peace in Northern Ireland, and Obama will continue to seek to strengthen this peace.

Despite the McCain campaign's insistence that the Republican Party has enshrined in their platform a commitment to peace in Northern Ireland, the Bush administration in its two terms has done virtually nothing for Northern Ireland.

Throughout Obama's historic campaign for the presidency, people around the world have been inspired by his belief that it is in America's nature to be better, to have the right ideas, and to lead by example.

History has taught us that a strong America has always helped the Irish economy. Under Obama, America will favour diplomacy over aggression as a first resort. A peaceful world will always benefit Ireland and Europe.

• Kate C Fitzgerald is chairwoman of Democrats Abroad Ireland. US citizens in Ireland can register to vote on www.votefromabroad.org

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NO:THE 2008 election for president of the United States promises to be a critical election for Irish-American relations, with one candidate, Republican senator John McCain, having a record of support and personal engagement in the Irish peace process, and the other, Democratic senator Barack Obama, pledging to downgrade relations with Ireland, writes Grant Lally

"Obama to dump envoy" read the headlines of America's Irish newspapers, regarding Obama's statement about ending the bipartisan tradition of the president of the United States appointing a US special envoy for the Northern Ireland peace process.

McCain, himself a proud Irish-American, with his family roots reaching back to counties Antrim and Donegal, has been personally engaged with Ireland, and the peace process, to a degree unprecedented for any candidate for president since John F Kennedy.

He has taken a very different stand regarding the necessity of America remaining engaged in the peace process, insisting that America must stay engaged in Northern Ireland to ensure the continued success of the peace process.

Obama, once again demonstrating his total lack of experience and profoundly poor judgment on matters of foreign policy, has issued a statement questioning whether a special US envoy for Northern Ireland continues to be necessary.

The special US envoy was first appointed by President Clinton and has been critical to fostering peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

McCain is committed to maintaining the special envoy and that commitment has been enshrined in the 2008 Republican platform.

Read the statement issued by McCain: "That Senator Obama would be willing to toss aside one of the signature diplomatic accomplishments of the Clinton administration and put the progress in Northern Ireland at risk is only further evidence that he is simply not ready to lead."

McCain embodies the Celtic spirit of independence, toughness and integrity, which represents the best in the American tradition.

He loves Irish culture: attending the rallies for Irish immigrants sponsored by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform; sitting quietly in the audience at the Irish Embassy in Washington, deep in thought and reflection, for readings on Irish literature and poetry, and meeting with all the major political leaders in Northern Ireland.

McCain's engagement in Northern Ireland is reflective of his deeper interest and experience in international affairs.

He is a leader in the International Republican Institute, which supports party-building and elections in Latin America, eastern Europe, Africa and Asia.

He has personally observed the crises in places as diverse as the Caucuses, the Middle East, and South America.

He has been to South Ossetia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, and Brussels, meeting with the leaders there, on the ground.

McCain is a beloved figure for the Irish-American community, and deeply respected by the leaders of Ireland and the diplomatic corps who have come to know him. By contrast, Obama is a cipher, whose shifting and impulsive pronouncements on the world reveal an incredible naivety.

All the experience, engagement and lessons learned by the Clinton administration seem to have been tossed out the window by Obama and his team.

One of America's most respected Irish-Americans, Brian O'Dwyer, a Democrat, who himself and whose family have long distinguished themselves by serving America's most vulnerable, was aghast at Obama's inexperience on Ireland.

"It's hard for me to fathom how anyone who knows anything about Ireland would say this," stated O'Dwyer about Obama, concluding that if he [Obama] wins, "the operative word is detachment"from Ireland.

It was no coincidence that the first public appearance by McCain, on the day he announced his candidacy for president, was at an Irish-American Republicans cultural event in New York City.

Campaign banners proclaiming "Irish for McCain" and "Irish for McCain-Palin" festoon nearly every canvassing event for McCain.

McCain is a responsible, experienced and respected leader who will strengthen America's relations with the world, raise the level of engagement with Ireland to cement the Irish peace process, and work more closely with America's friends and allies in Europe to build a more stable, prosperous and peaceful world.

• Grant Lally serves as national co-chairman of the Irish American Republicans (www.IrishGOP.com); is the former president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform; and was a McCain delegate to the 2008 Republican National Convention