Barack and Michelle Obama to be awarded freedom of Dublin

Ex-US president and his wife will receive the honour following vote by city councillors

US president Barack Obama and Michelle Obama during a visit to Belfast in 2013. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

US president Barack Obama and Michelle Obama during a visit to Belfast in 2013. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Former US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are to be awarded the freedom of the city of Dublin, following a vote by city councillors on Monday evening.

Labour Lord Mayor of Dublin Brendan Carr had proposed Mr Obama for the city’s highest honour, citing Mr Obama’s Irish roots, his support for the peace process in Northern Ireland and his importance as a symbol for minorities in the US and worldwide.

While an official invitation will be issued, it is not clear if the Obamas will attend a ceremony to accept the honour.

Mr Carr said that, in light of US president Donald Trump’s first weeks in office, Mr Obama would be remembered as a “stabilising and moderating” influence on US foreign policy.

“A similar era, unfortunately, will not be experienced again for some time,” he said.

“I am not proposing that we canonise the Obamas, or declare Barack Obama’s presidency a success.

“But I do believe that Dublin City Council should seek to recognise their achievements and their vision for a better, fairer world.”

Nominating individuals to receive the freedom of the city is the prerogative of the Lord Mayor, but in order to award the honour they must have the support of councillors.

A majority of 30 councillors supported the proposal, while 23 voted against.

There was loud opposition from councillors opposed to the move on the basis of Mr Obama's use of drone strikes and involvement in deportations.

Among those who spoke out against the proposal were councillors from the Workers’ Party, the Green Party, and the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit.

‘Stability and reason’

Mr Carr said Mr Obama had “succeeded in being a voice of stability and reason” in a world where such attributes were increasingly rare.

“Honouring them with the highest award we can grant - the freedom of Dublin city - would reflect our shared commitment to a vision of a more tolerant world,” Mr Carr said.

It is almost six years since Mr and Ms Obama addressed a crowd of about 60,000 people at College Green in Dublin, and spoke warmly of the relationship between Ireland and the US.

Kevin O’Malley, who served as US ambassador to Ireland during Mr Obama’s second term, recently said Mr Obama was planning to visit the Republic at some point this year.

Mr Obama’s eighth cousin Henry Healy, from Moneygall, Co Offaly, said an invitation to visit the State had been extended to Mr Obama in 2013, but that he could not attend due to security issues.

“The president is coming back to Ireland and we would be hopeful he will pay another visit to Moneygall,” said Mr Healy.

“He has Irish ancestry here so we’re very much looking forward to having him down again.”