Montana governor in Waterford for flag festival


THE MAN tipped as a possible US president in 2016 is in Waterford this weekend as a guest of honour at a celebration to mark the launch of the tricolour in the city.

Democrat governor of Montana Brian Schweitzer was invited to attend the ceremonies in honour of local man Thomas Francis Meagher, a leader of the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848.

In a remarkable but short life, Meagher was exiled to Tasmania for sedition in the same year in which he flew the flag, escaped to the US where he fought in the civil war and eventually became the second governor of Montana.

Mr Schweitzer, the 23rd governor of the state, said he was delighted by the invitation to celebrate Meagher’s vision of a peaceful Ireland and the contribution Irish emigrants made to the US. A forthright politician known for his colourful language, Mr Schweitzer is the grandson of Irish immigrants from counties Tyrone and Donegal.

Immigration, he says, explains why the US leads the world in innovation, risk-taking and the creation of mavericks.

“We need to continue to be that place that beckons to people who want to raise another generation that challenges the status quo.”

Addressing Ireland’s current economic problems, he says what we most need is a sense of optimism. “You need to be able to believe in the future. People need to believe that next year will be better than this year.”

Ireland’s strongest card is the high level of education, he says. “We need to revere technologists and engineers that create new products, It isn’t politicians who change the world, it’s engineers with ideas.” Although Montana is three times the size of Ireland, its population is just one million. Despite this, Mr Schweitzer is being spoken of as a possible contender for the US presidency in four years’ time because of his popularity in a traditionally Republican state and his success in running a budget surplus.

A farmer and rancher who has lived in the Middle East and speaks Arabic, he describes himself as “a pragmatist, good with money, a businessman who challenges expense and a passionate investor in education”.

He is mildly critical of Barack Obama’s failure to push through more healthcare reform and withdraw from Afghanistan, but puts this down to political divisions in Washington.

Mr Schweitzer says the US should “think thrice” about attacking Iran over its nuclear ambitions. “There are times like in World War Two when there’s no one left to stand up to the tyrant. But so many of these excursions around the world by the US have more to do with enriching the military-industrial complex who make the planes and bombs than with defending the people back home.”

Montana has 10 per cent of the world’s coal but it also has huge wind energy potential, a cause pushed by Mr Schweitzer against Republican opposition which, he jokes, held that “wind energy is for hippies living on a mountain-top smoking marijuana”.

Among the investors is Irish firm Gaelectric, which is developing technology to compress air in underground caverns for storage and later use to generate power.

These energy links between Ireland and Montana were discussed when Mr Schweitzer met Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte yesterday.

In true western style, Mr Schweitzer was sporting a bolo necktie in Dublin yesterday. He says he has over 1,000 such neckties. Asked how many guns he owns, he replies: “More than I need, less than I want”.