Obama pledges to boost Irish ties


US president Barack Obama has pledged to continue working with Ireland to see how economic investment and growth can be generated in both countries.

The US president held 40 minutes of talks with Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday morning, where they discussed economic issues and Mr Cowen updated the president on the latest developments in the peace process.

Speaking afterwards at a joint news conference, Mr Obama stressed the need for further economic stabilisation and welcomed the devolution of justice and policing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Obama also made particular mention of the Shannon airport stopover provided to the US military, a facility that has been criticised in the past by members of the Green Party. Mr Obama also expressed appreciation of the fact that Ireland had agreed to send members of the Garda Síochána to Afghanistan to assist with police training.

“On both sides of the Atlantic we are seeing stabilisation of the economy, but obviously we want more than just stabilisation," Mr Obama said.  “There are a lot of people out there that are still hurting, still out of work. And so we will continue to co-ordinate in international fora as well as bilaterally to see how we can spur investment and private sector growth on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Mr Cowen said: “How we can ensure that our economies recover as quickly as possible is something that’s very important to both our countries. And certainly in Ireland’s context, the resurgent US economy will be a strong indicator of our return to prosperity.”

Mr Cowen’s handling of the economy was expressly praised by US secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday night at an American Ireland Fund dinner: “I want to publicly commend him for the very difficult but essential decisions that he is making,” she said.

Noting that 36 million US citizens claim Irish ancestry, Mr Obama added: “America has been shaped culturally, politically, economically by the incredible contributions of Irish Americans.

"I’ve got the Taoiseach here to vouch for me," the president added, reminding everyone that an ancestor on his mother’s side was traced to Mr Cowen’s home county of Offaly.

"My first thought was, ‘Why didn’t anyone discover this when I was running for office in Chicago?’ I would have gotten here sooner," Mr Obama quipped. 

Mr Obama congratulated the Taoiseach and his Government for the “extraordinary” work on the peace process with British prime minister Gordon Brown and Mrs Clinton.

The Taoiseach said the people of Ireland were “deeply grateful for the continuing and deep commitment shown by the Obama administration” to Northern Ireland.

Referring to the vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly last week, Mr Cowen told 50 people at Vice President Joe Biden’s breakfast that “the last piece of the jigsaw is in place”.

Mrs Clinton concluded her remarks at the American Ireland Fund dinner on Tuesday night by saying “peace has come once and for all to Northern Ireland.”

Irish ambassadors and taoisigh have brought shamrock to the White House in a crystal bowl for the past 58 years.