Barack Obama plans return to Ireland in next year - ambassador

Kevin O’Malley does not think change to US corporate tax rate will affect investment in Ireland

US president Barack Obama at College Green, Dublin in 2011 . Photograph: Eric Luke

US president Barack Obama at College Green, Dublin in 2011 . Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Outgoing US president Barack Obama is planning to visit the Republic at some point this year, the US ambassador to Ireland has said.

It is almost six years since Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed a crowd of about 60,000 people at College Green, Dublin, and spoke warmly of the relationship between Ireland and the United States.

US ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley, who will leave his post on January 20th when businessman Donald Trump is inaugurated, said on Saturday that Mr Obama has indicated he is planning to return in the coming year.

“The last sentence the president said to me on Wednesday of this week, when we were saying goodbye, was ‘please tell them I’m coming’,” said Mr O’Malley. “I think that’s the president’s way of saying informally you will probably see him again, and my guess is in the coming year or so.”

Mr Obama’s eighth cousin Henry Healy from Moneygall, Co Offaly, said an invitation to visit 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.”

Mr O’Malley, who was speaking on the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio 1, also discussed the Trump administration’s plans to cut US corporation tax from 35 per cent to 15 per cent. He dismissed the suggestion the move would impact on the Republic’s ability to attract US companies, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 per cent.

“I don’t believe that if the taxation rules in the United States change - and particularly the corporation tax - that it would change investment by American companies in Ireland,” he said.

“Although tax is a reason for Ireland’s prosperity, it is not the [primary] reason. Americans need a market in the EU. We need a stopping off place for the EU and what better place than Ireland.

“We speak the same language. You use the euro so we only translate the money once, not twice. If Brexit goes through, you’ll be the only English speaking country in the EU. Your education system provides these great, dedicated, creative workers for us.

“But the real reason that these companies are here and doing so well is that we simply get one another. Americans like the Irish. You like dealing with us. We like being together.”

A report by aid agency Oxfam last month described the Republic as one of the worst tax havens in the world, on a par with countries like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands when it comes to helping big business dodge billions of euro each year in tax.

Mr O’Malley rejected the suggestion that Ireland is a tax haven. “When people speak about Ireland as a tax haven, it doesn’t ring true at all,” he said. “If you look at the big American companies that are here – 700 of them – they’re run by Irish people.

“They’re not run by Americans who are coming here with a brass plate, just changing addresses to avoid taxation. We believe that the Irish people are capable of running these big companies, and they have, and are making enormous profits.

“They’re employing numbers of people. They’re providing not only jobs, but state of the art jobs. They’re producing items everybody can be proud of. I don’t think the change in the tax rate is going to change foreign direct investment.”

Separately, Mr O’Malley described the June 2015 Berkeley balcony collapse in which five Irish students and an Irish-American student were killed as the “saddest time” of his tenure representing the US government in the Republic.

“There was a great outpouring,” he said. “Everybody seemed to know somebody who was directly affected by this. If I didn’t understand before, I certainly understood then, that family is the top priority in Ireland.”

Mr O’Malley is a lawyer from St Louis in Missouri. He is considered a leading authority on jury instructions in trials.

He was appointed ambassador to Ireland by Mr Obama in 2014.

He has strong Irish connections. His grandparents were natives of Co Mayo who emigrated to the US in the first half of the 20th-century.