Ed Crawford, US president Donald Trump's nominee to become the next US ambassador to Ireland, has pledged to work to further US-Irish relations and maintain US commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process if confirmed.
Appearing before the US Senate foreign relations committee at his confirmation hearing in the US Capitol, Mr Crawford said that the United States and Ireland had worked to resolve conflicts and foster prosperity throughout the decades.
“If confirmed, I pledge to work closely with the members of the foreign relations and commit to advance US interests and values in Ireland,” he told the committee.
Mr Crawford, who was accompanied by his wife and members of his wider family at the hearing, recalled how his mother had emigrated from Ireland in 1927 and his father in 1925.
Both had arrived in the United States at Ellis Island, he said. "They would be very proud of what we have accomplished as a family and our need to serve America."
Mr Crawford outlined how he had founded his manufacturing business in 1960 in Cleveland, Ohio, building it into an international business with revenues of $1.9 billion.
“In the 58 years building this company I learned a great deal about people,” he said, pledging to bring “knowledge and enthusiasm” to the role of ambassador.
Noting that his business was not a "high-tech business", but a business that makes products for trucks, washing machines, the aerospace sector, he said he was "very proud of our relationship with our factory employees." Park Ohio Holdings, a listed company, employs more than 7,500 people in the United States, Canada, China, India and elsewhere.
Noting that he owns a distribution business in Cork city which employs 17 people, he stressed that his business experience could be used in positive ways to develop the relationship between the United States and Ireland.
“I think I could be a very positive force for the goal to make the relationship stronger,” he said.
Brexit featured heavily during the hearing. Mr Crawford said that “it’s unfortunate that we have two of our closest allies, the EU and the UK, in this situation,” noting that it had affected Ireland “in very strange ways.”
Responding to questioning from New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen, who recalled crossing the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland before the peace process, Mr Crawford said that Brexit was "something that has to be settled by the two parties most concerned that is the EU and the UK." However, he said that it was the US position that the Good Friday agreement should be upheld at all costs.
Senator Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee, requested that Mr Crawford keep the Senate abreast of issues if confirmed as Ireland "moves through this potentially tumultuous period of time." He said that the relationship between the United States and Ireland was not just an economic one, but fundamental issues of peace had come into renewed focus since the Brexit vote.
“There’s a lot at stake if we don’t have a resolution, a good resolution, as it relates to Brexit. I hope that you will be committed to making sure that we solidify the commitment to our efforts to peace and justice in Northern Ireland.”
Ohio senator Sherrod Brown – a Democrat – also attended the committee meeting and spoke favourably about Mr Crawford, a Republican.
Mr Crawford's nomination must now go to a committee vote, and then before the full 100-member Senate before he is approved as the next ambassador to Ireland. That vote is unlikely to take place before May as Congress begins a two-week recess this weekend. Ireland has been without an ambassador for more than two years.