President praised for Bills passed in first term


DEMOCRATS ABROAD:IN HIS first term to date President Barack Obama “has passed more Bills than any president in history”, Dennis Desmond, chairman of the Irish branch of Democrats Abroad, said in Dublin yesterday.

He was speaking prior to a showing of the documentary Barack Obama’s Irish Roots, directed by Gabriel Murray and produced by Don McGuinness.

Mr Desmond said Mr Obama had “saved the American auto industry, introduced healthcare reform, wound down the war in Iraq, repealed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and raised America’s reputation abroad”.

All of this, he said, had been done while the right disagreed with him and the left said it was not enough.

Mr Obama had achieved so much it could not be “overstated”, he said, and that not since president Kennedy “have we had a president of which we could be as proud”.

Mr Desmond said there were “potentially, 100,000 US citizens in Ireland . . . all have the right to vote . . . and our job is to get that vote out”.

Minister of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Jimmy Deenihan commenting on the closeness of US-Irish relations, said that this translated into 498 US firms employing 90,000 people in Ireland while, on the other hand, it also meant “220 Irish firms employing 80,000 people in the US, where Ireland is the 13th biggest investor”.

He noted that there were one million US visitors to Ireland in 2007, but that this was down to 800,000 last year. “Hopefully this visit will improve that,” he said.

He referred to the Culture Ireland Campaign in the US, led by actor Gabriel Byrne, which was successful and had done a lot to improve the country’s reputation there after Dublin had been described as “the Wild West of banking”. It was important, he said, that “we hang out our best colours” for the visit as we did for the Queen.

Author Don Mullan, whose book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, is published to coincide with the visit of Mr Obama, spoke of the then 27-year-old Douglass’s “transformative” visit to Ireland in 1845, during which he met his hero Daniel O’Connell.

A statue commemorating Douglass is being prepared and a model of it will be shown to Mr Obama at Farmleigh by Taoiseach Enda Kenny today.

A decision on where it is to be located in Dublin has yet to be decided. Mr Mullan also said that a Frederick Douglass-Daniel O’Connell lecture series was being planned for the US and Ireland to honour both men.

Meanwhile, at a separate pre-Obama event in Dublin, Irish-born New York-based journalist Niall O’Dowd said Ireland’s difficulties are overstated. “We’ve all been here before,” he recalled, having left Ireland in the 1980s, “and so many good things have happened”.

He was speaking in the Mansion House following his acceptance of the inaugural John Boyle O’Reilly Society award “for his tireless and outstanding contribution to journalistic and literary endeavours and his relentless commitment to bonding relations between the Atlantic alliance, Ireland and America.”

Mr O’Dowd, founder of Irish, Irish America magazine and the Irish Voice newspaper, was central to the involvement of former US president Bill Clinton in the Northern Ireland peace process.

The award also celebrates John Boyle O’Reilly who, like Mr O’Dowd, began his media career in Drogheda before emigrating to the US where he founded the Boston Pilot, forerunner of the Boston Globe.