Rooney widely tipped as US envoy

 

PROMINENT IRISH-AMERICAN businessman Dan Rooney, owner and chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, is widely tipped to be the next US ambassador to Ireland, in succession to Thomas C Foley.

The appointment is expected to be announced on or near St Patrick’s Day, in line with tradition. Other names featuring in speculation are Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president John F Kennedy, and leading trade unionist John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO.

In an interview with a local TV station in Pittsburgh this week, Mr Rooney, a co-founder of the Ireland Fund charity with Dr Tony O’Reilly, was asked if he would like to be appointed to the job. He replied: “It would be interesting.”

When it was put to him that he had all the right credentials, he answered: “I have the credentials, there’s no doubt about that.”

A well-placed Irish-American source commented last night: “If Dan wants it, Dan gets it.”

Now aged 76, Mr Rooney is hale and hearty and flies his own plane. He was an early backer of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency.

According to the Irish Voice newspaper, “He was so impressed by Obama’s oratory back in January that he called his son Jim and told him he was going to work for the Democratic candidate.

“At the time Obama was an outsider, looking as if he was going to get crushed by the Clinton machine. Rooney, however, saw something he really liked.

“In April he wrote a long letter to his friends and associates backing Obama, at a time when Clinton was vastly more popular in Pennsylvania.

“Then in late October, during Obama’s last trip to Pennsylvania, Rooney presented him with a Steelers jersey, a move that drew criticism from some life-long conservative Steelers fans.”

With his deeply-held traditional Catholic views and opposition to abortion, Mr Rooney is not a typical Obama supporter but he has a much-praised record of hiring African-Americans in Pittsburgh.