One of the oldest Irish Catholic organisations in the US, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), has criticised the Republican Party for a tweet it posted on its official account on St Patrick's Day that has been viewed as an attack on Irish culture.
The social media post featured a doctored photograph of Beto O'Rourke, a former Texas congressman who is seeking to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
The tweet from the account for the Republican National Committee read: "On this St Paddy's Day, a special message from noted Irishman Robert Francis O'Rourke." The words were posted over a photograph of Mr O'Rourke taken by police in 1998 following his arrest for drink-driving. A green leprechaun hat had been added to Mr O'Rourke's head and the photograph was captioned: "Please drink responsibly."
On this St. Paddy's Day, a special message from noted Irishman Robert Francis O'Rourke. pic.twitter.com/JRjMEXhZRY— GOP (@GOP) March 17, 2019
Charges against Mr O’Rourke arising from the 1998 incident were later dismissed.
In a statement, the AOH said it was “shocked and appalled that on St Patrick’s Day, a day when America celebrates and honours the contributions that Irish-Americans have made to our great country, the GOP would launch an attack on a prospective presidential candidate based solely on his Irish heritage.
"Such a scurrilous, stereotype-laced attack is more in keeping with the 19th-century Native American Party, aka the Know Nothings, than the party of Lincoln, who wept when he kissed a regimental flag of the Irish Brigade in honour of the sacrifice that so many sons of Erin had made in America's Civil War."
The AOH statement said the “offensive meme is nothing more than a 21st-century version of the scurrilous anti-Irish cartoons of Thomas Nast”.
The AOH said it had hoped that the days when “a candidate’s Irish ancestry would be used as . . . campaign fodder were confined to the dark past.
“Sadly, this toxic tweet from the GOP proves we were optimistic and premature in our beliefs.”
Founded at New York's St James' Church in May 1836, the AOH has members in 46 states of the US. Its website notes that it is now 793 days since there has been a US ambassador to Ireland.
Members of the AOH national board, president Judge James McKay, national treasurer Sean Pender and national director Dan Dennehy, had what is described on the organisation's website as "an unforgettable meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar" during a visit to Dublin last month.