O'Dowd too much of an Irish-American for the Áras


OPINION:His views on Britain, Gerry Adams and ‘brand’ Ireland give rise to questions, writes a fellow Irish New Yorker

NIALL O’DOWD, founder and publisher of the Irish Voiceand IrishCentral.com in the United States, must be the first aspirant to Áras an Uachtaráin who sees Ireland and the Irish as a brand, not a nation.

According to an article published on Irish Central this week, he would, as president, call on the power of the Irish diaspora and bring it to bear on the country’s crippled economy. He would rally the world’s wealthiest Irish people and encourage them to invest in Ireland, North and South, believing that, “all things being equal”, heritage clinches the deal.

It is a naive but tempting message. O’Dowd, one might say, plans to harness the Riverdance and unleash a power greater than anything that has been seen since Ireland joined the European Community in 1973.

So what are his credentials for such an ambitious and daunting task?

Firstly, he is a successful businessman. He built the Irish Voicenewspaper from nothing and, two years ago, extended its reach via the Irish Central website. The Voicehas a circulation of between 60,000 and 80,000. If you accept (as I do not) that there are 40 million Americans of Irish descent, this means that, at most, one Irish American in every 500 buys his paper each week.

Over the years he has cut a swathe through Irish America. He endorses politicians, adopts causes and takes a combative stand on most of the big issues of the day, such as immigration – which he favours – paedophile priests, the British royal family, the peace process, and those who abused the Irish economy.

All that is required of an issue to merit his attention is that it should be in some way Irish. Politics is invariably viewed through a green prism. He laments the passing of the era dominated (in Irish eyes) by the Kennedys, Tip O’Neill and Daniel Moynihan, and clings to those who at least aspire to some sort of Irishness, including his good friend Bill Clinton and – latterly – Barack Obama.

St Patrick’s Day is the highlight of his year. The Voice without fail proclaims March 17th as “a great day for the Irish”.

Like most Irish-Americans, O’Dowd has an atavistic disdain for Britain and its royal family. Of Queen Elizabeth’s State visit, he wrote in March: “Myself, I wouldn’t cross the road to see her, but I think on balance it is a good thing . . . hopefully.”

Prince William, he wrote in November, was “a member of the lucky sperm club”.

Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, was “a good stud mare”, who would be judged by whether or not she produced “young colts” to secure the bloodline.

The recent royal wedding was “a fitting circus for a fading empire”.

Perhaps as well then that he was not in the Áras when Her Majesty came to call.

A veteran supporter of the peace process, O’Dowd is rightly credited with helping obtain US visas for former leaders of the IRA and for pricking the interest of President Clinton in a cause whose time had come. For he remains at heart an old-time republican.

He was impressed by British prime minister David Cameron’s apology over Bloody Sunday, but also surprised, since he had earlier predicted a “cover-up”.

He believes Gerry Adams, not John Hume, should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

He also believes it would now be right for London to enter into talks with the Real IRA and Continuity IRA.

He has not neglected Ireland’s faltering economy. No one was more disturbed or outraged by the banking collapse and the subsequent bailout than would-be president O’Dowd. He may previously have trumpeted the skill of those who rode the Celtic Tiger, but when the truth came out he was able to see with perfect clarity who the villains were and what had to be done to put things right.

No one should be surprised by this. Though he has lived full-time in the US since 1979, when he was 26, he has made a point of visiting the Republic, as well as Northern Ireland, several times a year.

His brother Fergus, a Fine Gael TD for Louth, is a Minister of State in the Coalition Government.

Could O’Dowd, as Irish president, ensure fresh investment into the Republic of billions of dollars?

Could he achieve his aim of loosening the grip of the European Union and realigning Ireland towards the welcoming embrace of the US?

Could he, as he has stated, help repair the damage caused in recent years to “one of the greatest brands on Earth”?

He’ll be over next week, so you can judge for yourself. But you will not be surprised to hear that he would not get my vote. In my view, he is irretrievably a citizen not alone of the US, to which he has, of course, given his pledge of allegiance, but of that mythical and parallel world known to its misty-eyed adherents as Glocca Morra . . . I mean, Irish America, where blood and ancestry are all.

Niall O’Dowd may be kidding himself that, with his return ticket to New York booked and paid for, he can lead us all to a new tomorrow, but he will not kid the Irish people.

Walter Ellis is a former Brussels, Belfast and Diplomatic Correspondent of The Irish Times. He now divides his time between New York and France. His novel, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, is published in October by the Lilliput Press.

NB: The Oath of Allegiance, taken by all successful immigrants to the United States, starts off as follows: “I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen.”