By Susan Falvella Garraty
President Barack Obama’s visit to Ireland will not be laden with a weighty policy agenda; it’s more a personal journey by a man fascinated to see the land of one of his forefathers.
In an exclusive pre-visit interview with the Echo, White House Chief of Staff William “Bill” Daley said this American president just wants to “soak it all in.”
Daley said upfront that Barack Hussein Obama is not exactly the prototype Irish-American trampling through birth certificate records in the parish church to find his long lost relatives.
“It’s a different model than the Irish are used to – being primarily African American and mixed blood, but the heritage passed through his grandfather is something he’s curious about,” said Daley in his office in the West Wing.
Daley dismissed reports that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the president will tackle special immigration visas for the Irish who want to work in the U.S., or that Ireland’s low corporate tax rate might be questioned during the president’s meetings on Monday with the Irish cabinet.
“Obviously the global economic crisis for the past two and half three years will be talked about and the difficulties in Ireland, what steps the Irish government have taken and what steps we have taken to come out of our crisis, but I think it’s going to be a very loose, comfortable conversation around the economic issues,” he said.
Asked directly if there would be any discussion of a bilateral agreement on E3 visas or any kind of visas during the trip, Daley said: “No.”
“That’s been wrapped up in the greater immigration debate that’s been going on here for about five years here and probably can’t, probably won’t be answered independent of a broader independent debate that’s going on here,” he added.
Ever since the 2008 presidential election when he became aware of his roots in Moneygall, Co. Offaly, President Obama became keen to see for himself where his grandfather’s ancestors came from.
His grandfather, Stanley Dunham, played a huge role in Obama’s upbringing while his mother worked abroad in Indonesia as an anthropologist. His greatuncle, Ralph Dunham, recently said in an interview that he remembers his own grandmother, Mary Ann Kearney, speaking with a soft Irish brogue. Mary Anne Kearney is the daughter of Fulmouth Kearney who left Moneygall for America in 1850.
“I said to him, ‘You know, there’s two beauties of Ireland: there’s the people and then there’s the physical beauty,’” Daley remarked .
Bill Daley is himself a scion of a storied Irish-American family steeped in Chicago politics. His father, the late Richard Daley, was the grandson of Irish immigrants from County Waterford and was Chicago’s mayor from 1955 to 1976. Bill Daley’s brother, also named Richard, also became mayor and just stepped down this week after governing the city, also for 20 years.
Bill Daley has made frequent visits to Ireland through the years. As Commerce Secretary in the Clinton administration, Daley made multiple trips to both Northern Ireland and Dublin. Known as the successful businessman amongst his seven siblings, Daley left his position as a senior executive at JP Morgan Chase to take on his role in the Obama White House a few months ago
The hand of Bill Daley would appear to be all over this short visit of Barack Obama to Ireland. Daley was in College Green in 1995 when Bill Clinton was received by rapturous crowds. He is hoping Barack Obama will be treated with the same warmth and affection by those attending Monday’s College Green speech and the accompanying music festival.
“I had the pleasure of going to Ireland with President Clinton and it truly is a unique opportunity, as an American, to experience.
“I am really looking forward to the response by the people of Ireland to our president. My parents would very proud to think that this president went back to Ireland and that I was working for him,” Daley concluded.