Cowen says review of our relationship with the US and its political leaders is 'timely'

INTERVIEW: A MAJOR review of the relationship between Ireland and the United States has been conducted at the request of Taoiseach…

INTERVIEW:A MAJOR review of the relationship between Ireland and the United States has been conducted at the request of Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who believes that new initiatives are required to ensure that the relationship between the two countries remains healthy and mutually beneficial.

“My first trip as Taoiseach of the country was to New York and I made a speech there about the need for a new relationship between the United States and Ireland. I have felt that for some time that we haven’t really reviewed our strategic relationship with the United States since the 1930s.”

He said that while there was a long history and ties of kinship between the two countries the modern Ireland we lived in today was a totally different Ireland to the one that the diaspora would know about.

“Obviously with the changes that have happened in Ireland and the number of people coming home to Ireland, now the traditional idea of the number of emigrants going away and keeping in touch with the country, that connection is no longer as contemporary as it used to be.


“I would know myself from my own family circles how quickly the connection can go from being very strong in the course of a generation to being weaker because people have sense of who they are. While they can continue to be proud of their heritage, it is not the connection it was for the first generation.” In that context he said, there was a need for a review of what the relationship with the United States is and should be and how present and future needs could be met in a way that brought mutual benefit both to Ireland and to America.

“I think it was also timely because we now live in a developed economy rather than a developing one. We had in the past 30-40 years had this idea of bringing foreign direct investment to Ireland, much of it from the United States. We now have an internationalised Irish business. We have as many working in Irish-owned business in America now as there are in American-owned business in Ireland. That is not something that is even appreciated at home.

“I think that just gives us an idea of the need for us all to update and reacquaint ourselves with what the present economic and social realities are between Ireland and the United States and how we develop that.”

Mr Cowen said there was a need for a structured relationship with the diaspora rather than simply an informal one or one that was built on acquaintance or personal friendships. The review suggests the establishment of an Ireland-US strategic policy group, chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and an Irish-American leadership council under the patronage of the Taoiseach.

“There is a need to establish in the public mind in the United States, in the way that some other disapora have done successfully, that this connection between Ireland and America is as positive for America as it is for ourselves.” The review also proposes to expand Irish diplomatic representation in the US, including a new consulate in Atlanta, subject to available resources.

“We need to update our whole representational capacity in the United States. We are excellently served there in many respects but we can extend our consultates to places like Atlanta in Georgia and Heuston in Texas.”

There was also a need for a review of the relationship with American political leaders. “The great icons of Irish-American politics are thankfully still with us and still hugely influential, but we also have to engage with Congress in a bilateral way with all sides of the House to update people what our needs are.”

He said the real need for the strategic review was that Ireland was now a modern developed economy plugged into a globalised world where the United States had a huge influence. In parallel with that, there was a need to emphasise the Irish cultural legacy. “The cultural footprint of Ireland, what makes us distinctive and attractive as a people, is hugely important. The legacy of our culture is still something that finds resonance in the United States. It is an international product, if you like, as we have seen in various manifestations in recent years. That is something we shouldn’t underestimate in terms of heightening the awareness of Ireland.”

He said the review proposed to put a structure in place so that people who perhaps have never emphasised their Irishness in the past, but who do feel very Irish, were given a means of expressing that identity. The review proposes a number of initiatives such as the creation of an Irish-American leadership council, a certificate of Irish ancestry for Americans seeking formal acknowledgement of their roots and a fast-track naturalisation regime for those with Irish great-grandparents who have studied in Ireland.

“The nation compromises people who have an affection and loyalty for the country. Giving expression to their sense of identification with the country, even though it may have been five or six generations since they emigrated is important.

“That sense of Irishness can be put at risk because if you don’t maintain it, the historic connection can fall away and become simply a sentimental thing that doesn’t have the vigour or vibrancy of a commitment or a connection to the country.”

People of Irish extraction who were influential in their own US corporations had played a significant role in bringing investment to Ireland. “There are 1,000 US corporations in Ireland employing 150,000 people directly, quite apart from the other tens of thousands who supply into those industries. That is an excellent example of the way we can tap into opportunities in the United States,” he said.

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins

Stephen Collins is a columnist with and former political editor of The Irish Times