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Residents fear historic Obama visit will be hijacked by disgraced Lowry

Eimear ni Bhraonain

Published 28/03/2011 | 05:00

VILLAGERS in the ancestral home of US President Barack Obama fear his forthcoming visit will be hijacked by disgraced TD Michael Lowry.

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Moneygall villagers are furious that the under-fire politician could use the visit of Mr Obama for political purposes, and to pitch plans for a super casino.

The Co Offaly village has been incensed since constituency boundaries were redrawn last year. It is now represented by North Tipperary TDs.

This quirk in the electoral map means Mr Obama's tour of his ancestral village this May will present a chance for Mr Lowry to bend the president's ear.

Mr Lowry -- slated in the Moriarty Tribunal's final report for using his political influence while he was a Fine Gael minister to help businessman Denis O'Brien win the State's second mobile phone licence -- never misses a trick.

And as one of the local TDs representing the people of Moneygall, he is guaranteed to be invited, along with other dignitaries, to meet Mr Obama this summer.

"I will be there as one of the democratically elected representatives in the constituency and I'm looking forward to the visit," Mr Lowry said last night.

Mr Obama's handlers will be wary of too much publicity linking the president with the independent TD after the damning Moriarty Tribunal revelations.

But Mr Lowry may well get a golden opportunity to pitch a businessman's plans for a super-casino in a Tipperary village to the US president.

Mr Lowry has been promoting a €460m project for Two-Mile-Borris to build a racecourse, 500-room hotel, golf course, greyhound track, casino and entertainment venue.

The 'Las Vegas-style' casino in a small village has been met with opposition from An Taisce who believe it is an "overwhelming" development which is ill-conceived.

Replica

However, one part of the plans that has been praised is a replica White House which will be built in homage to Irish architect James Hoban -- a Kilkenny man who designed the original building.

Mr Lowry is keen to talk to Mr Obama about this aspect of the venture.

"I hope to get to talk to him not about the casino but about a different matter -- a unique element of the project which will be an authentic, direct architectural replica of the White House."

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it had "no information on the programme for President Obama yet". Schedules of visiting heads of state tend to be closely guarded secrets.

But some Moneygall residents are already furious that Mr Lowry may make a "political football" of the visit.

"It would be a pity to see our new TDs come in and take over the hard work of Offaly County Council and the locals," one resident said yesterday. The man, who recalls Mr Lowry canvassing in Moneygall before the general election, said loyalty to the TD in the village was "not the same as in Thurles".

"There's mixed opinions here. People who voted for him have some regrets. We wouldn't be as loyal here and Moriarty just confirmed our suspicions in black and white," he added.

The area traditionally had strong Fianna Fail and Fine Gael support. Fine Gael Health Minister James Reilly owns property in Moneygall and Mr Obama's distant cousin, Henry Healy, canvasses for Fianna Fail.

We must give our visitors a royal welcome: Mary Kenny, P27

Irish Independent

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