A leading Irish-American politician has warned the “unique relationship” between Ireland and the US should not be taken for granted.
Mike Cusick, president of the American Irish Legislators Society, was in Dublin and Belfast last week for a series of meetings.
Mr Cusick, whose ancestors emigrated to the US from Cork and Roscommon, said the connections between America and Ireland needed to be continually cultivated.
He has been an elected member of the New York State Legislature since 2002, representing the Staten Island area.
Mr Cusick has been president of the legislators society for 14 years. The society is made up of politicians from different political parties and its aim is to promote “awareness of Irish culture, ties between Ireland and New York, and fellowship among legislators of Irish descent or with an interest in Ireland or the American-Irishcommunity”.
The society recently successfully lobbied in the state legislature to secure funding for the development of the Irish Arts Centre in Manhattan.
Mr Cusick led a US delegation that last week took part in the Belfast International Homecoming event which was attended by leading members of the Irish diaspora. The event was organised by Belfast City Council in conjunction with Ulster University to celebrate the achievements of people of Irish heritage and to build stronger global links.
Joining Mr Cusick on the trip were: Michael Meade, chief executive of Sullivan’s Brewing Company, New York; Sean Tenner, president of KNI Communications, Chicago; Steve Lenox, director of the New Jersey Ireland Centre; and Jay Hart, chief of police in Torrance, California.
The delegation also visited Áras an Uachtaráin last week to meet President Michael D Higgins.
Mr Cusick said he was keen to develop stronger relationships between organisations and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic.
“One or our aims within the legislators society is to promote Irish culture in New York, whether that is helping with funding for parades or local cultural groups,” he said.
“However, since I became president of the society we have also got more involved in and made better connections with our counterparts in Ireland, north and south, and we have built relationships with the governments and we are able to work together on certain things.
“We have been meeting business leaders in Belfast to collaborate and come up with ideas that may help New York or maybe we can partner companies in Northern Ireland or Ireland with companies in New York that are doing the same thing.
“The majority of companies we have met are in the energy and renewables sector and we see some of the innovations here which we can bring back and maybe work some of it into what we are trying to do in New York.”
Mr Cusick, who will not be running for re-election later this year, said it was important to keep building links across the Atlantic.
“I think there is enough being made of the connections between New York and Ireland,” he told the Sunday Independent. "However, I think it is always important to keep building those connections.
“New York and the US have a particularly unique relationship with Ireland that we just can’t take for granted.
“You have to keep cultivating it and that’s why I think that having organisations like ours in New York being in contact with leaders in Ireland is very important.”
Mr Cusick said he was encouraged to see the continuing efforts towards cementing peace during his visit to Northern Ireland.
“We are supportive of the peace process and we have been talking to people about where Northern Ireland is at this point,” he said. "Having those personal conversations has been very promising.
“What I will take back to New York, having talked to many of the officials, is that there is a lot of work being done that may not be in the spotlight.
"I know people are working very hard to continue to continue the peace process. Seeing it first hand and talking to people on this trip who are involved in that has been very encouraging.”
Much has been made of US President Joe Biden’s Irish connections but Mr Cusick said his country’s leaders had always taken an interest in Irish affairs.
“I know the president is very proud of his Irish heritage and his Irish culture.
“I think it is an advantage but I do also think that since I have been in office many of the presidents that have been in the White House have paid particular attention to Ireland. It is something the United States always has done.”
Despite soon to be stepping down from frontline politics, Mr Cusick said he will be maintaining his support for Irish-American relationships.
“I may be not running for re-election but I will probably be more active in Irish-American issues as a result of the less travelling I will have to do,” he said.
“I certainly have no intention of not being involved in Irish issues and I hope to be involved in organisations that I can be helpful to.”