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Sam Smyth: Huge investment in Ireland can't be counted in dollars


WHATEVER other bounty US President Barack Obama brings with him this morning, or whatever wealth of memories he leaves behind tomorrow, there will be no money from America.

The president will not be carrying an open chequebook on his whistle-stop Irish visit, nor will the belly of Air Force One bulge with gold bullion when it touches down.

He doesn't have the authority to do bailouts, even for countries with an umbilical link to his mother -- and when it comes to charity, Kenya, his father's homeland, has a better argument.

Neither does the US Congress throw dollars like rose petals on foreign fields to ease the path of a first-term president seeking re-election.

Yet some people who should know better have been hinting that the arrival of Obama could somehow help the Government's bargaining position on bailout loans.

Just because he will be visiting France later this week, wishful thinking has it that President Nicolas Sarkozy will be quietly lobbied by Obama for a better deal on EU interest rates for Ireland.

It would be unthinkable and unprecedented for the US to interfere in any discussion Ireland may have on the repayment of loans to the EU or ECB.

Obama has indicated that he supports Ireland's low corporation tax -- and when US companies have €158bn invested in Ireland, there is an element of self-interest.

He will be meeting Sarkozy, a staunch opponent of our low corporation tax rate, at meetings of the G8 and G20 after his trip to London.

And when he is speaking to Sarkozy, the words of Thomas Donohue, the powerful President of the American Chamber of Commerce, may still be ringing in his ears.

Donohue met members of the Irish Government last week and pointed out that US investment in Ireland is more than the country's combined investments in China, India, Brazil and China.

But Obama has his own ideas about US companies paying low taxes overseas that he would like to see boost the American economy.

Yet there will clearly be an enormous fund of goodwill for him throughout Ireland, and the president is, we are assured, deeply curious about the part of him that is Irish.

Obama's appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State practical reinforced the US commitment to Northern Ireland. There has been a US consulate in Belfast since 1796 and that has been given a higher profile under this administration.

Obama has also kept up the St Patrick's Day tradition in the White House that has given successive Irish governments unique access to the heart of the US administration.

Living in Chicago when it was run by the Daly family must have given him, and his wife Michelle, whose family is steeped in the Democratic Party, an insight into the Irish.

Although it is not spoken of as a "special relationship", a visit to Ireland has been a rite of passage for nearly every US president after John F Kennedy came in 1963: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W Bush followed.

Britain, which fought alongside its former colony in two world wars, claims a "special relationship" and Israel has enjoyed enormous support and patronage.

Yet when Ireland has sought help, the US has been a good and generous friend and those close ties were achieved by artful diplomacy, particularly since the early 1980s.

Getting the support of former president Reagan and the Speaker of Congress, Tip O'Neill, crucially shifted the axis of influence in Washington away from Britain at a very sensitive time.

Reagan only called to the home of one foreign ambassador in Washington -- and Sean Donlon solemnly gifted an Irish dog to the White House.

O'Neill pushed Reagan, who needed his political support in Congress, and he pressed British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to buy into the Anglo Irish Agreement.

The US has been very generous to Ireland in recent years. As Taoiseach, the late Garret FitzGerald persuaded Reagan to support the International Fund for Ireland. And over the past 25 years, that fund has distributed €750m to projects in border areas.

Clinton was vital in the peace process leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and George W Bush pressed Ian Paisley in 2006 to sign up to the St Andrew's Agreement.

Now the 44th US president is calling to inspect America's enormous investment in Ireland that could not be counted in dollars -- and get up close and personal with that part of his DNA that left Moneygall for the US.

Irish Independent