Tuesday 23 April 2019

It's no coincidence that US investment and trade rose with Kenny at the helm

The Taoiseach worked his magic on leaders as well as ordinary people, writes Kevin F O'Malley, the former US ambassador to Ireland

FRIENDLY: Barack Obama enjoyed lighter moments with Enda Kenny
FRIENDLY: Barack Obama enjoyed lighter moments with Enda Kenny

Think back six years, when Ireland was battling with the impact of the financial crisis and the darkness of the economic downturn. Since 2011, the United States has invested more in your country than it had in the previous 56 years. The United States was prepared to bet on Ireland when Ireland wasn't able to bet on herself.

Was it a coincidence that this upsurge in direct foreign investment came during Taoiseach Enda Kenny's years in office?

Is it a coincidence that American tourism to Ireland increased year-on-year during his tenure?

I think not. By fostering new relationships with US businesses that had not yet experienced the benefits of an Irish base, and by carefully tending the connections with those that had, the Taoiseach directly and personally accounted for a great deal of what happened.

Others more qualified than I will chronicle the Taoiseach's career domestically and internationally. However, I did get to observe first-hand his interactions with both special and ordinary Americans - President Barack Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and scores of business, professional, civic, and cultural leaders. And I can say that, in all of them, he never overlooked an opportunity to explain how opening a business in Ireland would pay dividends. He never missed a beat in selling other aspects of your country as well.

Did the Taoiseach have help? Of course. My great partners at the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, as well as Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, IBEC and so many in key government departments made immense contributions to the record achieved during the Taoiseach's leadership.

But, without question, a primary cause for the record of success was his tireless attention to the details of the relationship. ­Visiting with current and potential ­investors in places like New York, Boston, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley, Taoiseach Kenny turned well-planned conferences and chance encounters into pitches for the benefits of doing business in Ireland or bringing vacation tours over. His comfort in dealing with Americans was a pleasure to behold. It was among my greatest joys as ambassador - simply standing back and admiring the way he worked his magic.

President Obama genuinely looked forward to his annual substantive meeting with the Taoiseach in the Oval Office on St Patrick's Day and the party that followed in the reception rooms of the White House.

I watched my president and your Taoiseach discuss sensitive subjects like the undocumented Irish and global taxation in a friendly and cordial manner. I enjoyed their lighter moments and banter. The relationship was such that I strongly suspect Enda Kenny will be on Barack Obama's social schedule when he visits Ireland.

I observed as your Taoiseach successfully pressed Ireland's advantage with the leaders of the US Congress - in ways that no other world leader could. I witnessed Taoiseach Kenny lead Vice President Biden through Dublin and Co Mayo last year in a trip that Biden called the best he made in his eight years in office.

In America, as observers since Alexis de Tocqueville have written, the rights and powers of the individual are viewed as supreme. I have always felt that in Ireland the family holds that position. Tributes to the Taoiseach often take note of the fact that he is a devoted family man. Having been with him, his wife Fionnuala and his family on many occasions, I completely concur.

In fact, I will take it a step further. I have mulled over what motivates the Taoiseach to work and travel so tirelessly to bring American investment and tourism to Ireland. My intuition tells me that it is his understanding of the importance of the family unit in Ireland. The jobs created as a direct result of his efforts to import or expand American multinationals strengthen families, neighbourhoods, and the communities involved.

Ireland has a special place in the hearts of all Americans, not just those of us who trace our family roots to your wonderful country, and not just on March 17. That emotional connection has tugged for a long time - and long may it continue.

From an American point of view, the Taoiseach moved that special bond closer than it was before. Earlier this year, I saw and spoke to the Taoiseach in Washington DC on St Patrick's Day. I stopped by a reception hosted by Ireland's ambassador to the United States, Anne Anderson. Hundreds of people, mostly Americans, attended. The Taoiseach was surrounded by an ever-changing crowd of adoring Americans who wanted a word with him or a selfie or just a handshake.

I enjoyed watching the pushing and shoving to get near him and rejoiced at what the desire to get close to him represented.

My purpose in this writing is not partisan. I take positions in American politics, but not Irish. I write simply to give a good man his due and attest to what I personally observed as he steps aside after a long career in public service.

In full disclosure, however, I must add this: the next time I see Enda Kenny, I hope he will be with his family, and we will again be in Croke Park. It will be the third Sunday of September. They'll be wearing green and red. I will, too.

Is feidir leis an bothar meadu suas go dti bualadh leat.

  • Ambassador Kevin F O'Malley served in Ireland under President Barack Obama. He has now returned to his home city of St Louis, Missouri

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss