Politics Archives – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Apr 2019 19:22:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Brexit Uncertainty Makes Ireland More Attractive https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/brexit-uncertainty-makes-ireland-more-attractive/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/brexit-uncertainty-makes-ireland-more-attractive/#comments Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:58:12 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=39465 Read more..]]> Bank of America Merrill Lynch has relocated its main EU banking arm from London to Dublin, months ahead of the earliest possible date of the UK’s exit from the EU. They are one of the first banks to take such steps to deal with the uncertainty looming over Brexit.

The bank merged the London location, which oversees €50 billion in assets, with its Irish subsidiary, bringing the total Ireland-based workforce to more than 800 people, split between two offices.

The new Irish hub will be led by the bank’s former Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson, and Cork native Rob Cahill will oversee its global technology and operations function.

“After many months of preparation and having just completed our cross border merger, we now stand ready to serve our clients seamlessly in their final preparations for Brexit and for the long term,” said Thompson.

Businesses are not the only ones making moving arrangements. As the Brexit negotiations linger on, some students in Northern Ireland have expressed their reservations about the deal and have made contingency plans regarding the border, with many applying for Irish passports.

The Irish backstop is a big point of concern. If there appears to be more of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, like the one seen above from the 1970s, the students say it will galvanize moderates to turn to Ireland and the EU. ♦

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Irish Favor Birthright Citizenship https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/irish-favor-birthright-citizenship/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/irish-favor-birthright-citizenship/#respond Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:57:02 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=39462 Read more..]]> As other western countries are endorsing populist agendas on tightening immigration policy, Ireland is voicing its opposition to such restrictions, overwhelmingly in favor of reinstating birthright citizenship.

A Sunday Times poll found that 71 percent favored birthright citizenship, while 19 percent were opposed and 10 percent undecided. Three days later, a proposal on the matter passed a preliminary vote in the Irish Senate.

If passed, the law would grant citizenship to anyone born in Ireland who subsequently lives in the country for at least three years, regardless of his or her parents’ citizenship status. This would reverse a 2004 referendum in which 79 percent of voters supported the removal of birthright citizenship.

This drastic shift in public opinion on the matter has followed a few high-profile cases concerning various children’s citizenship statuses.

Although popular among the public, the bill is opposed by the Irish government because of fears that people living illegally in Britain will move to Northern Ireland to have a baby, securing Irish citizenship for their child and residency for themselves, or British citizens will use the same tactic to maintain free movement around the European Union once Brexit is finalized.

The senator who introduced the bill, Ivana Bacik, is confident it will pass in the Senate, but less certain about its prospects in the Dáil, the lower house and principal chamber of the Irish legislature. ♦

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Michael D. Higgins Re-Elected https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/michael-d-higgins-re-elected/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/12/michael-d-higgins-re-elected/#respond Sat, 22 Dec 2018 08:56:03 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=39451 Read more..]]> Irish President Michael D. Higgins has been re-elected for a second term after receiving 56 percent of the country’s vote on October 26. He was first elected in 2011 and will now serve another seven years. The inauguration took place Sunday, November 11, at Dublin Castle. This year, the inauguration coincided with the centenary of the end of World War I, and the President had therefore asked that the ceremony be held in the evening to facilitate those who wished to attend Armistice Day commemorations.

Higgins was the first incumbent in 50 years to face a challenge in his re-election. Businessman Peter Casey came in second with 23.1 percent of the vote. Casey got a boost in the polls after he made controversial comments about the Travellers community, comments that many initially thought would derail his campaign. Before the comments, he was polling at about two percent.

Higgins is a veteran politician, having served as Mayor of Galway, Teachta Dála, and senator. He has used his time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, sectarianism, racism and reconciliation.

Higgins said he accepted the outcome with “humility, determination, and excitement.” He added, “People are interested in ideas that are sincere and constructive. For words matter, words can hurt, words can heal, words can empower, words can divide.” ♦

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European of the Year https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/european-of-the-year/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/09/european-of-the-year/#respond Sat, 01 Sep 2018 06:49:01 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=37567 Read more..]]> Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny T.D. was named European of the Year by European Movement Ireland (EM Ireland) at an event sponsored by Uniphar in Dublin on June 11.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, in presenting the award, reflected on the state of the nation when Enda Kenny became Taoiseach in 2011, when the G.D.P. had plummeted, unemployment had soared, and Ireland’s international reputation was in tatters.

“Under his patient and determined leadership, he steered the country on a path to regain what was lost.

“He had to fight for our national interests, but guiding his work at all times was his genuine appreciation of and commitment to Europe,” Varadkar said.

The former Taoiseach, who left office in 2017, has been an outspoken advocate for strengthening Ireland’s ties with the European Union, especially in light of the fact that its nearest neighbor, Britain, has broken away from the Union. Speaking at the event, Maurice Pratt, Chairman of EM Ireland and of Uniphar, said: “In many ways, Enda Kenny epitomizes EM Ireland’s mission statement to encourage active Irish engagement at all levels of our European relationship.”

In accepting the award, Kenny credited the E.U., which Ireland joined in 1973, with bringing Ireland into the modern day “The E.U. transformed our country, from being backward, introverted, and protectionist to outward-looking, export-oriented, with a globally confident people,” he said. ♦  Dave Lewis 

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Ireland Considers Legislation to Restrict International Travel by Convicted Pedophiles https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/ireland-considers-legislation-to-restrict-international-travel-by-convicted-pedophiles/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/ireland-considers-legislation-to-restrict-international-travel-by-convicted-pedophiles/#respond Wed, 09 May 2018 05:54:36 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36372 Read more..]]> T.D.s and Senators have been urged to support a new bill – the Sex Offenses (Amendment) Bill 2018 – introduced in Dáil Éireann by Maureen O’Sullivan, T.D., which proposes to restrict the foreign travel of convicted pedophiles. If enacted, Ireland would be the first country in the E.U. to curtail overseas travel by convicted child sex abusers. Australia has already introduced such legislation.

Addressing a press conference in Dublin, Irish Columban missionary Fr. Shay Cullen, who has ministered in the Philippines since 1969, said the bill, if enacted, “will help to curtail child abuse sex tourism and protect children in countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia where child protection laws are weak or not enforced.”

“The aim of this legislation is to protect the vulnerable in those parts of the world where sadly there is little or no child protection. In our globalized world where travel is readily available I believe we must do all we can in Ireland to ensure that our citizens who have been convicted of child sexual abuse, should they be deemed a risk, do not have a free pass to travel to other jurisdictions to abuse children,” O’Sullivan said.

Cullen pointed out that about 4.5 million children are trafficked globally each year in a business that is estimated at $32 billion. He said that in the Philippines there are few reliable statistics of the number of children abused, but UNICEF estimates it at 60,000 annually. ♦


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Twenty Years Later: Reflections on the Good Friday Agreement https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/twenty-years-later-reflections-on-the-good-friday-agreement/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/twenty-years-later-reflections-on-the-good-friday-agreement/#comments Wed, 09 May 2018 05:47:26 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36293 Read more..]]> Signed on April 10, 1998, the landmark Good Friday Agreement helped to bring to an end the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles. Twenty years on, Deaglán de Bréadún looks at how the agreement came about, the American role, and the current state of play.

In the early 1990s, the blood-soaked contest between the Irish Republican Army (I.R.A.) and the British security forces in Northern Ireland had reached a stalemate and the movers and shakers in both camps were looking for a more constructive way forward. But if the militants of the I.R.A. were to be persuaded to adopt non-violent means, they had to be shown that people like Gerry Adams, leader of the movement’s political wing, Sinn Féin, could get a platform that would eventually yield results.

A key moment in that regard came about when President Bill Clinton was persuaded by leading Irish Americans such as former Congressman Bruce Morrison, businessman Bill Flynn, journalist and publisher Niall O’Dowd, philanthropist Charles “Chuck” Feeney, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith, and her brother, the late Senator Edward Kennedy, to grant a visa to Adams, who had been banned from entering the U.S. because he was seen as an apologist for terrorism.

It was January 31, 1994, when the Sinn Féin leader arrived in New York on a 48-hour visa. Irish America turned out in large numbers for the visit, which became a major international news story.

Exactly seven months later, on August 31, the I.R.A. announced it was going on ceasefire from midnight. The ceasefire collapsed on February 9, 1996, when a truckload of explosives was detonated in the London docklands, killing two people and injuring 40. The guns fell silent again on July 20, 1997, but it was clear that a serious settlement would have to be reached to ensure that it would last this time around.

Efforts to broker a peace agreement continued and finally came to a head in the week before Easter Sunday 1998. Most of the main parties in Northern Ireland were at Castle Buildings in Stormont, on the eastern fringe of Belfast, with former Senate majority leader George Mitchell as the principal chairman of the talks.

At Sinn Féin headquarters in Belfast, December 17, 1997, (left to right) chairman of Mutual of America Bill Flynn, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, Chuck Feeney, Congressman Bruce Morrison, and Irish American Labor Coalition leader Bill Lenahan. (Photo: Crispin Rodwell)

British Prime Minister Tony Blair flew into Belfast at short notice to help resolve the differences and, having declared it was not a day for talking in soundbites, went on to do exactly that when he said, “I feel the hand of history on our shoulder.” His Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern suffered a personal tragedy when his mother, Julia, died suddenly of a heart attack in Dublin, but the Taoiseach still managed to combine the funeral ceremonies with attendance at Castle Buildings, flying up and down as the situation required.

The government in Dublin was prepared to modify the territorial claim to Northern Ireland in the Irish Constitution but was seeking a wide-range of North-South institutions to minimize the political damage among its own supporters. When Ahern agreed to cut back the number of cross-border bodies and areas of cooperation, the mood on the unionist side improved: the list went down to 12 from more than 60. There was agreement on an elected Northern Ireland Assembly with a cabinet-style Executive where powers would be shared on a mandatory coalition basis between representatives of the unionist and nationalist communities. In a meeting at 3 a.m. on Friday April 10, Gerry Adams and his republican soulmate, the late Martin McGuinness, were promised by Blair and Ahern that all politically-motivated prisoners would be released within two years.

There was a last-minute crisis in the Ulster Unionist Party (U.U.P.) delegation over the decommissioning of I.R.A. weapons because elements in the U.U.P. felt the conditions were not sufficiently strict. However, a letter of reassurance from Blair allowed U.U.P. leader David Trimble to accept the final deal. Blair and Ahern were assisted by a huge effort from President Clinton who was in contact by phone with leading participants throughout the last night of the protracted negotiations.

The first power-sharing Executive took office the following year, led by the U.U.P. and the moderate nationalists of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (S.D.L.P.) but also including two ministers each from Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (D.U.P.), even though the latter had walked out of the Stormont talks.

The Executive was led by David Trimble as first minister and the S.D.L.P.’s Seamus Mallon as deputy first minister (his party leader John Hume had declined the position). There have been many ups and downs since, but the most extraordinary development so far took place on May 8, 2007, when the Rev. Ian Paisley of the D.U.P. and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness took office as first and deputy first ministers respectively – their parties having by now become the largest in the Assembly. Despite the vast difference in their backgrounds – Paisley was a long-time spokesman for hard-line unionism and McGuinness had been named as I.R.A. chief of staff – they got on famously well on a personal level and their good-humored partnership earned them the nickname of “The Chuckle Brothers.”

Gerry Adams and Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith pictured at an Irish America event honoring Ambassador Kennedy Smith as Irish American of the Year 1995 at Tavern on the Green, New York City. (Photo: James Higgins)

Sadly, both men have since died. The Executive they established lasted a remarkable 10 years until January 2017, when a major dispute erupted over state payments into a highly expensive renewable energy scheme which was meant to be under the supervision of a government department headed by the current D.U.P. leader Arlene Foster. McGuinness, who was in the final stages of a fatal illness, called on her to step aside temporarily as first minister while an independent inquiry took place into the operation of the so-called “cash-for-ash” scheme. When she refused, Sinn Féin walked out of the Executive and the Assembly, both of which have been in suspension ever since.

Despite protracted talks between the D.U.P. and Sinn Féin, no agreement has been reached at time of writing on a resumption of the political institutions. The key point of difference is on Sinn Féin’s demand for legislation to enhance the status of the Irish language, which has become a major symbol of political respect for nationalists and republicans. It is understood that senior D.U.P. figures are well-disposed to an agreement but have so far failed to overcome the opposition from hardliners in the party.

Meanwhile, demographic changes indicate that the Catholic, mainly nationalist, element of the population will become the majority community in Northern Ireland in less than 20 years. The last census in 2011 revealed that, in the under-five age-group, 48 percent were Catholic and 37 percent Protestant. Based on these figures, Irish Times economic commentator David McWilliams has calculated that Catholics will achieve an absolute majority in the North by around 2036. More recently, leading academic Dr. Paul Nolan told the BBC that Catholics could outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland within three years, by 2021, although he pointed out that being a Catholic does not necessarily mean you want to see a united Ireland.

At a political level, in the last elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the total of 28 seats won by the D.U.P. was only one ahead of Sinn Féin at 27 seats. The difference in the number of votes was also very slight: the D.U.P. got 225,413 compared to 224,245 for Sinn Féin – a gap of only just over a thousand. The tectonic plates are shifting.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, a united Ireland will come about if separate majorities in the two parts of the island vote for it. Brexit, the looming departure of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union, has revived interest in the topic of Irish unity. Opinion polls indicate for the most part that, while there is a very clear majority in the North at present who wish to remain in the U.K., this figure would be reduced if there was a “hard Brexit” that had seriously negative economic consequences. Meanwhile, in the South, polls generally show a substantial majority for unity, but this would go down significantly if it meant paying extra taxes.

Following the Brexit vote, there has been a sharp rise in applications for Irish passports from citizens of Ireland living in the North and Britain. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin said one in every five passport applicants came into this category last year. A total of 779,000 Irish passports were issued in 2017, the highest ever in a single year. There were 6,300 applications to the department’s mission in New York.

Despite the impasse at a political level, work continues in the North-South bodies and the areas for cross-border cooperation that are part of the Good Friday legacy. Tourism Ireland, for example, was set up following the agreement with a remit to promote the entire island, North and South, as a destination for holidaymakers and businesspeople. With a staff of about 150, it has created marketing programs on a wide international basis as well as at home. Remarkably, considering its recent history, Belfast has become a very popular tourist destination with such attractions as the Titanic center, which recalls the ocean-liner’s ill-fated voyage of 1912, and tours from the city to locations used in the filming of the hugely-popular Game of Thrones television series.

Areas of cooperation also include agriculture, education, environment, health and transport. There are north-south bodies dealing with waterways, food safety, trade and business, special European Union programs, aquaculture and marine issues, the Irish language, and the dialect of Ulster Scots.

While efforts to restore the Executive and the Assembly are continuing, there appears to be no threat, at least in the short-term, to the peace that emerged from the Good Friday pact. On a recent visit to Belfast for the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Bill Clinton described it as “a work of surpassing genius.” Tony Blair was at the same event and, recalling the daily reports of violence in the past, told the audience at Queen’s University, “Where we are may not be where we want to be, but it’s a world better than where we were.” ♦


Deaglán de Bréadún is a columnist with the Irish News and former Northern editor of the Irish Times. His books include The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland (Collins Press, 2008) and Power Play: The Rise of Modern Sinn Féin (Merrion Press, 2015).

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McGuinness Principles Launched in U.S. https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/mcguinness-principles-launched-in-u-s/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/mcguinness-principles-launched-in-u-s/#respond Wed, 09 May 2018 05:31:23 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36346 Read more..]]> In honor of the Good Friday Agreement’s 20th anniversary, the McGuinness Principles were launched from New York in April. The principles, named after Northern Ireland’s former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, amount to a declaration of intent to resolve contentious issues between the Northern Irish and British governments. They were compiled by members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Brehon Law Society, and Patrick Doherty of the New York State Comptroller’s office. The principles were officially rolled out for the first time at Molloy College on Long Island, then again at a larger gathering hosted by New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli in Manhattan.

Each principle references an aspect of debate between the British and Northern Irish governments: the lack of a Northern Irish bill of rights, the civic disregard of the Irish language, the policy of nondisclosure to the loved ones of victims, and the neglect of a border referendum to determine Northern Ireland’s political status. These matters are termed respectively under the principle headers of “Equality,” “Respect,” “Truth,” and “Self-Determination.”

The signing of the Good Friday Agreement was conducted in an era of such critical tension and completed to such relief that these particular sticking points were mutually cast aside, the principles’ authors claim, allowing them to have remained unaddressed for two decades.

Martin McGuinness, photographed for Irish America in 2001 by Kit DeFever.

In memory of the work of their father, Martin McGuinness’s sons Emmett and Fiachra presented the principles to U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who embraced the document wholeheartedly and pledged his support – establishing himself as the highest-level politician to do so thus far.

“That historic agreement, now 20 years old, did so much to bring the situation in the North from one of armed violence to peaceful coexistence and resolving conflict through politics – however slow and difficult that has proved,” Schumer said in a statement. “But more must be done now to fully realize its promises.” ♦

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Eunice and Eileen https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/eunice-and-eileen/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/05/eunice-and-eileen/#respond Wed, 09 May 2018 05:21:33 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36224 Read more..]]> Eunice Kennedy was an amazing woman who changed the way people with disabilities are treated and viewed. Who better to bring her story to light in a new biography than Eileen McNamara, another trailblazing Irish American.


Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World is published by Simon & Schuster (April 2018 / 416 pp. / $28)

Eileen McNamara – the longtime Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe columnist who now directs the journalism program at Brandeis University – grew up in Kennedy country.

“I grew up in North Cambridge, in what was then Tip O’Neill’s congressional district, the seat previously held by John F. Kennedy,” McNamara recently told Irish America via email. “It was a largely Irish, working class neighborhood.”

For the past several years, McNamara has been living with a different member of Irish America’s royal family. The result is a new, highly acclaimed biography about (as the subtitle puts it) “the Kennedy who changed the world.”

It is a provocative title because – for all the fame and accomplishments of Joe and Rose Kennedy’s nine children – McNamara is implying that only one actually changed the world.

It was not the dashing Jack, or martyred Bobby. It was the middle child – Eunice Kennedy Shriver. It was Eunice, McNamara writes “who left behind the Kennedy family’s most profound and lasting legacy.”

Eunice “advanced one of the great civil rights movements, on behalf of millions of people across the world with intellectual disabilities.”

Such a bold claim is at odds with what McNamara knew of her subject when she considered taking on this project, at the request of Priscilla Painton, vice president and executive editor at publisher Simon & Schuster.

“I knew little about [Eunice Kennedy] beyond her association with Special Olympics, but I suspected Priscilla’s instinct was correct, that this was an accomplished political actor who had been overlooked because of her gender.”

Indeed, central to McNamara’s book is the degree to which the Kennedy family – especially patriarch Joseph Sr. – lavished praise and expectations on the boys, leaving the girls to more or less fend for themselves.

As McNamara writes, Eunice Kennedy’s “struggles to be seen – on the public stage and in her own family – mirrors the experience of so many ambitious women in mid-twentieth century America who had to maneuver around the rigid gender roles that defined the era.”

October 24, 1963: The signing of H.R. 7544, the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendments of 1963. President Kennedy hands the signing pen to Eunice Kennedy Shriver in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Photo: Cecil Stoughton / White House / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Not that, as McNamara noted to Irish America, Eunice was afraid to point this out.

“Her father mistakenly assumed his Stanford-educated daughter was killing time until marriage. ‘You are advising everyone else in that house on their careers, so why not me?’ she once asked him. She knew the answer. For Joe Kennedy, power was the province of men, not women. What Joe would not give, Eunice took.”

And so, Eunice Kennedy turned a family charitable foundation named after her late brother Joe Jr. into what McNamara called “an engine of social change on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities and – in doing so – she carved a role in national politics at least as consequential as that of her more famous brothers.”

In this day and age, it might seem hard to believe that there is actually a Kennedy about whom not much is known. Yet McNamara’s is the first full-length look at Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s very full, very complicated life.

“There are hundreds of books about Joe, Jack, Bobby, and Ted,” McNamara noted. “There are dozens about Rose, the Kennedy matriarch, and Jackie, the glamorous first lady. Laurence Leamer did a book called The Kennedy Women, which included Eunice. But there were vast swaths of her life story that had never been uncovered and so had never been told.”

McNamara spent time in archives in Boston, London, Chicago, and Palo Alto, California. The first thing that surprised her about her subject was how “often [Eunice] got there first.”

McNamara said: “Eunice worked for the State Department two years before Jack arrived on Capitol Hill in 1947. She administered a task force on juvenile delinquency in the Justice Department fourteen years before Bobby tackled the issue as attorney general. She worked with women in a federal prison more than 25 years before Ted took on prison reform in the Senate.”

Of course, for all of their notoriety – indeed, because of it – the Kennedy family is famously guarded.

“It took a long time to convince the five Shriver siblings to cooperate with this biography,” McNamara said. “Their reluctance was understandable. The Kennedys have not always been dealt with honorably by historians and journalists, but once they accepted that I was not interested in writing either a hagiography or a hit job, they gave me access to their mother’s personal papers, dozens of boxes of uncatalogued material that they had never even read themselves. It was a profound act of trust.”

The children, McNamara added, “asked only that I share with them any alarming information I found in those boxes. There was none, and they made no effort to meddle with my research or my conclusions or to censor the manuscript.”

McNamara also added that Bobby Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, was “very generous with her time and her memories of her sister-in-law.”

Eileen McNamara.

McNamara’s own Irish roots are as strong as her subject’s.

All four of her grandparents were born in Ireland and came to Boston. Her maternal roots are in Ennistymon, County Clare, while her father’s family hails from Malin Head, County Donegal.

“My own father worked for the post office,” McNamara added. “I was first in my family to go to college, to Barnard College on a full scholarship facilitated by my Irish American English lay teacher at North Cambridge Catholic High School. She had won a scholarship to Barnard 10 years earlier through her father’s longshoremen’s union in Brooklyn and convinced Barnard that I showed some promise. My mother listened to the Irish Hour on the radio every Saturday afternoon and I took Irish step dancing lessons for years, never once winning a medal at an Irish feis, to my mother’s chagrin.”

McNamara went on to the Columbia School of Journalism, before becoming a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. She would eventually end up spending 30 years at the Boston Globe, starting out as a secretary in the newsroom and rising through the ranks to become one of the Globe’s top columnists. McNamara won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1997, and was a key contributor to the Globe’s dogged coverage of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in Boston. McNamara was even a character (portrayed by actress Maureen Keiller) in the Academy Award winning film Spotlight, about the Globe’s coverage.

During her research, McNamara came to see that the Kennedys have “a complicated relationship with their Irishness.”

She added: “Joe Kennedy balked at being called an Irishman. In his eyes, he was as American as any of the Boston WASPs who rejected him for country club memberships and a place on the board of overseers at Harvard. But Rose played Irish tunes on the piano in Hyannis Port while her father, John ‘Honey Fitz’ Fitzgerald – the colorful former mayor of Boston – sang. The children absorbed the story of Irish struggle, of fighting to claim a place in a hostile world. Joe’s children were the beneficiaries of his determination to claim the American dream for them.”

Eunice herself, McNamara said, “came back from her time in London – while Joe was U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James – with a British accent.”

And yet, she was also able to share in a very special Irish moment with her brother.

“She accompanied President Kennedy on his trip to the family’s County Wexford ancestral home in Ireland in 1963, declaring it one of the highlights of her brother’s presidency.”

Perhaps the strongest part of McNamara’s book is her even-handed analysis of Roman Catholicism’s influence on Eunice Kennedy.

“Catholicism was central to Eunice’s identity,” said McNamara. “But hers was not the reflexive Catholicism of rules and rituals and rosaries. She thought deeply about ethics, adhering to the ‘consistent ethic of life’ tradition of the Catholic church, what Cardinal Joseph Bernadin described in 1984 as the ‘seamless garment doctrine.’”

This doctrine argues that human life, “no matter how developed or how compromised, is sacred and deserving of protection,” noted McNamara. “Believing that life begins at conception, she opposed abortion just as she opposed capital punishment and euthanasia. In the 1960s, before Roe v. Wade, as states began to repeal the 19th century statutes that had criminalized abortion, she had lots of company among liberals, many of whom saw abortion as a weapon being wielded against the poor.”

McNamara added: “The politics of abortion changed after Roe, but Eunice remained consistent in her opposition. She would have been enraged by the decision of organizers of the Women’s March in 2017 to exclude opponents of abortion, believing it was not incompatible to fight for the equality of women and to oppose abortion.”

Having completed this ambitious biography, McNamara – who has three children with her sportswriter husband Peter May – is not sure what her next big project will be.

“I am not very good at predicting the future. Most of my life has been a surprise,” she said. “I am focused at the moment on grading a stack of essays from my media and public policy class.”

And even though she is no longer grinding out regular newspaper work, she also can’t completely shake the habit, contributing columns to the opinion page of WBUR, Boston’s NPR radio station.

“Once you’ve been given license to share your opinion,” McNamara said, “it’s a hard habit to turn off.” ♦


Tom Deignan writes columns about movies and history for Irish America and is a weekly columnist for the Irish Voice and regular columnist and book reviewer for the Newark Star-Ledger. Most recently, he co-wrote, with the late Tom Hayden, an essay on Thomas Addis Emmet in the new book Nine Irish Lives (Algonquin, 2018).

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George Mitchell: A Keystone of the Good Friday Agreement https://irishamerica.com/2018/04/irish-american-of-the-year-george-mitchell/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/04/irish-american-of-the-year-george-mitchell/#respond Fri, 06 Apr 2018 10:00:12 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36028 Read more..]]> To mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998, we are look back on Deaglán de Bréadún’s profile on former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who played a crucial role in the ultimate success of the peace talks.


COMETH the hour, cometh the man. Philosophers have argued for a long time over the importance of the individual in history. Some say the forces of change, though seemingly blind, always produce that crucial man or woman who will be their instrument and cutting edge. Others argue that unless a person with the right qualifies, attributes and vision takes the driving seat, the process runs into the sand.

A senior Irish government official spoke for many when he told me there would not have been a peace agreement on Good Friday 1998 without George Mitchell in the chair. One is hesitant to speculate about possible alternatives: perhaps some timeserver from the ranks of the great and the good in Britain who would have no chance of winning the trust of Irish nationalists. Alternatively there might have been somebody from America or mainland Europe who was acceptable to nationalists but lacked the dignity, charm and diplomatic skills to persuade the unionists he was an honest broker.

The biggest difficulty in researching an article about George Mitchell is finding anyone with a bad word to say about the guy. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams reflects the views of most Irish nationalists and republicans when he says: “Senator Mitchell’s role was indispensable to the success of the negotiation process and to the securing of the Good Friday Agreement. There can be no doubt that without his patience and stamina the outcome could have been very much different.”

On the unionist side, David Kerr, press secretary to Northern Ireland’s First Minister-designate, David Trimble, also praised Mitchell’s role and the way he conducted himself in the multi-party talks. “He was extremely capable and fair: a very genuine person who gave everything he had to making the process work. He acquitted himself very well and did the American people proud. I don’t think anybody else could have done what he did, it was a remarkable political balancing act.”

Unionists are not noted for their uncritical praise of other politicians, least of all politicians who come from the U.S. Couldn’t he find anything negative to say about George Mitchell, I asked. “Not me,” Kerr replied. “I have the highest respect for him.”

It wasn’t always like this. When Mitchell was first introduced as a likely person to chair the peace negotiations at Stormont, there was a good deal of hostile reaction in unionist ranks. Not only was he an American, but he seemed to be part of the IrishAmerican lobby, friendly with the Kennedys and close to a President who was far too sweet on Irish nationalists. In the medieval mindset that grips certain elements in Northern Ireland, Mitchell’s religion was another strike against him. Wasn’t he some kind of Catholic? The Senator must have wondered what he was getting into. “This is a new experience for me,” he told a reporter for The New York Times. “In 30 years in American politics, no one ever asked what my religion is or where my parents were from.”

Somehow or other Mitchell got seated as chair of the talks, after a lengthy wrangle which finally came to an end at midnight on June 12th, 1996. A civil servant had to occupy the chair in case it was usurped by one of the dissidents before Mitchell sat down. There was vituperation and rancour from right-wing unionists, much of it directed at Trimble. It was a difficult moment, but the show finally got on the road.

One of Mitchell’s first tasks was to win the respect and trust of the unionists. A participant in the negotiations said he overcame their reservations by his combination of “statesmanship and presence.” It could be inborn or he may have acquired it during his years as a federal judge, but Mitchell possesses a quiet dignity and grace that make even the greatest loudmouths think twice before they start to rant and rave.

But even when they did rant and rave, a close associate of Mitchell’s points out that the Senator refused to be rattled. His years as majority leader, sitting through all those filibusters, must have taught him the patience which was the most remarkable feature of his performance in the talks. It’s said that one participant spoke for a full seven hours, while Mitchell listened. He adopted a policy of giving people free rein to say their piece. And if there’s one thing Ulster people can do, it’s talk!

Those of us fated to report on the negotiations waited outside in wooden huts, because it was felt that if the media were admitted the politicians would grandstand until doomsday. For us reporters, the cold and rain were less of a worry than the prospect of phoning our newsdesks to say there was “no story.” But if it was mind-boggling much of the time for journalists, what must it have been like for Mitchell, who had to sit there and show an interest in what was being said? “It’s like watching paint dry,” an official said at the time. Then he paused: “No, it’s like listening to paint dry.” But there was method in Mitchell’s madness: a speaker who was cut off could instantly gain an advantage in the grievance factory that often passes for politics in Northern Ireland. Next thing, you would have a party in the talks storming out of the room and into the waiting arms of the media, especially television, to shout at the top of their voice about the suppression of free speech and the civil liberties their forefathers died to achieve.

I first encountered Mitchell during President Clinton’s first visit to Northern Ireland, in 1995. Clinton was hosting a seminar on social and economic development in the Protestant heartland of East Belfast. Mitchell was his economic adviser on Ireland and seemed to be the latest in a series of well-meaning do-gooders from abroad who dip in and out of the Irish situation without significant impact. But I still recall the speech he made that day: his genuine affection for the people of both communities in Northern Ireland was apparent even to someone like myself whose profession disposes him to take a skeptical view of political figures. He also said the more business people in the U.S., could be made aware of the talents and skills in Northern Ireland the better. However he wasn’t asking them to engage in an act of charity but “to make a hardheaded decision in their own economic interests.”

He first came to real prominence when he agreed to produce a report, along with General John de Chastelain, former Canadian chief of staff and ambassador to the U.S., and Harri Holkeri, former Prime Minister of Finland, on the decommissioning of illegal weapons, an issue which has dogged the peace process from Day One.

We began to look at Mitchell’s background. He was born in Waterville, Maine, on August 20, 1933. His roots are halfIrish, half-Lebanese. His grandfather, named Kilroy, came to the U.S. from Ireland — it is not known which county — with his wife, at the end of the 19th century. They had several children but, as with many immigrants from that time, the family history is sketchy. The Senator believes that the mother died and the father was unable to look after the youngsters, who were given to an orphanage. The Senator’s father was adopted and his name changed from Joseph Kilroy to George Mitchell. In time, he married a Lebanese girl, Mintaha — later Mary — Saad. George Senior was a college janitor while his wife worked the midnight shift in woollen mills for nearly 30 years. This experience of growing up as part of the hard-working poor has never left their son.

Mitchell graduated from Bowdoin College in 1954, then served two years as an officer with the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps in West Berlin. He took a law degree from Georgetown University. In time he became an executive assistant to Senator Edmund Muskie in Washington D.C. and later returned to Maine to take a partnership in a Portland law firm. He lost a race for the governorship of his native state to an independent candidate in 1974. He was the U.S. Attorney for Maine from 1977 to 1979 and a U.S. District Court Judge from 1979 to 1980.

When Muskie resigned from the Senate to become Secretary of State in 1980, Mitchell was appointed in his place. He was reelected to the Senate in 1982 and 1988 by handsome majorities. In November 1988 he was elected Senate Majority Leader. Indeed, for six consecutive years, George Mitchell was voted the most respected member of the Senate. He led the effort for the 1990 Clean Air Act, the passage of which took him 10 years. He opposed the Gulf War but supported the U.S. forces once it began. The goal of getting Clinton’s health-care reform through Congress proved too much even for Mitchell’s well-known skills as a negotiator.

New York City, June 20, 1998. Tom Moran president and CEO Mutual of America, E. Virgil Conway, chairman Metropolitan Transit Authority, Senator George Mitchell, and Bill Flynn, chairman Mutual of America, pictured at a Fordham Club luncheon at the Mutual Building where Mitchell and Conway were presented with their Ellis Island Medals of Honor.

He had a reputation for supporting Irish American causes and in January 1994 signed a letter, circulated by Teddy Kennedy, seeking support for a U.S. visa for the Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. But he has never played the ethnic card, telling a reporter he was “not a hyphenated American.” Retiring from the Senate after 14 years, he declined an offer to sit on the Supreme Court but, interestingly, agreed to become the President’s special adviser for economic initiatives in Ireland. Asking Mitchell to become involved in the Irish situation on the ground was one of Clinton’s more inspired moves. Later the President jokingly told Mitchell: “I got the goldmine and you got the shaft.” But in the aftermath of the Agreement, an elated Clinton paid tribute to Mitchell’s “brilliant and unbelievable patience.” Later, when Clinton visited Dublin with the Senator, he told his audience that when they stood up and clapped for Mitchell, “He looked at me and said `Thank you’.”

Senator John H. Chafee has said: “When George Mitchell left the Senate in 1994, we all knew we had lost one of our most able and respected members. However, the Senate’s loss has, not surprisingly, turned out to be the world’s gain — and nowhere is this more obvious than in Northern Ireland, where George Mitchell’s skills, integrity and knack for building consensus has produced the solid start of a real peace.”

On the personal side, Mitchell’s second wife, Heather MacLachlan, gave birth to a baby boy, Andrew, in October 1997, while George was still chairing the multi-party talks. The strain of traveling back and forth across the Atlantic must have been accentuated by the pang of absence from his new wife and their infant child.

Even the journalists in Northern Ireland, hardbitten after years covering the Troubles, treated the talks chairman with respect. Partly it was that presence of his which I spoke about. But he had a neat trick that none of the other participants in the talks ever tried: instead of the easy informality of sitting at a table to answer questions, Mitchell stood at a lectern. I’m not sure where that lectern ever came from, and I don’t remember seeing it in the press-room when Mitchell wasn’t there — maybe he kept it folded-up in a case!

It had a subtle psychological effect on the media, who were brought back to the atmosphere of the schoolroom or the lecturehall rather than the TV studio or even the boxing-ring. Mitchell would come in and read his statement — agreed beforehand with his colleagues General Chastelain and Mr. Holkeri — from the lectern. His prose-style is one of short, declarative sentences, clearly enunciated. I almost wrote that they were simple sentences but that wouldn’t be quite true — there was often a subtle political ambiguity there when it came to controversial issues. He had a way of providing comfort to both sides of an argument, e.g., on the difficult question of decommissioning paramilitary weapons, while appearing at the same time to take a simple and clearcut stance.

That’s another technique he must have learned during those long hours in the Senate. This skill was seen, too, in his answers to journalists’ questions. “He was a past master at the balanced comment,” said a close associate. “Northern Ireland politics is a minefield and if you don’t go too far in one direction or another, you are much more likely to arrive safely on the other side.”

As well as dealing with recalcitrant politicians opposed to any form of agreement, he showed skill in handling allies, who can sometimes be more difficult than opponents. The British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mo Mowlam, paid tribute to his technique: “He’d never say no to my idea because he knew I’d do it anyway. But he said, `Now Mo, have you thought about this?’ and ten minutes later I’d changed my mind.”

Another advantage Mitchell possessed, that is not often mentioned, was his background in the politics of Maine. Northern Ireland and Maine are both modest in size and everyone in politics knows everyone else (in Northern Ireland they don’t always speak to each other — but that’s another story.) All politics is local, said the great “Tip” O’Neill and there are certain universal lessons about local politics that George Mitchell learned in Maine which he was able to apply successfully in Northern Ireland.

It must have been difficult for Mitchell traveling back and forth across the Atlantic, arriving jetlagged at Stormont to hear the same tired arguments, coming up against the old familiar obstinacies. The physical strain and the disruption to his personal life can only have been made bearable by the knowledge that peace was within grasp: the IRA and the loyalists were on ceasefire, the unionists had a leader who was prepared to make a deal despite strong reservations, the blueprint for a settlement had already been laid out by John Hume and there were political leaders in Dublin, London and the White House giving the process their full backing.

Mitchell had shown skill on the “micro” level by, for instance, giving free rein to speakers and through his general courtesy and civility, which created a productive atmosphere in the negotiations. But he also showed insight on the broad strategic front. Our politicians had been round the houses before: talks of one kind or another have been going on in Northern Ireland for years.

Mitchell took one simple step, which nobody had ever really tried before: he set a deadline for an agreement. If it’s not done by Easter, I’m out of here, was his message. Like imminent execution, this concentrated the minds of the parties wonderfully. I’m sure there was an element of “not wanting to let George down” but more importantly there was, I suspect, an anxiety not to be exposed before the world as duffers who were incapable of responding to the people’s cry for peace.

Bertie Ahern, Senator George Mitchell, and Tony Blair in talks room after signing agreement. (Photo: Crispin Rodwell)

The second thing Mitchell did was gather the ideas from the various politicians into a paper which he then supplied to the different parties.

Politics here is as leaky as a sieve but even reliable and trusted sources would not give their journalistic contacts a photocopy. It was said that the version given to each party was “coded,” i.e., there were subtle stylistic differences which would make it immediately obvious where the leak had come from. Some day an enterprising graduate student may get a dissertation out of comparing the different versions: suffice to say, for now, that the piny worked. By comparison with this kind of cleverness, Machiavelli was a mere amateur. Had the document leaked it could have severely embarrassed one side or another because their followers might have scented betrayal. Mitchell made doubly sure this wouldn’t happen by appealing directly to the media on moral grounds (another unusual gesture) to call off the hunt. There was still some leakage of the paper’s contents, but not enough to sink the negotiations.

The final act in the drama was to give the signal to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahem to come to Stormont to chivvy and cajole the parties into closing the deal. Mitchell’s friend Bill Clinton was in regular contact by telephone.

In all of this Mitchell, who had started off being strictly Mister Nice Guy, showed his harder side. His determination to keep to the deadline was crucial to the conclusion of negotiations. His role changed from security blanket to ringmaster; from the apparently passive auditor of the various points of view to the dynamic chairman injecting momentum into the process and pushing the parties closer together. As a senior member of one party put it, “He babysat us.” Having built a reputation with all sides for impartiality he was able to act as a clearinghouse for ideas, whether from governments or political parties. Plans and proposals lost their partisan taint by being routed through Mitchell who made it possible to consider them on their merits rather than their origins.

We miss George Mitchell in Northern Ireland. There are decent and likeable politicians here who are learning their way fast around the new institutions but there’s nobody as yet with quite the same class. He has spoken movingly about coming back some day with his son and sitting in the public gallery of the Assembly to listen to a debate about some workaday subject like health or education. Maybe nobody will pay too much attention to the distinguished-looking gentleman sitting with his child and noting the absence of rancour and sectarian bitterness in the speeches and perhaps nodding approvingly as parties from different communities take the same side in a vote.

Then he’ll depart, wending his way down the steps and leaving behind him the politicians, still arguing and debating, and perhaps at this stage only dimly conscious that, without George Mitchell, they wouldn’t be there at all. ♦

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Joe Kennedy III: Why the Dream Will Never Die https://irishamerica.com/2018/01/cover-interview-joe-kennedy-iii/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/01/cover-interview-joe-kennedy-iii/#comments Mon, 29 Jan 2018 06:59:34 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=33962 Read more..]]> Congressman Joe Kennedy is carrying on his family’s legacy in politics and making a name for himself as a champion of the underdog. On Tuesday, January 30, he will deliver the Democratic rebuttal to President Trump’s State of the Union. Could he be a future President himself? 


Congressman Joseph Patrick Kennedy III wears his illustrious family tradition lightly. When you are the latest big hope of the most famous political family in America you might well be weighed down by the responsibility. It has certainly happened to some in his extended family.

Joe, as the Democratic representative from the Massachusetts Fourth District prefers, seems different though. There’s a bounce in his step, a gleam in his eye, warmth in his handshake. He loves this job and is not cowed by who in the family came before beyond acknowledging their legacy: RFK was his grandfather; JFK and Ted his great uncles; his father, Joe Kennedy II, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for Massachusetts from 1987 to 1999.

It doesn’t come more legacy-driven than that.

A comparison with Donald Trump is inevitable – both are descended from parents with family fortunes – yet the difference is staggering. The noblesse oblige of the Kennedy family is to give back and acknowledge your debt to those who came before and fight for the little guy. For Trump, it appears to be the acquisition of more and more in some dervish dance of showing and telling the world every day how great he is. One would love to see an election between them, no matter how unlikely that may be in 2020.

Still, there is no doubt a run for the White House will beckon Joe some day. At 37 he is young enough and good enough. He is smart (he graduated from Stanford University and received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2009), on message, and clean living (friends swear he orders milk in bars). But above all, he feels rounded, together, and genuinely interested.

Our interview took place in his congressional office in Washington, D.C. prior to the announcement of Kennedy’s State of the Union response. While waiting, a slew of visitors made their way into his room. All came out smiling broadly. The Kennedy touch lives on.



Speaking at an American Health Care Act rally in May 2017. (Photo courtesy of the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy)

I just wanted to start off with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation. You have been very passionate and outspoken about that. What do you think will be the ultimate reality?

I think we all know the right answer. We can see it in our own family stories – my family came here in coffin ships. One of the political highlights for me every year is the annual St. Patrick’s Day Friends of Ireland luncheon hosted by the Speaker of the House. Here we are in the U.S., in the U.S. Capitol, with the Irish Taoiseach, and the President of the United States – whoever he may be – and often times the Vice-President, and the leaders of Congress. To look around the room and to see how an Irish community has evolved in America is astounding.

That is how it plays out for all ethnic groups. So we know what the right thing to do is when you have people who are fleeing destitution and destruction and despair. We know what it means as Americans to live up to the values in the words enshrined at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and we know what happens when we don’t.

We must not forget the story of the St. Louis, when hundreds of Jewish families fleeing WWII were denied entry to the U.S. and were later killed by the Nazis. I’ve just seen the exhibition at the Holocaust Museum. So we know what will be written about the decision on DACA 15, 20, 50 years from now. It is not a question as to what is right or wrong. The right answer is clear.

Kids, young children, were brought here by their families who were, again, doing what my family did – the exact thing that my family did – fleeing hunger and poverty and persecution. Are we going to say, “Your future doesn’t matter much, you don’t count?”

It seems to be a recurring theme though. We never seem to learn a lesson. The same sentiments are being used 150 years later.

We are always looking at a very human story, and our successes and our failures, times we have fallen short – interning Japanese Americans in WWII. But I continue to be inspired by those words in our nation’s founding documents, “to form a more perfect Union,” recognizing that you are not always going to get it right, but you kept striving forward.

It’s heartbreaking.

Yes. It is heartbreaking that we have to do this now. But you have people ready to do it and we know what needs to happen. The question is whether our government steps up to make it happen.

What is so heartbreaking is that while there still is strong bipartisan support for programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Republicans have chosen to use healthcare for kids as a bargaining chip for something else.

My uncle, over the course of his career in the Senate and his quests to extend healthcare and make that a right for every American, used to say, “Look, there are some things that we are going to fight about, but we should be able to recognize the fact that government healthcare for kids is just not one of them. You agree with it, we agree with it, everyone agrees with it, so let’s make that happen.”

Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Orrin Hatch reached across the aisle and made it happen.

For years – decades in fact – it was not partisan because people recognized the fact that if you are going to have a fight about something, taking it out on poor kids and healthcare isn’t the place to do it. It is just morally not the right way to go about your business as a government.

What is heartbreaking about this is that Republican leadership has decided that they are willing to wage that fight and hold healthcare as a hostage, saying “We are not going to fully defund it, but we are also going to string it along to not fully reauthorize it either for 100-plus days.”

The fact that you would choose to do that, the fact that you would also choose to say, “Well, we can fund part of this, but we are going to have to cut other parts of funding in order to make it happen because we just can’t afford it,” while we pass a $1.5 trillion tax bill.

And then we say we don’t have money.

You can’t actually look me in the eye and say we don’t have the money. It’s enraging when you hear all these fiscal conservatives saying, “Look, we just don’t have the money, and we don’t have money to expend housing and healthcare and basic needs…”

You just gave away $1.5 trillion and your argument is that we just can’t afford it, but we will extend those other benefits as they expire years down the road, which means we are not talking about $1.5 trillion, we are talking about $2 trillion and now you are struggling over a couple of billion? It’s insane!

Reading to children at a community center in Washington, D.C. in June 2017. (Photo courtesy of the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy)

You have become very agitated and pretty public about this in contrast to how you are often perceived as a relatively low-visibility guy on some of these issues. What changed?

No one was trying to take away healthcare from 32 million people a year ago, and if they were, I would have spoken about it then, too. President Obama wasn’t about taking healthcare from people. He was trying to extend it and he did.

The biggest change since I got here is the House of Representatives. The Republican-majority House passed bills that I took issue with, but they knew and I knew that they weren’t going to go anywhere with the Democratic president.

Now they have actually got a chance. Now, you have a Republican president who not only is trying to govern from, perhaps, a Republican or conservative ideology – although I might take an issue with that characterization as well – but is unwilling or unable to actually engage in any aspect of bi-partisanship. That is something I haven’t seen since I have been in office, but I am also unfamiliar with anyone ever having seen it.

All the conversations I overheard or participated in around my family when I was a kid were about how to move things along.

Sure, you had disagreements on ideology, but you find a way. That is why this administration’s major policies, whether it’s healthcare or the budget or taxes, is so worrisome. In order for somebody to win, somebody else has to lose. In order for a tax bill for these red states to benefit, we have to punish blue states like New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, or California. In order to extend healthcare to states that didn’t take the Medicaid expansion by a political choice, we have to punish states that actually did. In order to cut a fiscal budget of made-up numbers, we have to stick it to the real poor.

You had these conservative ideologists in the Republican party pre-Donald Trump who were for an open market and strong-arm defense, but there wasn’t a deliberate, “Let’s punish Massachusetts to benefit Arizona or Arkansas.” That is what we are seeing now.

A visit to the Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan, last October. (Photo courtesy of the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy)

Where does it go and where does it end up?

I don’t know. Why do you think, as the President of the United States and the head of the government, that you have to favor some over the others?

What do you think your uncles or your grandfather would make of this guy?

I made the decision not to speculate on what folks would say when they are not here. But I think if you look at the values that members of my family stood for, they would be fighting this very hard.

I have chuckled at the number of comparisons that I have seen made between President Trump’s tax plan and the one put forth by President Kennedy. Look at the marginal tax rates. Look at President Kennedy’s words on the Soviet Union and Cuban Missile Crisis and what he said about the Alliance for Progress. Look at what he did for civil rights. Look at what he did for the Marshall Plan engagement. Look at what he did by inspiring one generation.

He recognized that we are going to be in the international global debate about communism versus capitalism; we need to leverage other countries and relationships to build this network up.

Do you worry that people are too confident that Trump will be easily defeated in 2020?

Yes. I would challenge anybody who thinks that they can predict what is going to happen in November of 2020. The fact is, nobody knows anything. What I do know is that a debate about the vision and values that define this country and what it means to be American, what it means to be a member of our community here, as a nation, what it means to be, still, the sole superpower leader of the free world, will take place.

Does the American public believe that Trump will continue to be a better steward of the values that have defined the United States as against the Democratic alternative? That is a choice, and it is ultimately up to Democrats to be able to articulate their vision. That has nothing to do with Donald Trump. We know who he is. We know what he is going to stand for. We know how he is going to behave. We know how he is going to act and how he is going to govern.

People are asking if you are going to run.

I wouldn’t make grand plans on that; I wouldn’t hold your breath.

I think the focus for anybody participating in this debate at the moment has to be, literally, what can you get through and what can you do today to make sure that the values we hold dear, the responsibilities of government – that the government continues to meet those responsibilities, and that we continue to look out for each other every single day – that you fight for those things.

Congressman Joe Kennedy III with his father, former Congressman Joe Kennedy II, and brother Matthew Rauch Kennedy. (Photo courtesy of the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy)

I am up for reelection this year, and my focus is on making the case to my constituents back in the Fourth District of Massachusetts that I have been honored to serve them and I would like to continue to serve them.

If I am fortunate enough to be able to do that, I will continue to make a case as to what Democratic values and visions are for domestic and foreign policy, what it means to be responsible citizens of this country, to hopefully help us win back the House of Representatives and, if possible, the U.S. Senate as well in 2020. If we are able to win one of those houses of government back, it does change the dynamic of debate for the last two years of Donald Trump’s first term.

What do you think happened to this country? An African American was elected president, and eight years later, we end up basically electing a racist? Do you think Trump is a racist?

I struggle to come up with any other definition for what he has said, for the words that he used.

Do you think he is clever like a fox or is he just stupid?

I am not going to get into his mind. It is not for me to do. A lot has been written and said about that election in 2016. I think Secretary Clinton would have made a great president. She had extraordinary strengths and some challenges as a candidate. What I think we have to recognize is that for parts of this country, people were struggling in the ways that a lot of people didn’t recognize and, to [Trump’s] credit, he spoke to that.

He went to places where people didn’t think he needed to go and crowds showed up. People listened to him. He spoke at their level. He saw people.

And yes, he said and did and engaged in some things that I think are absolutely abhorrent and contrary to the values of this country that we have to recognize. But while the country is doing well economically at the moment, and yes, we set record after record, and yes, unemployment is almost four percent, there are an awful a lot of places across the country that are struggling.

Essentially, you have to frame that election as a shock to the system – one in which an awful lot of folks said, “Hey, the system is not working for me.” And that is not just the post-industrial communities in the Midwest. Donald Trump got a million votes in Massachusetts.

Am I going to sit there and say that every voter who voted for Donald Trump is a racist? No, because they are not. I do think that means soul-searching for a lot of us, because there are awful a lot of folks who voted for him and didn’t vote for our candidate who we thought they would. We are not going to win them back unless we say we’ve got to do a better job listening and responding.

With his great uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, in 2006. (Photo courtesy of the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy)

Do you think there is the opportunity to pick up the House majority?

I hope to be able to do everything I can.

At the moment, I do think that the House of Representatives is in play, and if I can be helpful in winning some of those seats back, I certainly would like to be.

You and your dad are the first father and son we have featured on our covers. What did you learn from him?

Oh really? I think one of the biggest lessons I have taken from my dad is the fact that people need to be treated equally. In this job, it is extraordinary that you get to meet world leaders and that you could also talk to almost anybody walking on the other side of the street, somebody sitting in the bar, somebody on the bus stop, somebody in the homeless shelter. If you are going to do this well, you treat every single person the same, because people are people.

Did he encourage you to run because it is a tough game?

I get that question a lot. My family, mom and dad, my brother, too, advised me not to. My brother had helped run Senator Obama’s primary campaign, so he has been around, and he helped in my uncle’s last campaign in 2006, which I helped co-chair after I returned from the Peace Corps.

I remember my father very clearly saying, “Political life is really hard, and there are long days, demanding days, and there are days that are not going to go so well, and you are going to have to get up the next day and do it all over again.”

He said, “The only thing that gets you through it is an abundant desire to actually want to do the job. And if you want to do it, then great, I will encourage you and help you do that, but you have to be really certain that this is what you want to do. If you are doing this out of some misguided sense of family obligation, you are going to get destroyed.”

How closely do you follow events in Ireland?

I follow them pretty closely.

Have you met the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar?

I haven’t. I hear he is very impressive. I’d love to meet him at some point. I haven’t traveled internationally since we started our family, although I was in Ireland in August 2014. My wife and I were there for 10 days or so and had a wonderful time. I had been in Ireland before, but it was the first time I got to spend a fair amount of time there. I didn’t want to make it as an official political visit, because I wanted see Ireland as a tourist. We rented a car and spent a couple of days in Dublin and then drove around.

Some had suggested that I go to the family farm and the owner now, a fifth cousin I think, said, “How many of you are here?” And I said, “It is just me and my wife” and he said, “Come on up here!” So we went.

Obviously, for me to be able to walk around the place that generations of my family called home and spend some time going through Cork and Kerry and Galway and Dublin – it was outstandingly beautiful, and people were kind and outgoing and engaging.

Does it bother you when you see Irish Americans who forget that struggle and say Donald Trump is right?

I think at some point all of us have to acknowledge and understand our own histories. If there is one consistency, it is this human vulnerability and it’s these cycles where we blame others. And at some point, almost everybody else gets blamed for something.

I remember my dad telling me stories about when he was a young kid and he was out playing with his older sister, and my great-grandmother Rose called him inside and he thought he had done something wrong, but she just brought him into the back of the house and pulled out a folder and took out all these clippings about Ireland.

My dad told me that story so I, too, would never forget where we came from and the struggles others before had to go through so that we can enjoy a better life.

I think the Irish have this extraordinary story of perseverance, of resilience, of struggle, of faith, and it is ultimately a very good story.

It is an inspiring story, but it is a struggle. I found great strength and great resilience, but also great empathy and sympathy in that story, because the Irish are one of the few nationalities at the moment that can actually give voice to some of the predicaments we see playing out across our country. They can talk about what happens after you persevere and get through it.

The fact is, you can find an Irish bar in any corner of the country. I was in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, and everywhere I went there were Irish. I studied abroad in Spain for a semester in college and we American students gathered one evening just to be together and went to the Irish pub.

With Vice President Joe Biden and Taoiseach Enda Kenny on St. Patrick’s Day, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy)

They are everywhere.

The Irish are everywhere because they had to leave. We do build communities very, very well. I think that strength, that perseverance, that resilience, that suffering, gives a profound sense of empathy and community because you got through those hard times because of community, because of family and faith.

So tell me, do you really think there is a chance Trump will get reelected?

Yes, absolutely there is a chance. I think that anybody who says there is not is not paying the attention to the past year and a half.

I think that I, and many others, had underestimated candidate Donald Trump. And I think a large part of our country continues to underestimate him in terms of his ability to dominate the news cycle and appeal to some portion of our country and win votes.

Can I make an argument that he is going to be very tough in 2020? Yes. Could I also make an argument that our country is going to be in such dire circumstances three years from now that he is going to be presiding over our lives in a way that we haven’t seen in decades?

Democrats will be doing our country a great disservice if we wait to allow that choice to be set by Donald Trump. The question ultimately posed to the American electorate is: is Donald Trump qualified now for reelection? And by then saying, “You have now seen and heard what a four-year Trump administration is. You know what four more years of his government is going to be. Here is an alternative and this is what we believe is a better pathway to be the leaders of free world and better stewards of our people.” That is on the Democratic party to come up with that articulation of values and vision.

I am not waiting for the current leaders of our party – House, Senate, others – to try to come up with our message that I think we all know. I think it is on every single Democrat who is elected at every single level to try to come up with a message that you think resonates with your constituents.

I think that it is undeniable that essentially what Donald Trump spoke to was, by large, a segment of our society that for a generation or two, a generation ago, was able to have a comfortable pathway to middle-class lifestyle.

We know that the engagement the United States had in and after WWII has been our role model, but we have not invested in infrastructure and education clearly as well, or as much as we needed to, as a means to preserve it.

Joe and Lauren with their children, James Matthew, who was born just before Christmas last year, and Eleanor, who just turned two. (Photo courtesy of the office of Congressman Joe Kennedy)

The international system the United States set up, yes, accrues to our benefit. But that system has pulled billions of people out of poverty.

That is an extraordinary success story. And internationally, despite the violence we see and terrorism, we are actually seeing historical lows in the amount of violent deaths around the globe.

The consequence of that – as more of these folks are coming out of poverty – is that their countries have some marked level of stability, and they have economic development that you didn’t have before. So you have got a massive amount of competition for jobs and schools and colleges and universities that didn’t previously exist for the U.S.

This is what Trump pointed to and what Brexit pointed to – it was scapegoating foreign trade deals and internationalism and immigrants and other things that drive a wedge. Could the foreign trade deal have played a part in it? Yes, absolutely. Did the multilateralism played a part in it? Sure.

The question ultimately is: does some of that accrue more to our benefit than the cost? Yes. Is there a cost to it? Yes.

The idea that this administration is going to solve the subsidies China has by waging a trade war over solar panels or steel is crazy.

And we saw that day after Brexit that some of the folks who pushed it admitted they lied – saying billions saved would go into healthcare. So the alternative the Brexit champions put forth actually doesn’t deliver on the promises made. And now the Brexit voters, like those here who voted for Trump, understand what those consequences are, because we didn’t quite fully understand it before.

The consequence the United States has to recognize is actually getting a clear articulation of domestic and foreign policy from this administration saying, “You don’t want to engage in these systems? Fine. What is your alternative and what does that look like?”

If you say you are against multilateral engagement, fine. But how do you expect to actually continue to build up an international system that is dominated by transparent democracy, human rights, individualism, and capitalism at a time when the greatest international threat coming on in the future is going to be state enterprises supported by the Chinese government – enterprises that will have the ability to move capital around to support those businesses and industries that are strategic to them? That, at its heart, is a question of the benefit of a communist party over an individual. They don’t treat the rights of individuals in the way that is inherent in the U.S. Constitution.

A fundamental question is: do you think the United States is going to be best able to promote our values on our own, or is it better to create an architecture of international alliances that are able to continue to push that narrative based on those values and vision? And clearly it is the latter, and we need to get that message out.

Thirty years from now, your new son, James Matthew, comes here and says, “Dad, I want to be a politician.” What do you tell him?

As of now, I would tell him that it is an extraordinary honor to serve, that it is a serious responsibility, that you have to make sure that you are ready for it and that your family is. This job is extraordinary and unforgiving and puts an extraordinary burden on families. So you have to be willing and your family has to be willing to actually step up with you. But regardless of what I would tell him about being a politician, I would say that the legacy of what I believe my family most stands for is that we have been extraordinarily blessed. Your responsibility with those blessings is to try to make sure that you make a contribution back to your country and your planet, and you can do that in a number of different ways. It doesn’t have to be through work in the office.

Congressman Joe Kennedy, thank you. ♦


Niall O’Dowd is the founding publisher of Irish America, the Irish Voice, and IrishCentral. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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