Obama praises 'extraordinary' Irish




US President Barack Obama has said the success of the peace process in the North should be a lesson for troubled parts of the world.

After talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the President praised Ireland for its presence and actions on the world stage, saying the country consistently punches above its weight.

President Obama also said that America and Ireland are linked by blood.

“The friendship and the bond between the United States and Ireland could not be stronger,” he said.

“Obviously it is not just a matter of strategic interests. It’s not just a matter of foreign policy, for the United States and Ireland carries a blood lineage.

“For millions of Irish-Americans this continues to symbolise the homeland and the extraordinary traditions of an extraordinary people.”

The President and Taoiseach held talks for about 45 minutes in the state residence, Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park, Dublin after he was welcomed to the country by President Mary McAleese.

Mr Kenny said the discussions focused on the economic situation in Ireland including the banking crisis and the efforts to bring country’s budget under control and also US immigration policy.

The Taoiseach also assured the President that Shannon Airport – a stopover point for US military aircraft moving to Afghanistan – would remain open.

Mr Kenny described it as a “no-change” policy.

"I want to express to the Irish people how ... inspired we have been by the progress made in Northern Ireland because it speaks to the possibilities of peace and people in long-standing struggles to be able to re-imagine their relationships," he said.

“To see Her Majesty, the Queen of England, come here and to see the mutual warmth and healing that took place as a consequence of that visit, to know that the former taoiseach Dr (Garret) FitzGerald was able to witness the Queen coming here, that sends a signal not just in England, not just here in Ireland but around the world.”

Dr FitzGerald, who died last Thursday, secured the Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in 1985, which paved the way for parties on all sides of the political divide in the North to sign up to power-sharing.

The President repeated the thoughts of Irish-American and Democratic Senator Bobby Kennedy who said a "ripple of hope may manifest itself".

“To all those who have been working tirelessly to bring about peace in Northern Ireland, to those who are willing to take those risks, we are grateful to them,” he said.

“We are proud of the part that America played in helping to get both sides to talk and to provide a space for that conversation to take place. We want you to know that we will continue to be there.”

The President was given a collection of Hawaiian children's stories by Irish writer Padraic Colum as gifts for the Obama children, Malia and Sasha.

He was also given a hurley.

The talks involved the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore, and officials from both departments.

The President and Taoiseach said there was broad support from the US on the efforts Ireland was making to overcome its economic challenges.

“We’re glad to see progress is being made in stabilising the economic condition here,” President Obama said. “It is a hard road, but it’s one that the Irish people are more than up to the task to achieve.”

“We are rooting for Ireland’s success and we will do everything we can to help them on the path to recovery.”

Queues have already begun to get into College Green in Dublin city centre to hear the President address the public following a free open air concert. Mr Obama is due there around tea-time.

The President hinted he would again praise the success of the peace process when he takes to the stage.

The public spectacle is scheduled after a short trip to the President’s Moneygall, Co Offaly, ancestral home. Mr Obama's great-great-great-great-grandfather was a shoemaker in Moneygall and his son, Falmouth Kearney, left for New York in 1850.

Gales gusting at up to 70mph are forecast during the visit and may hamper plans to travel out of Dublin by helicopter.

Mr Obama will speak to the crowd of thousands at the same location where President Bill Clinton wooed onlookers in 1995. It will be attended by the US President’s wife Michelle and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Among those lined up to play are Sharon Shannon, Mundy, The Coronas, Imelda May and Jedward.

Leading Irish actors will give readings, among them Brendan Gleeson and Gabriel Byrne and top sporting figures, such as Padraig Harrington, Robbie Keane and Brian O’Driscoll, will also take part.

Mr Obama, who has Irish, Kenyan and American roots, is expected to highlight the strong ties between Ireland and the US.

Unlike the Queen’s tour, which concluded on Friday, it is not a state visit and will not carry the same degree of ceremony. But it recognises the special ties which many Irish people have with America.

Almost 37 million people in the US claim Irish heritage, most dominantly in cities such as Boston, New York and the President’s political powerbase in Chicago.

President Obama will be the sixth president to visit Ireland. The first was John F Kennedy in 1963.

The US is Ireland’s largest trading partner and the country’s investment has created more than 89,000 jobs.

After landing at Dublin airport in Airforce One, Mr Obama and the first lady called on President Mary McAleese at her Dublin residence, the Aras an Uachtarain where they signed the visitor’s book.

The US President also took part in a tree-planting ceremony in the grounds of the Aras before schoolchildren rang the Peace Bell unveiled in the grounds of Áras in 2008 by Mrs McAleese to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

The Obamas chatted and posed for photographs with the youngsters before leaving for talks with the Taoiseach.

The ceremony to plant the Irish oak took place about 50ft from a sequoia planted in 1963 by President John F Kennedy.

The President will fly out of Dublin on Tuesday to start a state visit to the UK.

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