The summit stumbled into a political pickle over the absence of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a frequent visitor to Ireland and leader of a recent trade mission there.
Despite the furor over Clinton’s absence, the summit proceeded smoothly through its program with organizers flagging it as a promising basis for future and expanded business ties between the U.S. and Ireland, both North and South.
Organizers of the event, the cost of which is estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, stressed that the event was purely business and not political.
The summit yielded commitments from attending politicians and business leaders to hold more summits and “business missions” between Ireland and the U.S. in the coming months and years. Still, no private business participant announced at the summit’s conclusion that any new jobs were created or any firm commitments on development in either country had been finalized.
Instead, it was left to government officials and the political representatives from both Ireland and the U.S. to announce firm commitments.
An example of this is that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson will lead a mission later this year to Ireland. The National Science Foundation will hold a cross-Atlantic workshop later this month on “cyberinfrastructure,” while the National Cancer Institute will continue to involve Irish scientists in a U.S.-Ireland government-sponsored research partnership.
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Terms such as “exploring future collaboration” and “the need to create working groups” did not translate into an announcement on a private business opening a factory or office in either country.
President Bush, who organizers had indicated in the weeks leading up to the summit would address the assembly, instead attended a fundraiser in Louisville, Ky., on the day he was scheduled to appear.
The U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Richard Egan, delivered a prepared statement for the president.
“Today, we continue to work closely with the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland to expand markets, foster economic collaboration, and develop important strategic alliances,” the president’s statement said.
The visiting politicians from Ireland present put a bright spin on the summit.
Tanaiste Mary Harney called it “hugely successful.” Sir Reg Empey, minister for enterprise, trade and investment for Northern Ireland, said at the conclusion: “It will help restore business confidence.”
Both Harney and Empey had to respond to news during the week of job losses in their respective jurisdictions while on the visit.
“Our thoughts today are first and foremost with those who have lost their jobs,” Harney said.
Empey tried to reassure the traveling business reporters concerned over the loss of 400 jobs in Northern Ireland when private jet manufacturer Shorts announced a cutback at its Belfast plant.
Harney said she focused her efforts during the event to encourage U.S. companies to establish research and development facilities within their existing sites in Ireland.
She announced the Irish government would remain committed to investing euro 2.5 billion in building research computer facilities within Irish universities.
At the opening cocktail party on Capitol Hill, the summit’s chief organizer, Susan Davis, said the meeting was a private-sector initiative supported by the three governments.
She hoped the participants work would translate into “visioning a better future for us all.”
Later, Rep. Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat, said that the work of President Clinton on the peace process now allowed for a sharper focus on business issues.
Neal was the most prominent Democrat present in the absence of Hillary Clinton and Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was listed as a co-host of the opening congressional reception. Sen. Patrick Leahy from Vermont did attend the reception for a short while.
Organizers and Irish government officials insisted an invitation to at least the congressional reception was sent to the junior senator from New York.
Sen. Clinton’s staff said it had never received an invitation the summit and noted that she herself had organized a trade mission to Ireland in the last six months.
Irish officials stressed Friday that though the tanaiste had addressed the assembled group of business, government and academic leaders, the Irish government was not a “host” of the summit.
They said the summit’s organizers were responsible for the final decision over whether an invitation was or was not extended to Sen. Clinton.
Harney told reporters early Friday morning, the last day of the summit, that she had a good relationship with Sen. Clinton.
“There is no disagreement whatsoever between Sen. Clinton and Mary Harney,” Sen. Clinton’s press spokesman, Philippe Reines, said. “Mary Harney was an essential part of the senator’s trip to Ireland this past spring and she will continue to be an important and valued advisor as they both continue to foster business ties between Ireland and New York.”
The Irish government contributed the equivalent of $50,000 toward staging the summit, and was listed as a “key sponsor” and as a “Summit Co-Chair” on the literature disseminated at the conference as well as in prominently displayed signs.
Irish government officials nevertheless stressed that they did not have the final say on who was asked to participate.
One Irish diplomat suggested that organizer Davis had sent the invitation to Clinton but that it “it could be out in Missouri being irradiated,” referring to the fact that last year’s anthrax cases on Capitol Hill caused the incoming mail to go through irradiation.
Irish government officials said they had listed Sen. Clinton when asked for suggested invitees. Supporters of Sen. Clinton had in the weeks prior to the summit complained openly of her not having an invitation to participate.