Obama, who launched his presidential bid before an enthusiastic crowd in Springfield, Ill., on Saturday, promised in his statement, issued Monday afternoon of this week, that as president he would “personally engage” where appropriate in the peace process in Northern Ireland.
“The gains of the last decade were in part made possible by U.S. engagement. Going forward, we should continue the practice of having a special envoy for Northern Ireland, and the our president should personally engage on where America can play a constructive role, working closely with the Irish taoiseach, the British prime minister, and party leaders in Northern Ireland,” Obama said.
Obama’s statement was released in the form of an op-ed. Entitled “On Irish Issues,” the statement drew an analogy between Obama’s own immigrant roots and those of the Irish in America.
Crucially, the man who could be the nation’s first Africa-American president — and the first son of a foreign-born parent to hold the office since the 19th century — pledged his support for comprehensive immigration reform in addition to promising an active presidency in relation to the North.
Obama also emphasized the importance of economic and cultural ties between the United States and Ireland.
Here is the statement in full.
“My family’s story may be familiar to Irish Americans — a distant homeland, a journey across an ocean in search of opportunity. Like many Americans of Irish descent, I too have made the journey to my family’s homeland.
“In 1987, I first traveled to Kenya, the birthplace of my father. I discovered a warm sense of community. I discovered a land with an unforgettably haunting beauty. I discovered a people determined to grab hold of hope. In short, I made discoveries that are familiar to scores of Irish Americans.
“The determined optimism of the Irish people has enabled them to grab hold of hope in the United States, from South Boston to the south side of Chicago. It’s an optimism expressed in three issues so important to Irish Americans today: a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, an American immigration policy that keeps faith with our tradition of offering opportunity to those who seek it, and strong economic and cultural ties between our two nations.
“As I chair the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe, and as I travel around the country learning from and listening to the American people, I will be advancing ideas and policies to meet these goals.
“After years of hard-earned progress, Northern Ireland is now poised to take another step forward. The IRA has abandoned violence and arms and Sinn Fein has now voted to support the PSNI. They have, in the words of Tony Blair, made a commitment that ‘has been historic and has been real.’
“To seize this hopeful moment, the Democratic Unionist party should take the next step outlined in the St. Andrew’s agreement: a commitment to a power-sharing executive after March elections, so Northern Ireland can continue the process of peace that its people so clearly wish to follow.
“The gains of the last decade were in part made possible by U.S. engagement. Going forward, we should continue the practice of having a special envoy for Northern Ireland, and the our president should personally engage on where America can play a constructive role, working closely with the Irish Taoiseach, the British prime minister, and party leaders in Northern Ireland.
“We must also pursue immigration policies that keep open the doors of opportunity in our own country. My father’s experience has informed my own views on the issue, and I have seen the enormous contributions that Irish immigrants have made to this country. Last summer, I joined hundreds of thousands of people in Chicago to march on behalf of immigration reform, walking shoulder to shoulder with many Irish Americans who shared their own personal stories of hope and opportunity.
“Yet our system is broken, and fixing it demands a comprehensive approach. Last year, I reached across the aisle to work with Republicans on this. Our proposal would strengthen border security and prohibit employers from hiring illegal immigrants, but it also recognizes that the deportation of 12 million people is impossible.
“That’s why it proposes a tough, earned path to citizenship for those in the United States illegally; replaces the flood of undocumented workers with a new flow of guestworkers; and ensures that law-abiding immigrants are welcome to pursue their dreams.
“The ties between America and Ireland go far beyond bloodlines. U.S. investment in Ireland helped create the Celtic Tiger, and Ireland’s economic success has in turn led to a boom in Irish investment in the United States. Incalculable cultural exchanges draw us together, as do common causes and common beliefs.
“In 1963, John F. Kennedy made his own journey in reverse and addressed the Irish Parliament. He cited the principles that unite our countries, quoting George Bernard Shaw’s command to ‘dream of things that never were, and ask why not,’ and paying tribute to an Ireland that ‘sent their doctors and technicians and soldiers and priests to help other lands to keep their liberty alive.’
“Today, President Kennedy would be pleased – but not surprised – to find the Irish working to lift up other lands from east Africa to east Asia, and to find an Ireland that has come so very far on its own. The story of our two countries is constantly evolving and joined together. I welcome this opportunity to be a part of that story, and look forward to hearing your concerns in the months ahead.”
Obama’s “personally engage” line was being seen this week as both a nod to President Bill Clinton’s hands-on style with regard to Northern Ireland, and an echo of commitments given by Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry, who ultimately lost the 2004 presidential campaign.