Tag Archives: Joe Biden

Brexit and the Irish-American vote

In 1920, many Irish-American voters were focused on their homeland’s struggle for independence from Britain. It was hardly the biggest issue of the campaign, dominated by domestic economic and social concerns in America’s first post-World War I election. U.S. Sen. Warren Harding, an Ohio Republican, defeated the state’s Democratic Gov. James M. Cox.

In 2020, Irish-American voters with relations, friends, or business interests on either side of the Irish border are watching Britain’s departure from the European Union, the so-called Brexit. British officials recently suggested they might break an earlier trade deal regarding the Irish border. As National Review explains:

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with a member of the EU — the Irish Republic. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which put an end to the decades-long civil conflict in the province between Protestant unionists and Catholic secessionists (That’s NR’s word, I’d say nationalists.), established an open border on the island of Ireland so that people and goods could travel seamlessly between North and South. This was a rather easy measure to implement because both the UK and the Republic of Ireland were in the EU at the time, and so they were bound by the same customs and market regulations.

The sticking point in the exit negotiations between the British and EU delegations was how to maintain an open border in Ireland once the UK had left the EU regulatory framework. Differing regulations and standards between the two countries could, without any physical border infrastructure, lead to rampant smuggling and undermine the internal integrity of the EU market. But all sides balked at the idea of putting up a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic given the violent history and still-volatile politics surrounding the constitutional question.

Now, as The Washington Post reported, “relations between Europe and Britain have grown shouty.” American politicians want to be heard, too.

The border on Killeen School Road County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Oliver Dixon

“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress,” U.S House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. Former Vice President Joe Biden, this year’s Democratic presidential nominee, issued  a similar Sept. 16 tweet:  “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit. Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

President Donald Trump’s special envoy to Northern Ireland weighed in a few days later:

“Everyone assures me that no one is interested in seeing a hard border between the republic and Northern Ireland,” Mick Mulvaney said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We appreciate that, we respect that and we agree with that. The one thing I keep trying to assure is on the front of everybody’s mind is avoiding a border by accident. The Trump administration, state department and the U.S Congress would all be aligned in the desire to see the Good Friday agreement preserved to see the lack of a border maintained.”

Still, Brexit is hardly the top of mind issue for Irish-American voters, or any segment of the American electorate. With early voting underway in several states, the 2020 campaign is a referendum on Trump’s overall behavior, his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, and now a fierce fight over filling, or waiting to fill, a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

Which helps illustrate another point:

“The Irish vote has become not, unfortunately, the lockup of the Democratic Party,” Brian O’Dwyer, vice president of the Irish American Democrats, told The New York Times in May. “But it is one of the few swing votes, along with the Catholic vote, left in the United States, and you can see various patterns back and forth where the Irish in particular have gone one way or another.”

Or as a columnist Tom Deignan wrote in August in Irish America magazine, “2020 may finally be the year we recognize the many shades of green out there amidst the red and blue of politically-polarized America.”

Also see:

Obama and Biden quote Irish poets

President Barack Obama cited W. B. Yeats in his surprise 12 January presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Vice President Joe Biden.

” ‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends,’ ” Obama quoted from The Municipal Gallery Revisited.

In is acceptance, Biden used a line from Seamus Heaney’s From the Republic of Conscience:  “You carried your own burdens, and very soon, the creeping symptoms of privilege disappeared.”

Read the White House transcript, or watch the presentation:

Irish immigrants cited in veep debate

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) made two Irish references in his 4 October vice presidential debate against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R). Kaine is Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Pence is paired with Donald Trump.

Kaine’s quotes, from the Vox debate transcript:

…we are a nation of immigrants. Mike Pence and I are both descendants from immigrant families. Some things, you know, maybe said weren’t so great about the Irish when we came in, but we [were] absorbed, and made our nation stronger. When Donald Trump said Mexicans are rapists and criminals, he said the judge was unqualified to hear a case because his parents were Mexican. I cannot imagine how you could defend that.

***

I grew up with a great Irish Catholic council. I was educated by Jesuits. I worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras now nearly 35 years ago and they were the heroes of my life.

Pence also grew up in an Irish Catholic family. As I reported earlier this year in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he has family ties to Doonbeg, County Clare, where Trump owns a golf course. Kaine’s ancestors were from counties Longford and Kilkenny.

Astute readers will remember that Irishness was raised at the vice presidential debate four years ago between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

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Biden in Ireland; McIlroy out of Olympics

As we await the outcome of the Brexit referendum, two other stories are worth a quick look:

  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s sentimental state visit to Ireland, and
  • Golfer Rory McIlroy’s decision to skip the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro due to concerns about the Zika virus.

Biden, in Ireland through 26 June, has met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President of Ireland Michael Higgins. According to a White House statement, Biden discussed the Brexit with both Irish leaders, as well as “the continuing need for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, particularly the need to deal effectively with the past.”

In addition to numerous stops in Dublin, Biden is also visiting his ancestral roots in counties Louth and Mayo. His maternal great-great-grandfather emigrated from the port of Newry, County Down, in 1849, according to genealogists. That was the middle of an Gorta Mór.

The Irish Times said: “Biden’s gregarious and emotional, garrulous and generous. He’s also, by all accounts, a bit of a spoofer. In other words, he’s a proper Irishman.”

***

As for McIlroy, The New York Times reports:

The Olympics were fraught with complications for McIlroy from the start. As a Northern Irishman, he had the choice to compete for Britain or Ireland. In 2012, he earned the animus of people in Ireland, including those in the Golfing Union of Ireland who had shepherded his development, by suggesting that he was leaning toward representing Britain because he had always felt more British than Irish.

In 2013, he said, “If I was a bit more selfish, I think it would be an easier decision.” He later pledged his allegiance to Ireland, and when asked in May about his commitment to competing, he said he was focused on the bigger picture. With golf guaranteed a spot in the Olympics for only the next two Summer Games, he said, it was imperative that the sport put its best foot forward.

Kennedy Center “Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts & Culture”

The global celebration commemorating the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising takes center stage (several stages, actually) at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. 17 May to 5 June. The “Ireland 100” festival includes dozens of performances from some of Ireland’s best contemporary musicians, dancers, and theater companies – along with other events ranging from a literature series, documentary screenings, installations and culinary arts.

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Fiona Shaw is Artist-in-Residence for the three-week festival, performing and conducting workshops with aspiring actors. Among the festival’s theater offerings are works by Irish playwrights Seán O’Casey (The Plough and the Stars) and Samuel Beckett (the radio play All That Fall), an adaptation from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake performed by Olwen Fouéré (Riverrun), and a performance installation by Enda Walsh (A Girl’s Bedroom).

“The United States and Ireland share a special relationship based on common ancestral ties and shared values,” Festival Curator Alicia Adams said. “The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts bears the name of our 35th President, who is especially revered by Ireland as a favorite son.”

See schedule details.

U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, who often boasts of his Irish-American heritage, and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny are scheduled to attend the 17 May opening.