Friday, June 27, 2008

Who Speaks for Obama?

June 25, 2008

By Niall O'Dowd

The Barack Obama campaign has done a remarkable job so far this election year, positioning a young and seemingly untried freshman senator as the new voice that America yearns for.

The latest Newsweek poll shows him leading by a whopping fifteen points against John McCain who has got off to a sluggish start.

While that may well be an outlier, there seems to be a groundswell in the country for change, brought about by the Iraq war, sluggish economy and the unpopularity of incumbent George Bush.

All of which makes the issue of Obama’s Irish positions very important. Major issues of Irish interest, not least his commitment on the future of the Irish peace process, his position on the undocumented question and on repatriating profits by American companies abroad are critical to the community and to the Irish in Ireland.

The need for strong Irish representation at the Obama campaign is of particular importance of the activist Irish in this country who number in the hundreds of thousands.

One has only to remember how effective this Irish lobby was in introducing an Irish policy to the then candidate Bill Clinton back in 1992 and all that flowed from that to understand the importance of who speaks for Obama on Ireland.

Despite the best efforts however, it remains unclear who speaks for Obama on Irish issues and where the candidate stands.

For instance, John Dearie, Chair of the Irish American Presidential Forum, has been unable to secure a commitment for the candidate to appear at one of the forum events.

Meanwhile, Trina Vargo, head of the US Ireland Alliance and a former staffer for Senator Edward Kennedy has apparently been making it clear to anyone interested that she is the gatekeeper for Obama on Irish issues.

That would be controversial to say the least. I worked closely with Vargo on the Irish peace process but since then she has become an outspoken critic of Irish American activism and has stated publicly that efforts to secure visas for Irish undocumented are the equivalent of putting “lipstick on a pig.”

That last comment inflamed Irish American opinion . Vargo seemed to go out of her way to denigrate and insult efforts to help the Irish undocumented.

Her malevolent intervention came at a time when it seemed some progress was being made on the issue. It was a shameful attempt to condemn young Irish immigrants to life in the shadows and Vargo was widely condemned for it.

Writing in the Irish Echo Brian O’Dwyer, head of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center wrote “She is clearly hostile to ending the decades-old intolerance that is besetting our people. In an article in the Irish Times last November she argued that “Irish illegals are not a special case” and that those who sought an end to the discriminatory treatment of the Irish were “morally wrong”.

She further argued that those who sought legislation to relieve the suffering of the thousands that are here without documentation were attempting “to put lipstick on that pig.” Obviously it will be a long eight years for the suffering undocumented with Ms. Vargo in the councils of an Obama administration.”

She remains a little known figure in the community at large. Her organization sends 12 students a year to Ireland and has major Irish government support to do so. Yet she has put herself forward, especially in Ireland, as speaking for the Irish American community.

Of course she is entitled to do whatever she wants but if the Obama campaign believes she is a true representative of Irish American opinion they would be making a grave mistake.

She does not speak for the community and indeed, is regarded in a very hostile light by most Irish American activists. Having Vargo as an Irish advisor will not fly with this community.

1 comment:

Sinead said...

Obama is no friend to the Irish