The Emerald Isle Has Friends On Both Sides of the Aisle

Bipartisan support of Ireland in the United States is stronger than ever, Dublin’s ambassador writes.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland, United States President Donald J. Trump, and first lady Melania Trump pose with a bowl of shamrocks presented by Varadkar to Trump on March 15, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Ireland, United States President Donald J. Trump, and first lady Melania Trump pose with a bowl of shamrocks presented by Varadkar to Trump on March 15, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images

A recent commentary in Foreign Policy by Paul Musgrave characterizes the Irish-U.S. relationship as one in which “script is more tempting than substance.” But the ties between the United States and Ireland are far more diverse and substantive than portrayed in the piece.

Musgrave concentrates mostly on the political dimension, which is just one piece of the U.S.-Irish story—but an impressive one in its own right. He is dismissive of the annual St. Patrick’s Day visit by the taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland to Washington, D.C. Yet this long-standing tradition and the official St. Patrick’s Day events across the United States are a unique chance to reinforce the ties that bind the two nations. Nor is the visit purely symbolic; the discussions between the U.S. president and the taoiseach each year are substantive ones.

Many Irish ministers have been engaged at a high level with their U.S. counterparts, while the recently published Global Ireland Strategy for the Americas sets out the Irish ambition to play a more active role in trans-Atlantic relations after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

There has been an active Friends of Ireland caucus in the U.S. Congress since 1981, currently headed by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal. In addition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s just-completed visit to Ireland, seven members of the House of Representatives accompanied Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Neal on a three-day visit in April, where Pelosi made substantive statements supportive of the Irish government’s determination to avoid a hard border after Brexit.

The combined value of Irish-U.S. trade in goods and services now exceeds $100 billion annually. There are some 750 U.S. companies with operations in Ireland. These companies maintain substantive presences there. This is underlined by the fact that between them they employ 155,000 people in Ireland. They are attracted to Ireland by its location inside the single market, an English-speaking labor force that is both Europe’s youngest and one of its best qualified, and supportive policies, including a competitive, simple, and stable corporate taxation system. Important as that system is, it is only one reason, among many, for Ireland’s success in attracting foreign direct investment.

Yet unlike in the past, trans-Atlantic investment is now a two-way street. Today, more than 500 Irish companies have subsidiaries in the United States, employing some 100,000 Americans across all 50 states.

Ireland is the seventh-most popular-international destination for Americans on study abroad programs. Almost 2 million Americans visit Ireland each year.

Irish Americans are certainly no longer a political bloc. Like modern Ireland, Irish America is diverse in multiple ways, and it is all the better for that. I have now spent nearly two years meeting community representatives across the United States and have been impressed by the depth of their affinity with Ireland and the great pride they take in their own traditions and organizations.

The sub-heading of the Musgrave piece describes the relationship between the two countries as “pure bunkum,” an interesting word which is commonly defined as “nonsense.” I respectfully suggest that it would be difficult to name other countries of Ireland’s size that enjoy as strong a relationship with the United States as it does.

Daniel Mulhall is an Irish diplomat who is the current Ambassador of Ireland to the United States

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