On St. Patrick's Day, President Obama announced that he is nominating Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney to be the US ambassador to Ireland.
“I am honored and grateful that such a dedicated and accomplished individual has agreed to serve as the representative of the United States to the Irish people. Dan Rooney is an unwavering supporter of Irish peace, culture, and education, and I have every confidence that he and Secretary Clinton will ensure America’s continued close and unique partnership with Ireland in the years ahead,” Obama said in a statement.
Rooney, a Republican, also provided a key endorsement to Obama during the Democratic primaries before the Pennsylvania contest in April. (His mini-biography, provided by the White House, is below.)
Obama formally announced Rooney's nomination at the Shamrock Ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen, one of a series of St. Patrick's Day observances on the president's schedule.
The president called Rooney "a great friend" on a personal friend, and a great friend to Ireland.
Obama noted that it emerged during the campaign that his great-great-great-grandfather on his mother's side came to America from the same county as Cowen.
"We are still speculating whether we are related," Obama joked.
Cowen said Obama's story of hope captivated people across Ireland and Europe, who now offer their steadfast support.
(Their full remarks are below.)
Obama also plans to meet with Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
In the afternoon, Obama will speak at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s St. Patrick’s Day lunch, then this evening will deliver remarks at St. Patrick’s Day receptions held in the East Room and the State Dining Room.
The Associated Press also reports that the water in the fountains on the north and south lawns of the White House has been dyed green to mark the national holiday of Ireland. First Lady Michelle Obama brought the idea from Chicago, where the city marks the holiday by dyeing the river green.
Dan Rooney is the recent recipient of the American Ireland Fund’s Lifetime Achievement Award and honorary Commander of the British Empire for contributions to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, has played an integral role in the Irish peace process since the early 1970s. In 1976, Rooney co-founded the American Ireland Fund, an organization which to date has raised over $300 million for peace and education programs in Ireland. Rooney founded the annual prize for Irish Literature in 1987 and co-founded the Ireland Institution of Pittsburgh in 1989. In 1993, the “Rooney Fellowship” was created to honor his generosity and charitable works. Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the winners of Super Bowl XLIII, Rooney was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He has been the recipient of various awards in relation to his work within the community and for his involvement with the National Football League over the last 26 years, including: the Sporting News NFL Executive of the Year in 1972 and 2001, the Maxwell Football Club Reds Bagwell Award in 1999, and, in 2008, the YWCA Racial Justice Award and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor presented by the National Ethnic Coalition. Rooney also led the sports world’s efforts to include diversity beyond the field and into the front office through the “Rooney Rule.”
Remarks at Shamrock Ceremony:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody. Happy St. Patrick's Day.
I just want to say that we are incredibly honored to have the Taoiseach here, and his entire team. This is an affirmation of one of the strongest bonds between peoples that exist in the world. You know, when you think about the history of Ireland and the enormous impact it has had on our own history, and the fact that you've had people from Ireland who have shed blood on behalf of this country's independence and its freedom, that it has had probably as much impact on our culture and our traditions as any country on earth.
The bond and the friendship that is felt between the United States and Ireland is something that I think everybody understands, but as the Taoiseach just mentioned, we can't take for granted and we have to continually build upon.
And so this visit gives us an opportunity to talk about some of the very important bilateral issues that we face; also to talk about some of the global issues that both the United States and Ireland want to take leadership in. We are grateful for the lasting friendship that exists between us.
I, personally, take great interest on St. Patrick's Day because, as some of you know, my mother's family can be traced back to Ireland -- and it turns out that I think our first Irish ancestor came from the same county that Taoiseach once represented. So we may be cousins -- (laughter) -- we haven't sorted that through yet. But even if by blood we're not related, by culture and affinity, by friendship and mutual interest, we are certainly related. And this gives us an opportunity to just continue to strengthen the incredible bonds that we have between the two countries.
So thank you so much.
Q Will you visit -- President, will you visit --
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I hope so.
TAOISEACH COWEN: Can I first of all thank President Obama and Secretary of State and all his team for the wonderful welcome here to the White House. As President Obama has said, it's a great tradition here in the United States for a warm welcome for Ireland, and we deeply appreciate that welcome. And as I said, in area of contribution, since I came to America over this weekend, this relationship is based on substance, it's based on a very engaged America working with a contemporary, modern Ireland, helping to shape our history at home and helping us to contribute so much more by reason of our unity of purpose and our common values. And it is a great day for the Irish in America today, and I'm very conscious of that.
More than 44 million of our 70 million diasporas of the world are residing in the United States of America. And all of us, my own family, have reason to be very grateful to this country. After all, it's gone down the generations further as we've progressed -- and thankfully go home and marry childhood sweethearts and end up with Taoiseachs coming over here to meet a man whose forebears, as he said, was in my electoral district (inaudible). But since we're not related -- before coming to Ireland, the only thing I can say to him is he's not going to share a slate with me over there, because I can't compete with this man even in Ireland. (Laughter.) Because he would be very, very welcome.
And we look forward to an excellent discussion, as I said, on issues of mutual interest. And we are deeply grateful and appreciative of the wonderful access that our country is accorded on this great day for Ireland. And he reminds us, of course, that we are not simply an island nation, but a disperse global family -- and nowhere is that more celebrated than is this great country.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Just one last point that I would like to make, and that is although I think it's wonderful that he visited the Oval Office and Washington, what you're really missing out on is the South Side Irish Parade in Chicago -- (laughter) --
TAOISEACH COWEN: I've been there.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- which I believe is one of the great events in America. It is a lot of fun. Although as President I don't think I could have as much fun as I could before I was President at that parade, because I have press following me all the time.
But, anyway, welcome, thank you so much for being here. Thank you, guys; appreciate it. We got to get down to business.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.