The new U.S. ambassador to Ireland is expected to be Dan Rooney, the head of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team and a founder of the American Ireland Fund. This column was the first to note that Rooney was the front-runner, but it is believed that Rooney's position has firmed up in the past few weeks as the Obama administration begins looking at secondary appointments. Part of the problem for Rooney was family issues surrounding the ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it is believed they have been resolved. Rooney is extraordinarily well liked in the Irish American community and would be a very popular choice. Though aged 76, he is hale and hearty and still flies his own plane. He is well known for his key role in the establishment of the American Ireland Fund back in 1975 with Tony O'Reilly. He was so impressed by Obama's oratory back in January that he called his son Jim and told him he was going to work for the Democratic candidate. At the time Obama was an outsider, looking as if he was going to get crushed by the Clinton machine. Rooney, however, saw something he really liked. In April he wrote a long letter to his friends and associates backing Obama, at a time when Clinton was vastly more popular in Pennsylvania. Then in late October, during Obama's last trip to Pennsylvania, Rooney presented him with a Steelers jersey, a move that drew criticism from some lifelong conservative Steelers fans. Shortly before Rooney wrote last April's endorsement, he and Obama met at a union conference and spent over one hour together. Rooney came away deeply impressed. Despite the fact that he has strong anti-abortion views and is a dedicated Catholic, Rooney decided that Obama was the one. A conservative Catholic, Rooney would hardly have been the typical Obama supporter, but clearly he was moved by the man from Illinois. Rooney has a long and established record of minority hiring in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are now on the verge of another Super Bowl with Mike Tomlin, a black coach. Indeed, the NFL rule that black coaches must be considered for any new head coaching position is known as the "Rooney rule" and he has put his own money where his mouth is. Rooney is now the overwhelming favorite to take over in Dublin it seems. The announcement could well be tied to St. Patrick's Day, but it could happen sooner. Meanwhile, the current U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Thomas Foley, paid a courtesy last visit to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen last week. Foley will step down from his post on January 20, inauguration day, and return to the U.S.
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