President Barack Obama with Steelers boss Dan Rooney
As the Irish Voice and IrishCentral.com first reported, Daniel Rooney is to be the new Ambassador to Ireland. President Obama made his announcement this morning at the White House.
Rooney, who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, can trace his Irish roots to Newry, in Co. Down. Although a lifelong Republican, he was also a strong and early supporter of Obama in Pennsylvania.
He had long been a prominent member of the Irish-American community.
“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,” said Obama.
“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.”
Speaking at the White House today, where he met President Obama, Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen said: "Dan has been a great personal friend of mine down the years, too, and I really very much welcome his appointment."
Well-liked in the Irish-American community, Rooney is said to be a very popular choice. Though aged 76, he is in good health – and still flies his own plane.
In 1976, he co-founded the American Ireland Fund, which has raised more than $300 million for programs that support the Northern Ireland peace process. The American Ireland Fund honored him on Monday with a lifetime achievement award.
And for his services to peace in Northern Ireland, he was made an honorary Commander of the British Empire.
Impressed by Obama's oratory in January, he called his son Jim and told him he was going to work for the Democratic candidate. At that time, this looked like a potentially risky decision, as it was by no means clear that Obama was going to secure the Democratic nomination. A strong anti-abortion and a dedicated Catholic, Rooney would hardly have been the typical Obama supporter.
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.
He has a long and established record of minority hiring in Pittsburgh. The NFL rule that ethnic minority coaches must be considered for any new head coaching position is known as the "Rooney rule."
Rooney succeed the outgoing ambassador, Thomas Foley, who stepped down from his post on January 20.