When nominating new US Ambassador designate to Ireland, Kevin O’Malley, the Obama administration stressed his strong Catholic ties and his closeness to the administration.
What they did not mention was any obvious memberships in Irish organizations in America or connections to such groups.
The reality is that being Catholic or pushing Catholic issues has almost no place in the role of an American ambassador. That is usually left to the Papal Nuncio across the park from the American Ambassador's residence.
The first thing an ambassador must be is in charge of his embassy. The second is to know how important the Irish American connection is.
Dan Rooney was a wonderful Catholic and daily communicant, but that did not stop some embassy employees making it hell for Irish applicants for visas who were denied in the most arbitrary fashion.
That reached its low point when Ireland’s best known historian and author, Tim Pat Coogan, was refused a visa to come to America on a speaking engagement to promote his new book on the Irish famine
He recounted how during his interview he immediately came under suspicion from the embassy officer because he had written several definitive books on the IRA. His questioner obviously knew nothing of his reputation.
Ambassador designate O’Malley can hopefully avoid that kind of scenario and, in fairness, the embassy official most blamed for the aggressive attitude has since moved on.
But issues such as the Northern Irish peace process will rank very highly, far higher than any religious issues.
There was a recent key moment when Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was arrested on what turned out to be spurious charges. American intervention was badly needed to stave off a huge crisis in the peace process. The lack of an ambassador in Dublin was very evident.
Think back to Jean Kennedy Smith, the most activist ambassador in recent times. It is fair to say the peace process – especially the American leg – would never have developed without her. At key moments she intervened both with the White House and with key figures in the Irish Republic and the North to keep it flowing. She showed rare bravery and courage and intensely annoyed the permanent staff
While it is not at that critical point anymore, the Adams arrest and subsequent belated American response was an example of how important US intervention can be.
There are huge issues of emphasis when it comes to dealing with visa applications, with visa overstays etc.
Embassies all over the world interpret immigration rules differently. The embassy in Dublin for the last number of years has taken a very rigid view of regulations.
It will be interesting to see what tone O’Malley sets when he finally gets there. We wish him luck, but hope he realizes his Catholic qualifications mean little in the job.