Bush for Belfast

WORD is that President George W. Bush will stop off in Belfast on an upcoming European trip that may take place as soon as June of this year.

Bush has already visited Belfast where he met with then Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2003 at the height of the efforts to get the peace process moving after a long stall.

Since then Bush has taken justifiable pride in the role of his Irish special envoys, Richard Haas, Paula Dobriansky and Mitchell Reiss, in helping secure the peace and build on the St. Andrews Agreement.

Indeed, if there has been a foreign policy plus for Bush it has certainly been Northern Ireland, where his special envoy appointments have been universally praised and the administration's commitment to securing the peace there has been obvious for all to see.

Bush has also hosted Northern leaders at the White House and has made clear throughout his presidency that he is firmly committed to peace in the North.

His trip to Belfast will undoubtedly be part of a farewell visit to Europe where he has not been highly regarded, especially in the wake of the Iraq war. He will obviously be putting his best foot forward and will defend his policy in the Middle East also, where he has drawn heavy criticism for what is seen as a pro-Israeli bias.

Get Well Soon, Ted

THE sudden illness of Senator Edward Kennedy has cast in stark relief the reality that Ireland and Irish America are very dependent on the Massachusetts senator to get things done in Congress.

On issues such as the first U.S. entry visa for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, the Bill Clinton commitment to the North and comprehensive immigration reform, it is highly unlikely that breakthroughs could have been accomplished without Kennedy's help.

As a giant of the Senate he has cheerfully carried the Irish government load, as well as delivered as best he could on issues such as immigration reform for the Irish American lobby.

His intervention in the peace process, when he became convinced in 1994 that Adams deserved a visa to come to America, was critical. Without his support it is unlikely that President Clinton would have cleared the visa. Certainly if he had actively opposed the move, it is highly unlikely it would ever have been done.

The Irish government has depended heavily on Kennedy across a broad range of issues also. The government's gesture last month of a major donation of over $2 million to the Kennedy library was very timely, it seems.

Even if he gets back into harness, there is no denying that the Massachusetts scion is entering the twilight of his career. At 76 and severely ill, it is unclear how long he can continue to carry the load.

The scary part is that there are few alternatives to him for Ireland and Irish America in Congress. Senators Chris Dodd and Patrick Leahy come to mind, but neither have the clout that Kennedy carries in the broadest sense.

Kennedy would also be a vital link to an Obama White House if the Illinois senator were elected, because of his early endorsement. Indeed, he is also very friendly with John McCain, who had battled along side him on issues such as immigration reform and campaign finance bills for many years.

Power to Return?

WITH the Democratic nomination almost wrapped up, there is increasing speculation that Samantha Power, the key Obama aide, will rejoin the campaign.

Power, as you will remember, lost her job as a foreign policy advisor after some ill-advised comments about Hillary Clinton during an interview she gave to a Scottish newspaper earlier this year.

However, given the new atmosphere between the two campaigns and the inevitable rounding up of support from all sides for Obama in the weeks ahead, there seems little doubt that Power may well be welcomed back into the fold.

The Irish-born Power, who is a professor and best-selling author based at Harvard, was one of the first foreign policy mavens to jump on board with Obama, and they became close friends as well as colleagues.

Her departure may be no more than a temporary one, however. Insider Democrats say her return may well be imminent.

Jim Webb for VP?

BARACK Obama's choice for vice president could well come down to Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a Scots Irish senator who has written extensively about his Irish roots.

Experts say that Virginia is the only southern state truly in play with Obama against McCain. As a senator from the state Webb would be a very popular pick to ensure that the Old Dominion fell into Obama's hands.

Webb is also a decorated veteran of Vietnam and former secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, thereby giving Obama two key boosts, one military cover, the other for picking someone with a Republican pedigree and capable of reaching across the aisle.

If Obama won Virginia it would certainly put him on the high road for the White House. With Webb on board that certainly seems possible.