Making a Big Difference

THE Washington Ireland Program held its annual event "An Irish Valentine" at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington on Monday of this week.

Over 300 leading Irish Americans, including PBS commentator Mark Shields and CBS senior correspondent Bill Plante, were on hand for the event. Irish Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Collins paid a warm tribute to an organization that has played a large part in fostering U.S. and Irish relationships.

The program yearly places 30 smart college kids from Ireland, north and south, in internship programs on Capitol Hill, and creates a much-needed bridge between the two countries. There are over 360 graduates of the program, ambassadors for life for better U.S.-Ireland relationships

It was amazing to witness the caliber of the kids on the program, originally the brainchild of Carol Wheeler and Denis Mulcahy, who also collaborated on Project Children. This year the program honored several Northern Ireland kids who had taken part in the program who had lost loved ones in the conflict. The night was entitled "Celebrating the Pathways to Peace."

How far the kids, now young adults, had come since those dreadful losses when they were children was clear from their poised performances and sometimes hilarious tales of working in key senate offices.

Their regard for America was very clear, showing again what a program like this can achieve in terms of helping the U.S. and Ireland understand each other at a difficult time for America abroad.

Executive Director Paul Costello announced his resignation at the event after 10 years of dedicated service. He will be greatly missed by the organization.

Programs like this which cost a pittance relatively speaking to keep going are invaluable for the future of the U.S.-Ireland relationship. Former Ambassador to Dublin James Kenny, who was one of the evening's honorees, stated the organization was one of those he realized during this time in Dublin that could really make a difference.

Predicting the Next Envoy

IT is always a fun parlor game as to who the next ambassador to Ireland might be if a particular candidate wins the White House.

As we've stated before, if Senator Hillary Clinton wins the line will go out the door of leading Irish Americans who see themselves occupying the White House in the Phoenix Park. In terms of money raised the favorite might be Maureen White, wife of billionaire Steve Rattner and a huge fundraiser in her own right for the Clinton campaign.

Elizabeth Bagley, married to tobacco heir Smith Bagley of the R.J. Reynolds fortune, would also be a contender. Bagley is a former ambassador to Portugal under President Bill Clinton.

Senator Barack Obama's choice for Irish ambassador would likely by vetted by Senator Edward Kennedy, who had his sister appointed to the post when Bill Clinton became president. Kennedy would almost certainly have a say again on the destination of the office if Obama were elected.

Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago could undoubtedly have it if he wished. He raised most of the money for Obama's Senate run back in 2004 and has opened his contacts book for the Illinois senator for his presidential run.

Other Chicago names mentioned are prominent businessman Tim Mullen, who has raised hundreds of thousands for Obama, Texas businessman John Gorman, who has done the same, and Eric Kearney, a state senator from Ohio who has raised huge amounts for Obama, who his wife befriended in Harvard Law School. Lena Kennedy, a major fundraiser in California has also been mentioned.

Tom McEnery, former mayor of San Jose and a leader in the Irish Americans for Obama group could certainly be in the running also. McEnery has an encyclopedic knowledge of Ireland, set up the twinning of San Jose with Dublin and was mentioned for the job when Bill Clinton first came into office.

Who Would McCain Pick?

SENATOR John McCain's pick would also be intriguing. His former chief aide John Weaver, who is engaged to Irish-born Angela Hession, who also worked on the McCain campaign, would certainly be a good choice.

Charles Dolan, head of Cablevision, is at the time of life where he might accept an ambassadorship. Dolan is a contributor and major supporter of McCain.

Other names mentioned are big financial supporters Frank Hennessey of the Hennessey group and Patrick Quinn of Q west communications. John McGovern of the Washington law firm of McGovern and Smith is also a major fundraiser who serves on McCain's national committee.

If he wanted to reward backers who have worked for him, McCain could consider Mike Murphy, his former ad consultant who regularly shills for him on Sunday morning shows, or Mike Dennehy, the genius who crafted his comeback strategy in New Hampshire which was an incredible success.