Senator Barack Obama's campaign has announced the formation of a new high level advisory panel on Irish issues, comprised of seven well known Irish American political heavyweights, to shore up Obama's somewhat frayed relationship with Irish America.
Senators George Mitchell (retired, Maine), Chris Dodd (Connecticut), Edward Kennedy (Mass-achusetts) and Pat Leahy (Vermont), Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland and Congressmen Joe Crowley (New York) and Richard Neal (Massachusetts) were the names announced as panel members on Labor Day by the Obama campaign.
The move comes a week after a statement from the campaign seemed to call into question the appointment of a U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland, which politicians in the North cite as a crucial and ongoing broker in securing a lasting peace.
The new Irish panel is expected to complement the outreach work already being undertaken by Obama's Irish liaison Carol Wheeler, and has received added impetus from the selection of Irish American Senator Joe Biden as Democratic nominee for vice president.
In a statement that reasserted the continuing importance of the special envoy role, Crowley said, "Senator Obama has surrounded himself with a group of advisors who have a long history of working to advance the Northern Ireland peace process and strengthening the U.S.-Irish relationship. I am proud to have been asked to serve on the panel, and I look forward to further engaging Barack on the issues that matter most to the Irish community, such as keeping in place the special U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland."
Bryan DeAngelis, press secretary to Dodd told the Irish Voice, "Senator Dodd is proud to join this distinguished panel of Irish Americans advising Barack Obama on Irish issues. Senator Dodd knows that Barack Obama will continue our country's strong relationship with Ireland and looks forward to working closely with him to ensure that there is a lasting peace in Northern Ireland."
In a statement Neal said, "I am honored that Senator Barack Obama would ask me to serve on such a distinguished committee. As chairman of the Friends of Ireland in the House of Representatives, I have had the pleasure of working closely with virtually every member of the advisory panel for more than 30 years on U.S.-Ireland relations.
"Each one of us has developed a longstanding relationship with the Irish government and the political leaders in Northern Ireland. I know we all share a deep commitment to maintaining and building upon the extraordinary relationship that exists between the people of the United States and those on the island of Ireland. And I am certain it will be a foreign policy priority in President Obama's administration."
Sean Adamec, Press Secretary for Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland told the Irish Voice, "Obviously Governor O'Malley is a big supporter of Senator Obama in his bid for presidency and one of the reasons is that Senator Obama recognizes the importance of the diversity of our country, including the Irish community and he's happy to help the campaign in this way and in this way and in any way that Senator Obama asks."
In a statement Obama said he created the panel because as president he intends to do all the U.S. can to help deepen the peace that so many have worked so hard to establish, and to strengthen U.S.-Irish cultural, educational, and trade ties, which are central to the identities of the United States and Ireland.
"I am delighted to be able to call upon a 'Dream Team' of leaders who cherish the U.S.-Irish bond as I do," said Obama.
"I look forward to putting in place policies that will fortify this indispensable relationship."