Abandoned housing - ghost estates - litter
the Irish landscape.
In two weeks nominations close and we'll know the final field for the October 27 election for President of Ireland. If ever there was a year for an Irish-American to give it a go this was it.

First of all, the field remains as it was on August 15 when I wrote that Ireland is seeking a half-way decent candidate for President. Michael D Higgins leads in the polls, but a third of the electorate is basically saying, "Can we have another choice, please?"

As we head towards the closing date for nominations - September 28 - it's becoming clearer that no political heavyweight is going to throw his hat in the ring.

So, as of now, there's no obvious candidate from Ireland, which opens the door for an Irish-American. But if a lack of star power from the candidates from Ireland has opened the door, the financial crisis in Europe and our own extremely serious economic crisis have forced it wide open.

This past few months the people of Ireland have learned an awful lot about our "friends" and "partners" in Europe. They are neither friends nor partners, not when the going gets tough. We may yet be hung out to dry by our European overlords before this crisis has played out.

Members of the Irish diaspora, especially Irish-Americans, are the only real friends the people of Ireland can count on. Irish-Americans' feelings for Ireland and the Irish are familial. For the past 150 years or more the wider Irish family has been willing to lend a hand when Ireland was down.

It's no different today. All Irish-Americans ask for is to be included, respected, to have that familial feeling returned. Electing an Irish-American would demonstrate that the people of Ireland understand this and reciprocate those familial feelings.

Another advantage of electing an Irish-American is that it would set the theme for the President's role for the next seven years. In Ireland the President doesn't deal with the day to day running of the government, the role is more symbolic as leader of the Irish people. Over the past 20 years the role of the President has evolved into something of a tone-setter for the nation. Mary Robinson was about 'change' and Mary McAleese was about 'reconciliation'. Well, right now Ireland needs 'renewal'.

Renewal. An Irish-American, especially one with strong business links, could help with the economic renewal the country needs. He (or she) would also signal a renewal of those somewhat atrophied family ties between Ireland and America, those ties that are at the root of so much of our tourism industry and that should rightly be a network that fosters an exchange of ideas and insights and even investment opportunities.

Mostly, however, an Irish-American, particularly one who is a little more American than Irish, would bring that 'glass is half full' optimism that would provide something of a renewal of the spirit. Definitely we don't need an Irish-American so Irish that he brings with him Irish melancholia. The 'ghost estates' and lengthy unemployment lines provide more than enough of that.

An Irish-American it is, but who?

McEnery (L) with ITLG execs
John Hartnett & Gordon Ciochon
 {Photo from IrishInnovationCenter.com}
Ideally the candidate should have relevant experience and a demonstrable affection for Ireland. I nominate Tom McEnery, whose political background and business acumen are exactly what Ireland needs right now.

McEnery served eight years as mayor of San Jose, CA, one of the largest cities in America. He's a successful businessman and former lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

It was thanks to McEnery that Dublin was twinned with San Jose and the great Silicon Vally-Silicon Bog link was born. McEnery helped get the Irish tech boom going by providing Ireland's Industrial Development Authority with office space in San Jose, which led to Intel, Seagate and a host of other IT companies setting up their EU headquarters in Ireland. McEnery is still helping build those ties today through his work with the Irish Technology Leadership Group and the Irish Innovation Center in San Jose.

McEnery's interest in Ireland is not just about business either. His impetus got the Bytes for Bullets program going in Belfast and Derry and he wrote the introduction to John Hume's book A New Ireland. He is well versed in Irish history - his Master's thesis was on Michael Collins - and is a regular visitor to these shores. He loves Ireland and he's done much for the country.

I have no idea if McEnery would want to be President of Ireland, but I'm sure he'd be a good one. Unfortunately, it may already be too late.

McEnery is not a household name here, although he should be, so he'd need a whirlwind of publicity and endorsements to be nominated by September 28. He'd need a great campaign to top the poll on election day a month later.

Still, given the smallness of the current crop of candidates, I don't think it's an impossibility. With the right campaign McEnery could go from relative unknown to President. At the very least he'd get the recognition in Ireland that's long overdue him.
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