Obama to visit Ireland
EXCLUSIVE: You can put it in the bank, says congressman confidant
US President Barack Obama is coming to Ireland.
President Obama's close confidant, Congressman Richard Neal, has confirmed to the Herald that he will visit Ireland during his current term.
Speaking to me in his office on Capitol Hill, Congressman Neal said, "President Obama will visit Ireland, you can put that in the bank."
Although a date has yet to be set, Congressman Neal is in no doubt that the visit will happen.
He has discussed it with President Obama and is certain that a trip is looming. Congressman Neal is chairman of the influential Friends of Ireland organisation and regularly meets him to raise issues of Irish interest.
The congressman also discussed US plans to put pressure on multinationals that operate in Ireland to pay more tax to the American government. There are fears that large American employers in Ireland might not feel it worthwhile to continue operating out of Irish bases.
In a press statement this week the US Treasury singled out Ireland as one of the countries that the new revenue campaign is focused on.
Congressman Neal is unhappy that Ireland was on the list and says we have a definite tax system, unlike other jurisdictions allowing companies to set up a PO box number and claim they operate fully from there.
He used the Isle of Man, the Caymans and Bermuda as examples. "Ireland should not have been on that list," he said, before pointing out the significance of the fact President Obama did not mention Ireland at his press conference about tightening up tax rules. Asked whether Ireland could rely on him to lobby the US government, Congressman Neal was hesitant, but did indicate that he is not keen to see all of these companies being forced back into the States. "That's a pretty heavy lift" he said. "The idea is to keep American companies competitive in a global economic environment."
Congressman Neal is also preparing to welcome President Mary McAleese to the US where she will speak at the prestigious Mount Holyoke women's college in Massachusetts next month. He says the visit will help foster the links between Ireland and the US. The congressman feels the relationship between the nations is "one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world".
He's planning a visit here in the summer and is proud of his roots in Ventry, Kerry and Banbridge, Co Down. His Capitol Hill office is festooned with Irish memorabilia and a photo of him with Obama and Michelle taken on St Patrick's Day this year takes pride of place.