Irish prime minister makes the rounds in Boston
Enda Kenny arrives for two-day visit, seeks investment
For Irish prime ministers, bringing it back home always means a stop in Boston.
Enda Kenny, nearly a year into office as Ireland’s taoiseach, or prime minister, finally got around to it yesterday, arriving in “the next parish over’’ for a two-day visit.
It began yesterday with him talking about the importance of the political support of the senator who replaced Edward M. Kennedy, and it will conclude today with Kenny meeting the latest Kennedy to enter the political arena, Joseph Kennedy III.
Surely, the images of Ireland’s prime minister shaking young Joe Kennedy’s hand at the library named for President Kennedy will be shown on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, Kenny didn’t think the timing of his visit had anything to do with Kennedy timing his announcement of entering the race for the Fourth Congressional District seat.
But Kenny remarked on the enduring link between Boston and Ireland.
“That’s why I’m here,’’ he said, sitting in his suite at the Back Bay Hotel, where the Irish tricolor flew outside.
Truth be told, it’s more about business than politics. Kenny’s main interest here, besides giving a lecture at the Kennedy School at Harvard University last night, is attracting investment. The presidential library today is the setting for a lunch hosted by Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government’s agency that helps build Irish businesses in world markets.
Yesterday, Kenny met at the Boston College Club with officials from one of those businesses, Netwatch, a security firm that just opened its US headquarters here. Kathleen O’Toole, the former police commissioner who left Boston to become the chief inspector of Ireland’s national police force, is on the Netwatch board.
Kenny recently announced a plan to add 200,000 jobs in Ireland by 2020, a plan he called “ambitious but realistic.’’ He hopes a chunk of those jobs will come from new US investment. Ireland currently has about 100,000 jobs from direct US investment.
Ireland’s economy, once Europe’s most robust, has been battered by a banking crisis that exploded a few years ago. The unemployment rate has more than doubled in recent years to 14 percent. That is one of the reasons why Senator Scott Brown’s stewardship of a bill that would provide 10,500 visas to skilled Irish workers annually is such a priority for Kenny’s government. Kenny’s deputy prime minister, Eamon Gilmore, met with Brown in Washington last week.
After arriving in New York from Dublin, and before flying to Boston, Kenny was on the phone with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, explaining the importance of the bill to Ireland.
“I understand the sensitivity of immigration in the United States,’’ Kenny said. “But this would be of great benefit to Ireland, and I spoke to Senator McConnell about this.’’
Asked about critics who oppose arrangements for individual countries, Kenny said Ireland was not unusual in its attempt to secure visas. The bigger bill on which the Irish visa bill is aimed at joining involves visas for workers from China and India.
Kenney declined to be drawn into the controversy involving the demand by police in Northern Ireland for the taped interviews of former members of the Irish Republican Army that were gathered as part of an oral history project at Boston College. He said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the case while it was still before the US District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
While they get along in general, Kenny and his British counterpart, Prime Minister David Cameron, have differed on the approach taken to investigating the 1989 murder of Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane, one of several lingering cases of the Troubles in Northern Ireland that are in various stages of inquiry.
Kenny said he has not spoken to Cameron about the Boston College tapes or the impact disclosure of those tapes might have on the peace process that was nurtured by the Irish and British governments with active American government assistance.
Kenny said the decision by Joe Kennedy III to enter politics is a story that will be followed closely in Ireland. “As a young lad, I recall President Kennedy’s words, about public service, and they had a huge impact on me,’’ he said. “I wish Joe the best of luck.’’
After his Harvard speech, Kenny met with members of the Irish community last night at the Seaport Hotel. He was scheduled to attend a business breakfast hosted by the Irish American Partnership today before going to the State House.