Obama Promises U.S. Support for Irish Efforts on Economy

Enda Kenny and Barack Obama
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny greets U.S. President Barack Obama in Dublin. Photographer: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama, on the first stop of a four-country European trip, pledged the U.S. will “do everything that we can to be helpful” to aid Ireland’s economic recovery.

“We’re glad to see that progress is being made in stabilizing the economic situation here,” he said after meeting with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in Dublin. “I know it’s a hard road, but it’s one that the Irish people are more than up to the task in achieving.”

Ireland became the second euro-area nation, following Greece, to receive an international bailout last year to end speculation that the cost of propping up its banks would overwhelm the nation’s finances. Kenny’s government, elected in February, is seeking to cut Ireland’s deficit below the EU limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product by 2015 from about 12 percent last year.

Kenny said he and Obama talked about “our seriousness of intent in dealing with” the budget deficit and the economy.

Global stocks sank the most in a month amid signs Europe’s government-debt crisis is worsening with Greece struggling to complete a fifth austerity plan to keep pace with its widening deficit, Italy facing a possible credit-rating cut and Spain’s ruling party being routed in local voting.

Bonds tumbled in Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy, while U.S. Treasuries increased to their highs of the year.

Trade Ties

Obama said he told Kenny that the U.S. wants to strengthen trade with Ireland. He said the U.S. is “rooting for Ireland’s success and we’ll do everything that we can to be helpful on the path to recovery.”

The U.S. president is cutting his visit to Ireland short because of the potential threat to air travel from a cloud of volcanic ash drifting toward Europe. He will leave for the U.K. tonight rather than tomorrow, Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said.

Ash from the Grimsvotn volcano beneath the Vatnajokull icecap is forecast to stretch south over most of Scotland as of early morning tomorrow, mainly at lower altitudes.

This evening, Obama spoke before a crowd of about 25,000 people at an Irish cultural celebration at College Green in the heart of Dublin. He was introduced by Kenny who said Obama’s visit to Ireland is different from those of earlier U.S. presidents “because he doesn’t just speak about the American dream, he is the American dream.”

Links to Ireland

Obama drew cheers as he spoke about the ties between Ireland and the U.S. and his own link to the island.

“An American doesn’t really require Irish blood to understand that ours is a proud, enduring, centuries old relationship,” he said. “That we are bound by history, and friendship and shared values. And that’s why I have come here today as an American president to reaffirm those bonds of affection.”

During the 2008 presidential campaign, a local Anglican priest named Stephen Neill located baptismal records that established ties between Obama and the town of Moneygall, a hamlet about 85 miles from Dublin. In 1850, Obama’s great-great-great grandfather on his mother’s side, Falmouth Kearney, sailed for America at the age of 19, according to Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Collins.

Obama’s Ancestry

The president made reference to his ancestry, opening his remarks by joking that he was Barack Obama “of the Moneygall Obamas. I come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way.”

Earlier he visited the one-street town with a population of about 300 people. The president and first lady Michelle Obama shook hands as they made their way along the curb. He held a baby that was passed to him through the cheering and singing crowd.

Ireland’s economy was in the forefront for some local residents.

Obama’s heritage has “put Moneygall on the map,” said Orla Clarke, 30, who lives in the town and brought her mother and father to try to meet the president, showing up four hours before the president’s arrival.

“I’m sure it will help the economy here,” she said.

Aileen Spillane, 50, a school secretary who has lived in the town for 26 years, also said she saw benefits to Obama’s visit, pointing to a souvenir shop and a coffeehouse that have opened recently.

Closed Shops

If Obama’s link hadn’t been revealed “shops here would have closed just like everywhere else,” she said.

Obama stopped in the house where his ancestor lived as well as a pub a few doors away. At the pub, he greeted the owner and posed for photographs before sipping a pint of stout, which he said “tastes so much better here than it does in the states.”

The president is at the beginning of a six-day European trip that will be anchored by his address to U.K.’s Parliament on May 25 in which the president aims to reaffirm and refine the trans-Atlantic alliance amid economic and political upheaval.

He arrives in London tomorrow for a two-day state visit and meetings with British officials including Prime Minister David Cameron.

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