Dan Rooney resigns as ambassador to Ireland

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Dan Rooney will resign as U.S. ambassador to Ireland today after more than three years serving as President Barack Obama's top diplomat in Dublin.

The resignation, which has been expected for some time, will allow the 80-year-old Steelers chairman emeritus to return home to Pittsburgh with his wife, Patricia, after serving as ambassador since July 2009. Mr. Rooney was a vocal supporter of Barack Obama during his 2008 presidential run, which led to his appointment, but he had been involved in Irish causes for decades, co-founding the American Ireland Fund with former H.J. Heinz Co. president Tony O'Reilly in 1976.

"I have had a lifelong commitment to advancing the relationship between the American and Irish people and building peace on this beautiful island, but came unexpectedly into politics and diplomacy," Mr. Rooney wrote in an op-ed piece in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"It has been an honor and privilege to represent President Barack Obama and the United States of America as Ambassador to Ireland. President Obama charged me to protect and build the historic and deep friendship between our two countries. I am pleased to say this relationship, that is built on enduring family ties, a common heritage and shared values, is the strongest it has ever been. Ours is not a foreign relationship between two countries; our relationship is a shared kinship between two great peoples."

Mr. Rooney became the first U.S. ambassador to visit all 32 counties in Ireland, north and south, and spent much of his time in the country to boosting the Irish economy after its 2008 collapse. Other diplomatic issues included the thorny matter of undocumented Irish working in the United States; welcoming new immigrants into Ireland; addressing global security concerns; and meeting with U.S. military personnel as they stopped in Shannon in Western Ireland on their way home.

He and Mrs. Rooney were rewarded with one of the most beautiful American ambassador's residences in the world -- in a home in 1,700-acre Phoenix Park, where Winston Churchill roamed as a boy -- though they added Pittsburgh touches, including a gridiron where the couple hosted regular July 4 flag-football games.

It was rumored that Mr. Rooney would resign earlier this year to allow him to campaign again for Mr. Obama but he regularly dodged the speculation, saying "I serve at the pleasure of the president." The rumors reignited last week when Mr. Rooney's other boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was in Dublin for a European security conference and was asked if her husband would make a good replacement. Bill Clinton is popular in the country and played a key role in the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement.

"I cannot comment on what President Obama might do in the second term, it's his decision," Mrs. Clinton said Dec. 6. "But I would think that my husband will be here many times in the future and doing the work that he has been doing without having the title of ambassador."

Mr. Rooney traveled back to the U.S. often during his tenure for diplomatic and family matters and to catch Steelers games. The team ownership situation he returns to now is different from the one he left in 2009 -- to comply with NFL rules the Rooney family restructured ownership in September of that year to bring in new financial partners and boost the share held by Mr. Rooney and son Art II, the team's president, to the 30 percent threshold required by league rules. Previously, all five sons of Steelers founder Art. Rooney Sr. -- Dan, Pat, John, Art Jr. and Tim -- had each owned a 16 percent stake in the team and the other 20 percent was held by the McGinley family.

Mr. and Mrs. Rooney will attend a memorial service Saturday in Milton, Mass., for their daughter Rita, who died Dec. 1, and could fly on to Dallas for the Steelers-Cowboys game Sunday afternoon.

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Tim McNulty: tmcnulty@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581. First Published December 14, 2012 5:00 AM


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