Rooney could be named envoy to Ireland

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Neither the White House nor the Rooneys were commenting, but a coincidence of timing and geography has intensified speculation that Steelers patriarch Dan Rooney could be named ambassador to Ireland, perhaps as soon as today.

Mr. Rooney was in Washington last night to be honored by the American Ireland Fund, the group he has nurtured as a force for peace in Northern Ireland. He is expected to be at the White House today, St. Patrick's Day, for a reception for Brian Cowen, the Irish Taoiseach, or prime minister. The timing would be propitious for an announcement of Mr. Rooney's selection as the new U.S. envoy, a possible nomination that's been rumored for months.

Mr. Rooney was an outspoken campaigner for President Barack Obama. He presented the then-candidate with a Steelers jersey as he introduced him at Mr. Obama's final appearance in Pittsburgh before the election.

Mr. Rooney has said that he had no expectation of any administration position as a result of his campaigning, but his extensive work in Irish peacemaking efforts have given Mr. Rooney broad familiarity with the issues that will confront the new envoy.

The next ambassador will take office just as Irish issues have taken new prominence from both economic and security standpoints. Violence from a splinter group of Irish nationalists has erupted in recent weeks with the shooting deaths of two British soldiers and a Northern Ireland policeman in separate incidents. The economy of the Republic of Ireland has been shaken by the worldwide financial crisis, bringing concern for the soundness of the banking system in a nation that had been dubbed "the Celtic Tiger" for its rapid economic growth in recent decades.

At a time when Northern Ireland's civil strife was at its apex, Mr. Rooney and the American Ireland Fund worked to raise money for reconciliation efforts as well as business and cultural development on both sides of the Irish border. The British government has honored Mr. Rooney's work for the peace process as he was named an honorary Commander of the British Empire. Last December, the Pennsylvania Society honored Mr. Rooney at its annual dinner in New York City.


Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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