Hopes are high that the election of a transformative President in the US could herald an era of progressive change in Ireland.

The triumph of Barack Obama this week has been welcomed as a positive sign in the struggle for equality across the world.

But in Ireland, the contrast of the election of the first African-American US president with a coat-trailing British Army parade in Belfast last weekend has underlined the gulf that remains to be bridged at home.

As Obamania swept Dublin’s political elites, 26-County premier Brian Cowen invited the President-elect to visit the ancestral home of his great-great-great grandfather, Joseph Kearney, in County Offaly.

Mr Cowen said he looked forward to Mr Obama building on America’s strong relationships with the European Union and the cherished ties between Ireland and the US.

“Barack Obama’s remarkable personal story, allied to his eloquence and his huge political talents, sends a powerful message of hope to America’s friends across the world.”

Mr Cowen also sent good wishes to Vice President-elect Biden, “a man who I know is very proud of his Irish roots in Pennsylvania and Delaware.”

The Taoiseach said there was “a palpable sense of history” with Mr Obama’s election.

“We are all reminded of those who struggled for civil rights in America for so many years, as well as all of those who work for justice and peace around the world today.

“At a time of immense global challenges, today is a day of hope for the world.”

The First and deputy First Ministers of the Six Counties have also congratulated Mr Obama on his success. And yesterday Sinn Féin released a picture of Senator Obama with party president Gerry Adams and general secretary Rita O’Hare.

It was taken about a year ago when Mr Adams was in Washington DC holding private meetings with members of the US Congress.

The photograph is considered controversial by unionists as a prosecution against Ms O’Hare dating from the conflict remains officially on the books in the North. The DUP have described Sinn Féin’s former USA head as a “wanted terrorist”.

Mr Adams also expressed his congratulations to Mr Obama and pointed to his recent statements on Ireland.

“I extend best wishes to him in meeting the many difficult challenges facing the new administration,” he said.

“President-elect Obama has committed to continue US support for the Irish peace process.

“He also outlined his support for a comprehensive truth recovery process that would tackle the issue of state collusion and in particular endorsed the call for an independent, public inquiry into the murder of Human Rights lawyer Pat Finucane.

“I also welcome his comments on trade and investment, and his acknowledgement of the need for immigration reform. President elect Obama’s adoption of these policy positions is vital as we strive to overcome difficulties.

“Barack Obama’s election shows in politics that change is possible, and people everywhere will be mindful of the long history of African Americans and of all those who struggled for justice and fairness,” Mr Adams concluded.

US consul general Susan Elliott has said she hopes Mr Obama or Joe Biden may visit the Six Counties. She also signalled her belief that the new president will send a special envoy to the North as part of continued US support for the peace process.

“Our current special envoy Paula Dobriansky is a presidential appointee,” she said.

“Obama could ask her to continue. We might have a change there because we will have a change in the secretary of state but I don’t know for sure.

“I don’t anticipate that the position will go away.”

It is expected Mr Obama will appoint new ambassadors to Dublin and London, with US television celebrity Oprah Winfrey being tipped for the latter post.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News