PORTLAND, Maine — Daniel Mulhall has been based in Washington, D.C. for the last few years as the Irish ambassador to the U.S. Recently, however, he decided to travel a bit further north to Maine.
On Monday, July 22, Mulhall stopped by NEWS CENTER Maine to talk with Pat Callaghan about everything from Brexit to President Trump and Twitter to champion golfers.
Mulhall noted that whenever he travels, he has two purposes in mind. One is to pay tribute to the deep-set Irish history in the U.S., and the other is to consider opportunities today to connect Ireland to the country economically.
Mulhall followed that agenda in Maine on Monday, first by talking to people about the 'longshoreman' and large number of Irish who came to Maine to create successful ports in the 19th century; and second, by discussing links between Ireland and Maine. He said he has met Irish companies that invest in Maine, as well as people from the education sector.
"It’s kind of a complex picture -- looking at the past and respecting the past, but also thinking about how we can build for the future," said Mulhall. "There are a lot of people in Maine who cling very proudly to their Irish roots. I met some of them today."
Back at home, Mulhall isn't happy about Brexit from an Irish point of view. While he says he acknowledges that the decision to leave the European Union was not Ireland's choice, he hopes the split will happen in a "sensible way" to "minimize the disruption to our economic relationships with the U.K."
"At the moment, the border in Ireland is invisible. It's an open border, like the border between Maine and New Hampshire," Mulhall explained.
He added that Brexit causes some concerns about what may happen to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland if the British government decides to leave the customs union.
"It's about the movement of goods, and it's about what you have to do if one part of Ireland is in a different customs regime than the other. How do you then control the movement of goods? Nobody knows quite how that could work."
While some people argue that Brexit could actually lead to unity among the Irish, Mulhall still has doubts, paying tribute to former Maine Sen. George Mitchell for helpful work he did in the last 20 years to help stop the violence in Ireland.
"Thousands of lives have been saved by the peace process. The Good Friday Agreement, which is a very, very sophisticated and complex agreement, deals with the issue of Irish unity," Mulhall said. "Undoubtedly, a lot of people in northern Ireland have been shaken by Brexit and are maybe looking again at their views about the future of northern Ireland. At this stage, we want to get over the Brexit hurdle. It is a major blockage along the path to prosperity and to normal relations between North and South."
A few weeks after British ambassador Sir Kim Derek resigned, following the leak of some memos with disparaging comments about President Trump, Mulhall says Ireland's relationship with the U.S. is much different.
"Our relationship is based on traditional links between Ireland and the United States, epitomized by the 35 million Americans who in the last senses declared themselves to be Irish-Americans," Mulhall noted. "Over the last two, three years, the Trump administration has maintained the tradition of devoting a full day to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and even though the President doesn’t have any direct Irish links, he’s been quite positive about Ireland and quite supportive of our desire to avoid a hard border in the country with breaks it."
Another point of connection between Mulhall and Trump -- perhaps their avid use of Twitter.
"Now I tweet every morning, for the past five years, a different Irish poet -- and I find that it gets a very good response," Mulhall explained. "I now have a lot of people who follow me on Twitter, precisely because they enjoy my Irish poetry -- and from an Irish government and Embassy point of view, that’s a way of letting people know that Ireland has a rich literary and cultural tradition."
A rich literary and cultural tradition -- that also boasts a front-running name in athletics after the 2019 British Open.
"Yes, well, Shane Lowry. I actually played golf with him last year in Washington at an event sponsored by an Irish company who are his sponsors, and I really enjoyed meeting him," Mulhall recalled. "He’s a good guy, and I think he’s a very popular winner. People like him because he's a down-to-earth Irish man in the way that epitomizes Ireland -- as does his family, you know? Ordinary kind of people from rural Ireland."