AS yet, it’s unclear whether Barack Obama will fly in or out of Shannon Airport when he visits Ireland in May.
With Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, due to leave the country a day or two before the arrival of the US president and First Lady Michelle Obama, a massive security operation will be put into effect in advance of both visits. Shannon is always locked down security-wise in relation to any State visit, whether it is used or not. A spokesman for the airport said it would be some time before the points of arrival and departure are known in respect of President Obama’s visit.
Both State visits could have an unexpected impact on local sporting activities. It is understood that all gardaí in the Mid-West will be on call and this will cause serious disruption to GAA fixtures, as practically all clubs have gardaí in their teams. In Clare, one club has as many as five gardaí in its senior line-up.
There have been moves at various levels, from TDs down to community groups, to encourage the Obamas to visit the Banner County. Mentioned has been a possible visit to the Cliffs of Moher, which would help boost its campaign to be named as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. A tour of the Burren or golf in Doonbeg have been put forward as other options. An appearance at any location in Clare would deliver a huge tourism boost at a time when many people in business are struggling to survive.
Several US presidents have flown through Shannon during their time in office, probably the most memorable being John F Kennedy in July 1963. In his farewell speech, he quoted from a poem Sinéad Bean de Valera had recited to him and stated he would return to see “old Shannon’s face again”. A few months later, he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
Ronald Reagan was there in 1984 and Mr Obama’s predecessor, George W Bush, flew in and out of Shannon 20 years later, something that sparked huge protests. Bill Clinton also flew from Shannon in 1998, after a triumphant tour of Ireland shortly after the signing of the Good Friday agreement.
Mr Obama has passed through Shannon himself previously. Prior to his election in 2008 he made a stopover there on his way to the Middle East.
Chief Superintendent John Kerin said it would be premature to speculate about the form any security operation would take. However, he said it might be somewhat different to what happened at the time of the Bush visit.
“What people have to take into account is that when Bush came it was for an EU-US summit and there was a massive effort. At the time, things were a lot more volatile and there were a lot of protests.”
He said Irish forces have worked very well with the US agencies in the past and that there has been very good levels of co-operation between them.
While Mr Obama will hardly be met with the same level of public anger as George W Bush, there will still be protests and Chief Superintendent Kerin acknowledged a major security effort would be needed should he come to Shannon.
On St Patrick’s Day, Mr Obama met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and he outlined how important he feels having access to Shannon is.
“We want to thank him (Mr Kenny) for the operations at Shannon that are so vital for us moving our troops into Afghanistan. It is a testimony to Ireland’s friendship to us,” Mr Obama said.
One place that will certainly be on the Obama itinerary is Moneygall, County Offaly, where his ancestor, Falmouth Kearney, emigrated from.
Shannon Development chief executive Dr Vincent Cunnane said it was good news for the region. “We are delighted that President Obama is considering a visit to his ancestral home in Moneygall in the Shannon Region at the end of May. His visit is a show of confidence in Ireland by a world leader and will further strengthen the bond between Ireland and the US.
“The huge media attention that will be generated as a result of the visit will allow us to showcase Ireland on the world stage,” he concluded.