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Obama makes U-turn on Northern Irish peace envoy

A week after Irish-American activists criticised him for casting doubt about the future of a presidential envoy to Northern Ireland, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has announced the creation of a team of Irish-American legislators to advise him on Irish issues.

This week, the Obama campaign said the team of Democrats will include: former peace talks co-chair George Mitchell; Democratic senators Ted Kennedy, Pat Leahy and Chris Dodd (of Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut, respectively); congressmen Richard Neal of Massachusetts and New York’s Joe Crowley; and governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland.

“I am delighted to be able to call upon a ‘Dream Team' of leaders who cherish the U.S.-Irish bond as I do,” said Obama, “I look forward to putting in place policies that will fortify this indispensable relationship.”

In a statement in late August, Obama's campaign said he was “committed to continuing U.S. support for solidifying the peace in Northern Ireland,” but felt that “the crisis period for Northern Ireland has passed.”

The statement sparkedcriticism from some segments of Irish-America, with critics insisting the peace process is still not sufficiently bedded-down to withstand a withdrawal of White House input at this point.

John McCain's campaign was quick to pounce on Obama’s statement, with spokesman Brian Rogers saying McCain wanted the role of a Northern Ireland envoy “enshrined in the 2008 Republican plaform.”

However, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Bryan DeAngelis, Senator. Dodd’s press secretary, said “Senator Dodd knows Barack Obama will continue our country’s strong relationship with Ireland and looks forward to working closely with him to ensure there is lasting peace in Northern Ireland.”

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