By Ray O’Hanlon
With a nod to a former time when political rivals Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill could debate, argue, shoot the breeze and conduct the nation’s business, a group of Washington, D.C. staffers have formed a new group that speaks of their lineage – even as they hope it will encourage civil speaking.
“Hill Irish” proclaims itself as is non-partisan, non-political, non-denominational and non-profit and a membership organization open to current and former congressional staff of Irish descent.
“Our objective is to return the Hill to the days of comity and to do this through our Irish roots. We will be educating our members about their Irishness and exposing them to the many blessings we of Irish ancestry share in music, culture, dance, literature, travel, food, sports and history,” said Hill Irish founder and spokesman, Keith Carney.
Carney grew up in New York but has been based in Washington, D.C. for 35 years. His family is from New England with its Irish roots in Cork.
Hill Irish is holding a launch reception this Friday, April 17.
Carney, who runs a broadcast news organization on the Hill called FedNet (it provides daily radio/TV coverage of Floor debates, press conferences and hearings) worked as a staffer on the Hill back in the mid-1980s designing computer systems for the Senate.
“When I first worked on Capitol Hill, and until recent times, there was a very congenial atmosphere. People could actually socialize and use their personal relationships to reach across the aisle and get things done.
“In the past five plus years working on the Hill has become so partisan, almost venomous between the Democrats and Republicans, and the staff has become very entrenched to the point of gridlock,” he said.
And he continued: “I ran into Susan O’Neill, daughter of Speaker Tip O’Neill, at an event in Washington about a year ago and I expressed to her that I truly missed the days her father was the Speaker of the House.
“She agreed, and felt that there are very few staff making their work on the Hill a true career anymore. Tip O’Neill was a man who used his Irish heritage as a tool to get things done, as did Ronald Reagan.
“These two, opposites in nearly every way, one a Catholic Democrat and the other a Protestant Republican, forged a friendship and a working relationship based upon their common Irish roots.
“This is the comity I am trying to bring back to the staff. Many of the current and former staff that I speak with about Hill Irish are excited to get involved. They too see the need for better social interaction on the Hill, and being Irish is a great way to start.”
Membership requirements are simple, according to Carney.
“You have to be a current or former congressional staffer, and you have to have Irish lineage.”
Hill Irish plan to hold a few large events a year and, according to a release, lots of smaller events depending on the interest of members.
“My philosophy is to provide information and outlets on getting in touch with your Irish heritage, and then let our members be as Irish as they want to be,” Carney said