By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has been tapped by President-elect Joe Biden for the cabinet post of Labor Secretary.
Walsh, a former union leader, has been seen as the first choice of labor unions.
According to Politico, Walsh beat out a host of other names floated for the position.
Biden was widely expected to choose a Labor Department head who enjoyed the support of unions, given the president-elect's long-standing ties with labor leaders, his support for the right to organize and the key role the agency will play in implementing, reported the political website, while additionally noting that Walsh and Biden have strong personal ties.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.
Walsh, who has attended several Irish Echo events in recent years, and has also attended events in Belfast including the Aisling Awards, is the son of immigrants from Connemara.
It was Walsh who forged Boston's Sister City agreement with Belfast in 2014.
And he has affirmed his enduring commitment to Belfast. "I will carry that unbreakable bond with Belfast into my new role as Secretary of Labour in the Cabinet of President Joe Biden," he said.
Walsh is a political leader who came up by his bootstraps. He has been hailed for his work to make Boston a city for all. During the annual census of the homeless, he instructs staff to treat every homeless person with dignity, saying, "that person could be the next mayor of Boston."
As a Massachusetts State House representative, Walsh was a fervent supporter of the peace process as he made clear when he visited Stormont in 2010, along with Representative Gene O'Flaherty who also moved from state politics in 2014 to serve as Walsh's chief counsel in Boston City Hall. Walsh was in Belfast that year to address the Belfast Top 50 Business Awards.
Walsh has returned to Ireland many times in the decade since, invariably visiting Irish cities clockwise from his family base in Connemara, then meeting officials in Letterkenny and Derry before traveling to Belfast and then, finally, Dublin.
In 2014, Walsh signed the Boston Sister City Agreement with Belfast, ushering in a new era of cooperation between the capital of Irish America and Béal Feirste.
That transatlantic alliance sparked the Friendship Four ice hockey tournament which, since 2015, has been bringing U.S. college teams to Belfast.
While the 2020 tournament was put on ice due to Covid-19, Mayor Walsh travelled to Belfast in November, 2019 to drop the puck at the opening game and to address the Aisling Awards.
He told a full house at the Aisling gala: "I’m here in Belfast to strengthen the values we share and to learn from some of the world’s leading experts at building community. And I pledge to you, as your partner, that whatever happens, I have your back and Boston has your back. We won’t stand by if the peace and the progress you have worked so hard for are threatened.”
Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO of the SEE Arena, who worked closely with Mayor Walsh to bring the Friendship Four to Belfast, says the appointment to the Biden cabinet "is tremendous news for Belfast."
He said: "Without Marty, we would not have achieved one hundredth of what we have managed to achieve in terms of our relationships with U.S. college ice hockey teams.
"In 2015, he turned over his official residence, which he uses only for formal occasions, to me and the Belfast Giants representatives and told the sports directors at Boston's most prestigious colleges that they had to come in to meet us to hear our plans. That was the pivotal intervention and we haven't looked back since."
As Labour Secretary in the new Biden administration, Walsh will focus on tackling inequalities in America by working to provide well-paid, unionized and sustainable jobs to a greater section of the population.
In a Tweet on Thursday evening, shortly after news of the cabinet nomination broke, Walsh said: "Working people, labor unions and those fighting every day for their shot at the middle class are the backbone of our economy and of this country."
Once approved by the U.S. Senate - a formality now that the Senate is controlled by the Democrats - Mayor Walsh will step down from the mayorship and hand over the baton to City Council President Kim Janey who will become the Boston's first African-American first citizen.
Meanwhile, Walsh's nomination has been hailed by Sinn Féin MP John Finucane.
The North Belfast MP said: “I am delighted that Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, has been nominated by Joe Biden to take on the role as Labor Secretary in the Biden administration.
“I have had the honor of visiting Boston when Mayor of Belfast to meet with Marty Walsh, and I was delighted to host him in Belfast later that year. As Mayor, Marty actively worked to strengthen economic and cultural links between Boston and Belfast.
“Marty Walsh has a proud record of standing up for the rights of workers and families, and is also a great friend of Ireland having been a vocal opponent of any attempts to undermine the Good Friday Agreement during Brexit negotiations. I want to extend my best wishes to Marty Walsh in his new role as Labor Secretary.”