CHALLENGING PERCEPTIONS OF IRELAND: New York City Council Irish Caucus Chair Keith Powers Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Head of Irish Caucus in NYC Council confirms Ireland trip plan; vows to expand group reach

When we met on the day of the annual New York-New Belfast conference in the Big Apple, New York City Council Member Keith Powers revealed that he has an unusual but deeply personal link to Belfast, Ireland: His grandfather died there.

"He was in Belfast researching our family tree when he passed away suddenly," recalls the head of the Irish Caucus on the Council as he sipped coffee and munched on a dry croissant in a café nestled in the heart of his StuyTown neighbourhood. 

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"He was a New Yorker who had moved to Florida and his body was brought back for burial. That's over 20 years ago now but it has gives me added motivation to make my first visit to Belfast when next in Ireland."

And that visit could be in 2025, if Powers has his way. 

In the recent past when its numbers were more imposing, the Irish Caucus on the City Council undertook regular - at least biannual - missions to Ireland. Powers is keen to revive that tradition - perhaps by teaming up with the next delegation of American Irish Legislators in Albany. 

As a Council Member though his main focus is on the local. "It's rewarding to do things which make a difference in your own neighbourhood," he told the Echo. However, like many of his political peers, he flags up social media as the greatest downside of political life. "When my predecessor started out in political life in 2005, there was no Facebook, no Twitter," he says. "You came home from work and the day would be over. Now you have to check your emails and stay on top of social media for the news. It's non-stop and in some ways while that's good, it's also hard to have to scroll through so much information to find out what is really going on."

Working at ground-level is Powers' passion. "I enjoy working to make New York better for those who want to build a life and family here — not just stay for a few years and move on," he explains. "I want to be a champion for the city and especially for culture and the arts institutions which are boosting the city. There are a lot of stresses on this city but it's our job to persevere the quality of life for New Yorkers while ensuring the city is safe so that everyone — resident and visitor alike — can enjoy its greatness."

As Irish Caucus leader on the Council - numbers vary from three to five or six at present - Powers is keen to promote the Irish community of New York. "As a Caucus we want to preserve Irish culture and uplift the community," he says. "But I also want to expand the Caucus beyond those of Irish heritage to any Council member who has an affinity to Ireland. We want to build a bridge across to a modern and changed Ireland and open a dialogue with the people of Ireland. We have wonderful Irish groups making a contribution to New York, like the Emerald Isle Emigration Center and the Irish Arts Center, and we have to ensure they continue to get the resources they need and deserve."

A key part of that dialogue with the new Ireland will be in the leading of the first Caucus delegation to Ireland since 2018. "I hope I can bring as many members as possible with me so they can see that the perceptions they may have of Ireland as a super-religious and conservative country are no longer true. And I hope they can meet people not just in Dublin but across Ireland."

Including, of course, that Northern city where his grandfather took his last breath: Belfast.