Dublin City Council yesterday decided to award Barack and Michelle Obama the Freedom of Dublin following a tight and contentious vote that led some council members to leave the chamber in protest.
The motion, which was put forward by Lord Mayor Brendan Carr, was voted 30 to 23 in favour of granting the former US President and First Lady the award.
However there was strong opposition from the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit and the Workers Party to the result of the vote and they decided to protest the decision by walking out of the chamber.
They were furious at the lack of time given to debate the motion with Anti-Austerity Alliance councillor Michael O’Brien saying:
“Anticipating that a number of councillors would oppose this proposal and would seek to bring home to him some uncomfortable truths about the Obama Presidency, the Lord Mayor disgracefully obtained prior agreement from the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Independent group that his proposal would take place without debate or discussion.
“Nauseated by tonight’s spectacle myself and other left councillors walked out of the chamber in protest.”
Lord Mayor Brendan Carr said the award was to recognise Mr Obama’s “moderating and progressive” influence on the world stage and to acknowledge the work of Mrs Obama in access for women to education and her campaigning on behalf of refugees.
The Lord Mayor said Mr Obama’s progressive path was in stark contrast to the “concerning trajectory” of the President Donald Trump who he said was making the world a more “xenophobic, intolerant and unstable place”. He said:
“While I’m aware some Councillors may have reservations over failings of US foreign policy during the Presidency of Barack Obama, I believe he and Michelle, through their promotion of the rights of refugees, humanitarian causes campaigning on behalf of women’s rights and focus on improving international relations with several States did point American society in a progressive direction.
“I believe awarding the Obamas, a couple who consistently spoke in support of these principles, the Freedom of the City would be the most powerful way we could make a statement on their importance at this time,”
It was confirmed that Mr and Mrs Obama had let it be known through contacts that they would be happy to accept the Freedom of Dublin and a meeting will be held with US Embassy officials within days with the Lord Mayor hopeful a visit could be organised by the end of the year.
Among the reasons given by those opposing the granting of the award were the drone strikes Mr Obama ordered, the ongoing wars in the Middle East, large scale deportations and his support for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Honduras.
Councillor Éilis Ryan of the Workers’ Party said:
“To grant Dublin’s highest honour to a man responsible for inflicting such harm on communities across the globe, does a great disservice to the residents of Dublin – and, more importantly, to the families of the many victim’s of Obama’s record of war and bombing.
“Its unheard of that the Freedom of the City would be granted to such a divisive figure.
“Indeed, there has never been a vote on a candidate during my time on the council.”