How Irish-Americans Paved the Way on K Street

Posted March 16, 2010 at 6:22pm

Most revelers will mark St. Patrick’s Day with a beer — or three — in a pub.

But Paul Quinn, the dean of Irish-American lobbyists, is not the average partygoer.

His dance card is packed today, starting with a breakfast that the Northern Ireland Bureau is hosting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, followed by a reception that the Irish ambassador is throwing at the St. Regis Hotel. Later, Quinn plans to make a trip over to the White House for a reception honoring Ireland’s prime minister, Brian Cowen.

“It’s a full day,” Quinn said.

All four of Quinn’s grandparents came from Ireland, and the Rhode Island native has dual citizenship.

Quinn, a lobbyist at Nossaman, has been involved in Irish issues going back to the early 1960s, when he represented the Irish government’s tourist board.

“There weren’t a lot of people in Congress who paid attention to Irish issues in the early days,” Quinn said. “Those that did had pretty strange views.”

To help facilitate a better understanding of the issues at play in Ireland, Quinn helped organize the Committee for a New Ireland that brought Members of Congress to Ireland in the early 1980s to meet with key players in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The small island has a violent past, particularly over Northern Ireland, which is controlled by the British.

“We advocated for what became the Good Friday Agreement,” Quinn said, recalling the 1998 pact between the Irish and British governments that helped establish a peaceful solution to the long-standing dispute between the countries.

Quinn continues his work on behalf of Ireland today.

“I’ve been busy both in the peace process as well as in business issues,” he said. “I’ve done a substantial amount of work with U.S. businesses entering Ireland and Irish companies doing business in the U.S.”

His clients have been in the health care, telecommunications, tourism, education and high-tech fields.

Additionally, Quinn is working on immigration issues, trying to help about 60,000 undocumented people of Irish ethnicity obtain U.S. green cards.

He also follows international tax policy on behalf of the Irish Development Authority, a government entity focused on attracting foreign companies to set up operations in Ireland.

For Quinn, it’s a family affair.

President Bill Clinton appointed his brother, Tom Quinn, a lobbyist at Venable, as the alternate U.S. observer to the International Fund for Ireland.

The brothers have long been supporters of the American Ireland Fund dinner. Paul Quinn is the founder of the 18-year-old event, which raises money for the American Ireland Fund, a nonprofit that has contributed more than $250 million for peace and reconciliation, arts and culture, community development and education programs in Ireland.

The gala, which was Tuesday evening, this year honored Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her work toward peace in Northern Ireland. The event will raise more than $700,000 this year, Quinn said.

The Quinn brothers aren’t the event’s only supporters downtown. This year’s lineup of K Street operatives who served as co-chairmen included Gerald Cassidy, founder of Cassidy & Associates; Susan Davis of Susan Davis International; Preston Padden, head of Walt Disney Co.’s government relations operation; Mark Tuohey of Vinson & Elkins; and John Feehery of the Feehery Group.

For Republican lobbyist Feehery, raising money for the gala and getting involved in Irish issues is a labor of love. Feehery first got involved with Irish policy as a senior adviser to then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). An Irish-American, Feehery was involved in the peace process, accompanying Hastert to Ireland to meet with leaders from Northern Ireland and Ireland.

In addition to fundraising for the gala, Tuohey has a history of working on Irish legal issues. A citizen of both Ireland and the United States, Tuohey serves as an adviser to the government of Northern Ireland, focusing primarily on police issues.

Davis has also turned her Irish-American heritage into a part of her book of business. She has worked on international trade issues between the United States and Ireland.

In 2002, she chaired the U.S.-Ireland Business Summit, which brought together representatives of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the U.S. to talk about the countries’ trade relationship.

Since then, she’s had a significant role in the U.S-Ireland R&D Partnership. This week she’s advising investors in Ireland on a trade mission with 12 companies from Northern Ireland visiting the U.S. The entourage is holding meetings in Maryland, Virginia, New York and the District.

Davis is also chairwoman of the Irish Breakfast Club, a group of Irish-American Republican CEOs and chairmen of the boards of major companies. The club meets about four times a year in D.C. and in Ireland with its membership involved in a global Irish network.