Thursday, September 08, 2022

James Cox

Former lord mayor of Dublin Royston Brady was recently made a US citizen and says his family is thriving in the States, having made the move in 2012.

Mr Brady said the past decade has gone by in “the blink of an eye”.

He told BreakingNews.ie: “I remember making the decision with my wife Michelle, the kids were very young at that stage and we’d come off the back of the crash and stuff in 2008. We were still trying to keep things together, but it hadn’t really changed that much by 2012, you were kind of treading water, and we felt we were working just to pay the bills.

“I was a student here in the mid 90s, and it was always a place I really admired, there was always opportunity, that’s what I felt.

“A good friend of mine Paddy Duffy, he used to work for Bertie Ahern, he passed away a couple of years ago, he was a very good mentor to me and I always kept in touch with him even though I was out of politics at that stage.

“I started telling him what I was thinking. He said ‘look, you should pack your bags and go to America’. I remember having that conversation with him in Swords and after that we made the decision.

“In the end it was Michelle’s company who brought us out here because she was working for an American company who were managing a couple of hotels in Ireland. They called her back and said they had an opportunity, they brought us.

“We packed up everything and people thought we were crazy because the kids were only six, four and two.”

Mr Brady works as the manager of a number of hotels in Florida. “We have a few hotels under management, since I got here it has been very good to me.”

His two younger children now have American accents, and while he tries to convince himself they’re not “Americanised”, he laughed: “Anyone who talks to me from home will tell me straight.”

He recently turned 50, “one of those come to Jesus moments,” but has not looked back since leaving Ireland 10 years ago.

“We ended up coming over on a working visa and worked hard to get our green cards, the reason we paid for them ourselves is we didn’t want to be tied to a company. If you’re tied to a company they can move you around at the drop of a hat. We had that experience when we got our first one, we had to take the kids out of school and move to Florida.

“So it was great to get the green cards ourselves, then after five or six years on that we were allowed to apply for citizenship. We just became American citizens before Christmas.”

While much of the coverage of the US is focused on huge political and social divisions and unrest, Mr Brady feels the positives are ignored.

“I can’t keep my nose out of the news at home, still listen to RTÉ. Sometimes I find myself shouting at the radio saying to myself, ‘no that’s not the way it is’.”

European elections

Mr Brady’s political career in Ireland ended with a loss in the 2004 European elections, while he also fell out with a number of prominent Fianna Fáil colleagues.

Reflecting on this time in his life, he now sees losing the election as “one of the best things that ever happened to me”, as it led to the move to the US. He said cherished memories with family have also been made possible with the change of lifestyle.

“When I look back, I sometimes think losing that election was probably the best thing that ever happened to me… although it didn’t feel like it at the time.

“Looking back on how it all ended, I wouldn’t swap it for anything because I know I wouldn’t have got to do all the stuff with the kids, and at the end of the day the three of them are the most important thing.

“I chose in the last few years not to travel as much because I’ve had the best of both worlds, I’ve seen the kids grow up, I’ve gone to all their sports days in school, parent teacher meetings, concerts.

“If I’d stayed home in Ireland and tried to stay in politics I never would have got that. Over here I’ve had many opportunities to become a VP of a company, you take over different regions with hotels, but there’s a lot of travel and a lot of time involved in that. I’ll do it eventually because the kids are now starting to get to the stage where they don’t want to be hanging out with me… they want to be doing their own thing.

“I’ve been very lucky to have all of that, to enjoy it with them and to see them and how well they’ve done over here.”

Mr Brady will be speaking at the US Politics panel at the Kennedy Summer School on Saturday, September 10th, and one of the topics he will address will be how he has switched from a more Democratic outlook to a Republican one in recent years.

“I remember when I was in Fianna Fáil 20 years ago I came over to the Democratic Convention, but there was never really any alliance or talk about the Republican side. It was always the Democratic side. Since living here, I have to tell you I’ve shifted completely more to the Republican side than I have any affiliation with Democratic politics.

“Living in this state it’s going to be the focus of attention even more closely because you have the governor Ron DeSantis who is hugely popular in Florida.”

As a new American citizen, Mr Brady will be eligible to vote for the first time in the November midterm elections.

He has already decided he will be voting for Mr DeSantis ahead of his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist.

Mr DeSantis was criticised for reopening business and hospitality in Florida early on in the pandemic, but Mr Brady was supportive of this policy.

“Again when I look at 2020 when we went into lockdown after Covid, we were one of the first states out, he made sure the schools reopened, and particularly in my industry hospitality. The state fared no worse than California or New York, all these places that stayed locked down. He took a chance, no doubt about it, but he was one of the first to say ‘look, we’ve got to find a way of living with this and get back to business’. That was his main message, and of course he was criticised widely for it, but when you’re living in it, you take a different view. I fully agreed it was time to get back to business and opening up Florida.

“Based on that I found myself listening to him and fully in agreement that this is the way to go. There was so much tragedy everywhere, there wasn’t anywhere in the world not touched by it, but he just made the decision at the time to get back. The media was very critical of him, you’ve got the CNN/NBC/CBS on one side, and Fox on the other side. I look at the media here, it’s more nearly entertainment than anything else on these channels, they’re not news outlets, they’re becoming the news themselves. And that’s a bad place to be for journalism.”

A lot of people denounce the Republican Party due to the ongoing influence of former president Donald Trump.

Mr Brady feels this is unfair, and he thinks Mr DeSantis is a more likely presidential candidate than Mr Trump in 2024.

I’ve no problem saying I’ll be voting for Ron DeSantis.

“I don’t think people are given the full picture, they’re only given the extremist view when something happens over here with a Republican tie to it.

“I have friends who are lawyers, doctors, from a broad spectrum that I meet, and firstly we don’t really talk about politics, secondly they’ll let you know they’re more Republican leaning, they might vote that way, it’s fine to do that, but the problem now is if you don’t agree with someone, you’re wrong, and that seems to be the messaging on some fronts. That becomes really dangerous territory to be in.

“I’ll get to vote for the Governor’s race in November, I’ve no problem saying I’ll be voting for Ron DeSantis. I’ve already made up my mind.

“They’re willing Trump on in the media as much as they despise him. I haven’t seen him, heard much from him with speeches, he’s disengaged, he fires a salvo now and again. His Truth Social has no traction, they try to make it out like he’s the whole Republican Party, that’s not the way it is. I know loads of Irish-Americans who are Republicans, who wouldn’t dream of voting Democrat, they don’t want to see Trump back either though.

“He’s up for re-election in November [DeSantis], so his career path will be interesting to watch, obviously they’re tipping him as the 2024 presidential candidate for the Republicans. I just don’t see Trump running, I just don’t see it happening.”

The one big downside about living in Florida for Mr Brady is the gun culture. As a parent, he said this is one of his biggest worries.

“To live in a place like this there are plenty of downsides, but the upsides far outweigh any of those. If you were asking me one thing that would make me reconsider, the gun situation is of concern. The gun culture is quite crazy, these shootings that happen, and when you’ve kids it really brings it home to you when they go off to school, and you’re worrying. That’s definitely always in the back of my mind, it’s the number one downside.

“I’ve just become a citizen, I understand their Second Amendment, but the gun culture is so wide open in some states.”

Looking back at Irish politics, Mr Brady feels inaction is a big issue.

“I can’t believe they still haven’t built the Children’s Hospital. I remember going to a sod turning for that, I think in 1999, with Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern, there are projects they’re still talking about that just haven’t come to fruition. When I listen to things like this I think I’m lucky to be out of it because I think you’d become cynical sitting over in Leinster House.

“I remember being on the city council from 1999 to 2003… everybody talked about these issues, but nobody does anything about it, and I guarantee you it’d be the same stuff they’re talking about now, and probably some of the same people.

“Everybody’s great at commissioning reports for the most obvious thing. I don’t like using the word crisis but when you have serious problems just try to deal with it, you don’t need to hire expensive consultancy firms to spend a fortune on a report that will tell you what the person on the street will tell you.”

Could he ever see himself back in politics, in Ireland or the US? The answer is a definitive yes, although he stressed that this does not necessarily mean running for election again.

“I definitely would have an interest in working in politics, even more so in the last few years. I would have certain values. Now that the kids are a little bit older I wouldn’t rule it out, you don’t have to run for election to be involved you can be involved in politics at any level.”

Contrary to the views of many on both sides of the Atlantic, Mr Brady feels Irish-American relations are at a low point.

He expects to discuss this, and his views on Republicans and Democrats, at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross.

Irish-American relations

“I’d say it’s the lowest it’s been since the Kennedy visit to Wexford. We still have that photo of going over delivering the Shamrock, but really I just don’t see it. We don’t have the strong voices like Ted Kennedy, those people in the 1980s. Morrison, even George Mitchell, there were a lot of people in the Senate and the Congress who worked staunchly fighting for Irish visas and even companies and businesses, I just don’t see it like that anymore. They need to reassess and strengthen that, bashing America is not the way to do it.

“They want to discuss Irish politics, I have a certain perspective of it from my time at home and then coming over here. As a family we’ve navigated our way through our visas, taxes, all that. You find yourself leaning more Republican.

“I would have felt I was more of a Democrat when I came over, I lean the other way now, a lot of the time you’re criticised, I’m sure I’ll get criticised… ‘they’re bad, all about Trump’, I just don’t think that’s a fair assessment of it.”

For more information or to book tickets for the Kennedy Summer School, see kennedysummerschool.ie or call St. Michael’s Theatre on 051 421255.

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