When President Clinton goes to Northern Ireland this week to support the peace process there, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will accompany him, courtesy of state taxpayers.
Ms. Townsend said she will use the four-day trip, which starts tomorrow, to promote Maryland to Irish government officials and business leaders as well as to about 30 U.S. business executives who also are accompanying the president.
Ms. Townsend is one of seven Irish-American officials Mr. Clinton invited to make the trip.
"Personally, I'm very excited about the possibility of building better relations between Maryland and Ireland, to build business relationships and to create jobs," Ms. Townsend said.
A leading Republican legislator, though, called the trip a "pseudo-economic development junket" that Ms. Townsend should pay for herself.
"It sends a terrible signal regarding priorities," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican and the minority whip in the House of Delegates. "These are austere times and public officials, like everybody else, need to be tightening their belts and not engaging in extravagance."
Ms. Townsend's trip will cost the state roughly $4,000, according to Jim Hughes, director of the state's office of international trade. Ms. Townsend is traveling on an Air Force plane and will stay in hotels, Mr. Hughes said.
A member of the nation's most prominent Irish-American family, Ms. Townsend is the daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Her aunt and godmother, Jean Kennedy Smith, is ambassador to Ireland, and her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, has been a leader in Congress in the push for peace in Northern Ireland.
Among the officials going to Northern Ireland are Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy.
Thanks in part to the efforts of Mr. Clinton, the Irish Republican Army announced a cessation of violence 15 months ago, putting a halt to decades of fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
Ms. Townsend will spend much of her time attending official functions in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, and Dublin, the Irish Republic's capital. State officials have tried to arrange meetings for Ms. Townsend with government and business leaders, but they could not provide details yesterday.
"We don't have something in the pipeline. The trip is more of a front-line promotion," Mr. Hughes said. "[Ms. Townsend] is a wonderful spokesman for the benefits of locating in Maryland."