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20 March 1997 Edition

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No green beer republicans

By Mary Nelis

Washington was the green capital of the world this week, as the Irish, first, second, and economy class, jetted across the Atlantic to what is now the annual pilgrimage to the mecca of US politics, the White House.

Sinn Féin was, like Cinderella, not invited to the Ball and as fate or something more realistic dictated, Prince Charming didn't turn up either.

Everyone else was there in bow ties and dinner jackets, or in glitter gowns. The descendants of the Irish diaspora in the US who have made it rubbed shoulders with those who also made it, by way of the Clinton Administration invitations and State Department Visas, to the various dinner parties and cocktail receptions which characterise St Patrick's Day celebrations of the rich and famous in Irish American politics.

The emphasis at the after dinner speeches was on what the Irish people should do to achieve peace - not what the British must do. The thrust of the week's events was set by vice President Al Gore who declared that the IRA must declare an unequivocal ceasefire before being allowed into talks. No-one told him that a 17-month ceasefire had been called yet talks had not even started.

There was mild criticism of the intransigence of Unionism whom John Bruton, not wishing to offend those Unionists present, referred to as ``so-called Unionist''. Bruton again launched an attack on the IRA who had not delivered the ceasefire he had promised last September. The St Patrick Spotlight was on the IRA and Sinn Féin who, according to one media report, ``bore the brunt of the people's wrath''. It was not made clear what people, whether it was the Irish people of no property or the American Irish of property. Even Senator George Mitchell, who tried to explain in his speech why the talks had failed to clear the first hurdle, backed off addressing the crucial question of the British Guarantee as the main obstacle to moving towards resolution and opted for the safer role of criticising Unionist intransigence.

It was left to Ted Kennedy, the Arch Anti-Republican Democrat, the man who last year demanded that Gerry Adams should be permanently banned from entering the United States, and friend of John Hume, to bring the British government and John Major into the equation. This speech, which one reporter stated, ``mirrored that of Sinn Féin Northern Chairperson, Mitchel McLaughlin two days previously'', caused consternation all round.

Robert McCartney and Conor Cruise O'Brien, the ugly brothers of UK Unionism, were outraged. O'Brien cryptically stated that Kennedy represented no-one. The same might be said of the ``Cruiser''. McCartney described the speech as ``a green belch''.

David Trimble, whose eyes look more and more like those of Bella Lugose in the old Vampire horror movies, reiterated that Unionists would not talk to Sinn Féin and raised again the John Major terms for an IRA surrender.

In the British Embassy another cocktail party was in progress. Michael Ancram looked hurt as he pondered the notion of treachery in the Anglo/American camp. He painfully outlined the Tory position of, ``No talks with an IRA ceasefire in place and NO talks without an IRA ceasefire in place.''

The quadruplets, fathered by the Loyalists death squads, the four representatives of ``fringe Unionism'', were clearly at home amid the pomp and certain circumstances. David Ervine of the PUP spoke of the timing of the murder of John Slane, father of ten children, and wondered if ``someone'' was delivering a message to himself and the other Loyalists leaders while they were in the US.

It was a chilling reminder to Ted Kennedy that the hand that rocks the cradle still rules the world of Irish politics, whether they are in paramilitary or official military uniforms. Even with the election called, the cradle is not about to be jettisoned because an Irish American Senator has told the British that they must prevent the collapse of the peace initiative because of the implications, not so much for peace, but for the survival of John Hume and the SDLP.

What is more important, however, in reaction to Ted Kennedy's speech, is its effects on the long-term unity of the ``exiled children in America, the Irish diaspora as recognised by the proclamation of the Irish Republic''. These Irish Republicans, forced out after the Civil War, abandoned by the Free State government, have been the backbone of support for the republican struggle in the North over the past 28 years.

It is their opinion that we as a movement value.

They will be there when Ted Kennedy moves on.

They are not the St Patrick's Day Irish, who drink green beer, attend cocktail parties at the White House, or give interviews to the Washington Post. We should be careful not to disinherit them.
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