5 February 1998 Edition
Vocal lobby to meet Blair in US
Ireland remains high on the US political agenda, writes Ciara Collins in Washington
As Washington prepared for the first State visit by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Féin's Capitol Hill office continued its work to ensure that the US government and Irish America - corporate, labour, activist and the Irish diaspora - are engaged and remain committed to a lasting peace settlement in Ireland.
Last week President Clinton gave his annual State of the Union address in which he outlined policy objectives for the coming year and reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to the peace process.
President Clinton as well as members of Congress also issued statements in which they welcomed Tony Blair's announcement of a Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Bloody Sunday Commemorations were held all over the United States. Speaking in New York, Sinn Féin's US representative Mairead Keane said, ``the Bloody Sunday inquiry was the result of the hard work of those people who campaigned and walked picket lines for 26 years.'' She congratulated the Irish American organisations for standing with the campaign and the relatives and urged those present to focus in the weeks ahead to ensure the inquiry leaves no stone unturned.
Since Christmas Irish American organisations and activists have been extremely vocal over the terror campaign of the Loyalist death squads and the Orange card that has been played in the negotiations.
The Sinn Féin office in Washington has been inundated with phone calls, faxes and e-mails from concerned Americans of every ethnic background who want to know how they can help support the peace process and end the sectarian murders. All of the Irish American organisations have issued statements calling on Blair and Mo Mowlam to ensure the safety of the Nationalist people and to bring to justice all who have participated in the heinous murders and gun attacks.
Following his successful trip to the six counties Senator Ted Kennedy returned to the United States to issue a statement condemning the random sectarian violence saying, ``I am deeply saddened and outraged by the continuing murders in Northern Ireland.
These vicious and cowardly attacks are clearly motivated by sectarian hatred and a desire to wreck the peace process. I also call on the British government to swiftly bring to justice all those responsible for these killings.''
The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Ad-Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs expressed their concern over the killings and the peace process during separate meetings with the Irish Ambassador Sean O'hUiginn and the British Ambassador Christopher Meyer.
Congressmen Ben Gilman, Peter King, Thomas Manton and Richard Neal discussed the current status of the peace negotiations, the continuing Loyalist violence and the need for both governments to encourage David Trimble and the UUP to meet with Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin.
In their statement the Co-Chairs stated, ``it is obvious that for the peace process to succeed, David Trimble must realise that he has to meet with and directly engage Gerry Adams. Mr Trimble must do more than say `NO'. Unlike Mr Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party, Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin have acted honourably and responsibly throughout the talks, particularly during the period of provocative sectarian killings. If the talks fail, history will judge David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party as being responsible for their failure.''
While the Congressmen met with the Ambassadors, representatives of Irish American leadership met with members of the National Security Council at the White House. The meeting included Jim Steinberg, Deputy National Security Advisor and Larry Butler of the NSC's European Directorate.
And last weekend Congressman Peter King had a twenty minute conversation with President Clinton during which he impressed on him the importance of the US administration staying focused on the Irish peace process in the days and weeks ahead.
A number of meetings have been held around the country to examine the state of the peace process. In New York a Congressional Forum for candidates facing elections in November was held.
Among those attending were Congressmen Peter King, Thomas Manton and Joe Kennedy, Geraldine Ferraro, candidate for the NY Senate seat, and representatives from the offices of Governor Patacki, Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, Councilman Joe Crowley, Congressmen Eliot Engle and Robert Menendez. The Irish and British Consulates also sent representatives.
Mairead Keane represented Sinn Féin and thanked those political leaders for their continued support for a just and lasting peace in Ireland and urged them to stay engaged in the days and weeks ahead. The spirit of the meeting was well reflected in a statement by Geraldine Ferraro, ``Human Rights are not negotiable and should not be used as bargaining chips in the negotiations.''
On Monday 2 February members of Irish Northern Aid and the Irish American community began a 24 four hour vigil and fast at the British Embassy in Washington, DC to highlight the sectarian murders during the so called Loyalist ceasefire. The vigil culminated on Tuesday with a candlelight ceremony at which all of the names of the dead were read and everyone paused in a moment of silence.
US Trade union support for the Charter for Change continues to grow. The Irish American Labor Coalition has been a catalyst within the American labor movement on Irish issues.
The Coalition's annual New York banquet was attended by top trade unionists from around the country. Greetings from President Clinton were conveyed by Deputy Secretary Kathryn Higgins of the US Labor Department, who reiterated the Clinton Administration's support for the Irish peace process.
AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney sent a message which said, ``All American trade unionists are hoping that the Belfast talks this spring, despite many roadblocks, will lead to a breakthrough for agreement, justice and peace for the working people who have been the chief victims of conflict.''
Daniel J. Kane, a leading official and founding member of the Irish American Labor Coalition, noted the upsurge in American trade union and community support for the Charter for Change. ``This is a moment of hope. It is also a time for action.''
Resolutions in support of the Charter for Change have been passed by the Uniformed Firefighters Association; Service Employees Union in Northern California; the Northeast Council of State Labor Federations; the 400,000 members of the American Postal Workers Union, the National Health Care Workers Union and the Joint Council of the Teamsters; all in the last three weeks. Resolutions have been passed in New York City and Rockland County and are being put forward in Boston, Portland, New Hampshire, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Savannah, Pittsburgh, and the State of California, The Charter Campaign - aimed at harnessing the energy and goodwill of Americans in support of the principles of democracy and equality in Ireland - has been taken on by all of the Irish American organisations.
When Mr Blair comes to Washington he will meet an educated and informed bi-partisan commitment to a lasting peace settlement in Ireland.
US vigil for victims
By Paddy Newell
A vigil and fast for the victims of sectarian slaughter has been held at the start of Tony Blair's visit to Washington on February 3-5.
From 7pm on 2 February, Irish Northern Aid sponsored a 24-hour vigil and fast outside the British Embassy. The vigil will have nationwide participation. During the final hour a candlelight rememberance ceremony was held where participants observed a minute of silence for those murdered during this recent phase of the `peace process'.
Gerry Coleman, Director of the Political Education Department for Irish Northern Aid said, ``the sectarian slaughter of innocent people is nothing new. It is the product of an undemocratic and artificial statelet that must go.
``It is time for all people to recognise the horrors that are continuing unabated in Ireland. It is time for justice and a legitimate peace process''.