30 November 2006 Edition

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US visit: Commitment of Irish Americans an important part of our struggle

Seán Oliver speaking in Providence, Rhode Island

Seán Oliver speaking in Providence, Rhode Island

All-Ireland agenda advanced in US


'A visitor from the Emerald Isle' was the headline from an article in New Jersey's Trenton Times, covering my recent visit to the United States but the sub-title -- 'Renewed push for Irish unity in US' more accurately captured the purpose and the politics of the two-week tour of the east coast region.

While the interviewer was more interested to know about Sinn Féin's relationship with the IRA, our position on Bush's war in Iraq -- one clearly shared by a large amount of Americans -- and about how our vision of a democratic socialist republic would play in the US, the real purpose of the visit was twofold -- to update Irish America on events leading up to, and flowing from, the St Andrews talks, and principally, to outline Sinn Féin's All Ireland Agenda and our Five Demands for Irish Unity campaign.

The two week tour took me back and forward across the US east coast from Washington DC to Providence, Rhode Island and Hartford, Conneticut, with stops in between in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Jersey, New York city and Harrisburg, PA. Meetings were held almost every night with local Irish Northern Aid (INA) and Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) units.

It was significant to see the amount of interest and invites which came from the Hibernians. The AOH is a massive organisation amongst Irish Americans, and their interest in hearing from Sinn Féin is an important development for republicans in the US. In Hamilton, New Jersey I addressed a newly formed AOH unit named in honour of the republican movement's 'US ambassador', Joe Cahill.

Meetings were held in small rooms and in large conference venues, the largest being an address at the Baltimore Irish Festival. The Festival is a three day event, which saw over 20,000 people pass through the doors during that period.

The INA stall was a popular calling-in point for many, where merchandise was sold and new recruits welcomed by the volunteers there, all managed by INA Regional director, Randy Cecil.

My presentation on the Sunday afternoon was attended by over 300 people, which was an early sign of the interest in Irish America for news of the peace process, and in particular how Sinn Féin is working and campaigning for our objective of reunification, and the Ireland of Equals.

Indeed, this interest was the most significant political point to be taken from the tour. After 30 years of raising money for families of Irish republican prisoners, Irish Northern Aid activists now see the opportunity for the increased political activity which they can organise in the US being a key part of our demands for Irish Unity. They were briefed on Sinn Féin's political priorities, such as a Green Paper on Irish Unity, Northern representation in the Oireachtas, voting rights for the President for Irish citizens in the Six Counties and the need for the establishment of the All Ireland institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. Much of our discussions focussed on what INA could do to help in these endeavours, by lobbying US politicians and the Irish Government, and the other activities they could organise to help mount significant campaigns around these issues.

Many US politicians have been active on Irish issues for many years, and the tour gave an opportunity to meet with some of them and their staffers, although many were still recovering from the elation/despair of the previous week's mid term elections to the Congress, which saw the Democrats take control of both Houses from the Republicans.

Glen Gilmore, Mayor of Hamilton, New Jersey, had previously put his money where his heart was for Ireland, and travelled alone to Belfast to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of the Short Strand and with the Holy Cross parents in their hour of need, and it was a pleasure to meet with him, and talk about how things were in Belfast in 2006.

Similarly, US Congressman Chris Smith has done sterling work on the issue of the PSNI and on the collusion which aided the killing of Rosemary Nelson and others, and I had a lengthy and productive session with his Congressional Chief of Staff.

Fr Seán McManus has had a long involvement in lobbying 'on the Hill' in Washington on Irish issues, and so when he also requested an update on current developments, we were happy to respond.

The commitment and energy of Irish Americans to the goal of Irish unity is an important part of our overall political struggle, and it is inspiring to meet with such people, many of whom have never set foot in the land to which they are so attached.

It is a credit to them whether in sleepy small towns or large bustling cities, that the cause of Ireland is so close to many hearts. As discussed at our meetings, in the past Irish republicans like Michael Davitt, James Connolly and Liam Mellows all travelled to rally support in America for the struggle at home. It is good to see that the flame they nurtured is very much alive in 2007.

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