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18 February 1999 Edition

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US welcomes South Armagh Farmers and Residents

By Cari Zall

For the first time ever, the South Armagh Farmers and Residents Committee (SAFRC) is touring the United States in an effort to educate Americans about the ongoing British military occupation of the border regions in the north of Ireland. On the East Coast, Toni Carragher and Maria Caraher have met massive support from all quarters of the American community.

The two SAFRC representatives spent their first four days in the New York/New Jersey area. They held a lengthy meeting with Congressman Peter King in his Long Island offices. Congressman King has already been a major supporter of the Committee's campaign against the militarisation of their area, and he encouraged them to continue educating the public and pressing the governments for answers. He also promised further help in bringing their issue to the forefront of his own meetings with political leaders in Ireland and England.

During their meeting, Congressman King received a phone call from President Clinton and was able to inform the President that he was currently with the SAFRC. He received a positive response from the President, who has vowed to continue this administration's involvement in the peace process.

They also met with Congressman Joseph Crowley in Queens, who was very enthusiastic about their campaign. He intends to visit Ireland this coming summer and hopes to travel to South Armagh to see for himself the conditions that continue to plague the residents there. A phone conference with Congressman Ben Gillman's office also produced positive results. The Committee discussed with him the upcoming April hearings before Congress on policing abuses. All three Congressmen were eager to have the Committee submit testimony to the record for those hearings, especially with regard to the current and ongoing abuses taking place in South Armagh.

Public meetings in Queens, the Bronx, northern New Jersey, as well as in Richmond and Baltimore have all produced tremendous support from Americans.

Meanwhile SAFRC Chair Declan Fearon has travelled to Dallas, Omaha and Forth Worth where he has spoken to large audiences in several venues.


US Congressmen demand end to Unionist veto

After regular legislative business last Thursday in the US House of Representatives, Representative James Walsh held one hour of time in a special order to raise and discuss the issues of the stalled Good Friday Agreement. Also adding to the meeting were Representatives Richard Neal, Ben Gilman, James McGovern, Jack Quinn, Benjamin Cardin, and Donald Payne. The Congressmen raised the current impasse and stated that decommissioning is not a precondition, and should not be used as such. They all agreed that Trimble and the Unionists are at fault, and that Trimble should not be allowed to renege on the Agreement.

Congressman Neal stated that Trimble ``should not be allowed to park, rewrite or negotiate an Agreement that was approved by the vast majority of the people of Ireland.''

Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Ben Gilman, said that ``The Good Friday accord never made the issue of IRA decommissioning a precondition to Sinn Féin's entry into government and the new institutions it established. It provides only for best efforts and the hopeful completion of the arms decommissioning process by the year 2000.''

Congressman Walsh added ``We cannot allow one party, the UUP, to halt progress. He must realise that Sinn Féin does not control the IRA and that the people who have elected Sinn Féin representatives deserve a voice in the new Assembly.''

The one hour debate also addressed the need for a new policing service. Congressman Walsh said, ``The demand for change is not about getting more Catholics into the RUC; it is about completely overhauling how policing operates in Northern Ireland. It is about creating a new policing service with which the nationalist community can fully identify. We have seen too many examples of the so-called `securocrats' - those shadowy bureaucrats who operate behind the scenes and appear to pay little attention to their elected political leaders - slowing down reforms, to fit some alternative agenda. This must not be allowed to happen with policing.''


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