7 October 1999 Edition

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Hourlong Congress debate on Ireland

The whole world's watching

The level of American concern for the peace process will be demonstrated again today when, by a special order of Congress, the failure to implement the Good Friday Agreement will be debated in Washington.

Last week, Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts organised an event in the United States Capital Building, where he showed Congressmen videotaped evidence of the actions of the RUC on the Lower Ormeau Road on August 19, 1999. While the protesters were being indiscriminately beaten, dragged, and kicked by the RUC, they chanted, ``The whole world's watching! The whole world's watching!'' This meeting ensured that this is indeed the case.

The following Friday, Chris Patten was invited by the Sub-Committee on Human Rights to talk to the Congressmen about his report on policing. This hearing was the fourth in a series on the RUC. The Congressmen all had some very serious questions about the report that they felt needed to be addressed. Why is there no ban on plastic bullets? Why is there no vetting process in order to weed out human rights abusers? Congressman Chris Smith, Chairman of the Sub-Committee, reminded Chris Patten that ``a chain is only as strong as its weakest link''.

Keeping the eyes of the ``whole world'' focused on the north of Ireland, Congressman Neal called a special order of Congress for Wednesday, 6 October, 1999. A member of Congress can request a special order in order to discuss an issue of pressing importance, for one hour on the House floor. It was Neal who started the unprecedented requests to discuss the Irish peace process in November of 1993. The special orders are broadcast live nationwide. The Congressman is expecting 15 colleagues to attend and discuss issues at the core of the peace process, such as the Patten Report, and the continuing concern for the residents of the Garvaghy Road. The review by George Mitchell was also to figure largely in the Wednesday evening event.

Congressman Neal spoke to Greg O'Loughlin from Sinn Féin's Washington office before the special order.

GO'L: What do you think of America's influential role in the Peace Process, both from the government's and from the public's perspective?

RN: I think it has been entirely constructive and most helpful.

GO'L: You were one of the first American leaders to step forward and act for peace in Ireland. What do you identify as integral to the resolution of the conflict?

RN: I think the immediate and full implementation of the Good Friday Accord, which we must remind everybody, is the agreement that the people voted for.

GO'L: What can you identify as the obstacles preventing that from happening?

RN: The roadblocks, I think, are very clear. Every time that the parties have gotten to the goal-line, it appears to me that the unionists have moved the goal-posts back.

GO'L: Senator Mitchell has re-entered the peace process, hoping to secure the setting up of the Executive. If that doesn't happen, what do you think should happen?

RN: I think that Prime Minister Blair and the British government should proceed with implementing the Agreement, and certainly that includes restructuring the policing mechanism in the north of Ireland. In addition, they still can proceed with setting up the joint ministerial council between the republic of Ireland and the north of Ireland and in addition, I think they can proceed with establishing the Dublin-London connection. Certainly, I think there is room to proceed on the agricultural front, on tourism, and I think that it would be a huge mistake to lose sight of the fact that the people voted for this Agreement.

GO'L: Do you think America's role will change?

RN: I don't think America's role should be diminished whatsoever. I think that if anything, time and again, we have been able to bring the parties together. I think President Clinton has been particularly helpful in reassuring the parties that he would like a peaceful accommodation. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Good Friday Agreement, which, I think, America helped to design - through the use of Senator Mitchell, an outstanding person - is what in the end, the parties agreed to.

GO'L: What is your take on the current situation on the Garvaghy Road?

RN: We have been able to clearly use the tapes of what happened on the Lower Ormeau Road as an example of what is wrong when these parades are forced down avenues that the neighbors and neighborhoods object to. I think that again, we can point out that the Garvaghy Road issue remains a white-hot issue for the neighborhoods. We have used these special orders in the past to draw considerable attention to what we believe to be injustices. There will be a full report of the special order debate in next week's issue of An Phoblacht

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