Ireland features high in US Presidential race
Positive statements by both Gore and Bush
Never before has Ireland featured so highly in an American Presidential election.
This bi-partisan interest in the Irish peace process, at local and national level, is a welcome and significant advancement. It means that Ireland will remain on the agenda no matter who wins the big race for President or which party controls Congress. It will mean continued American involvement in Ireland, continued pressure to ensure the potential of the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement is reached. It is a strong demonstration that the bi-partisan support for nationalist Ireland long evident at grass roots level has now percolated to the highest levels of both main parties.
The huge breakthrough made in 1992, when Bill Clinton, as the Democratic Party Presidential nominee, gave public commitments to put support for a resolution of the conflict high on his agenda, set the stage for what is happening now, eight years later.
As a President, Clinton became more involved in the Irish question than anyone could have hoped for in 1992. His personal interest grew and he gave time and attention to the emerging peace process that is acknowledged by commentators and players in Ireland and America as being hugely significant and positive. While attention was on his involvement with the nationalist and (Irish) republican side, eg. his granting of the visa to Gerry Adams, his influence on unionism has also been notable and helpful.
It was because of this high level and consistent performance by a Democratic President and Administration in the Irish peace process that the platform statement from Al Gore's convention in Los Angeles in August was greeted with horror by Irish American Democrats. Writing in the Irish Voice, Niall O'Dowd described it as ``useless and anodyne''. However, Gore's campaign has moved decisively to redress any perception that he was not interested in Ireland with a subsequent strong and specific statement. Gore also attended a Presidential Forum in New York in the early months of his campaign and asserted his own credentials and his support for Clinton's role in the peace process.
d never before has a Republican Party candidate made statements on Ireland such as those by George W. Bush.
Ireland and the peace process have figured in both candidates' convention platforms and in subsequent statements calling for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Irish America's influence is strong and its voice is being heard loud and clear.
The response by the Republican Party's campaign is unprecedented. Bush made an initial, cautious statement almost a year ago, in the early months of his pitch for the Republican Party's nomination. On St Patrick's Day last, however, he placed full-page ads in the main Irish American papers, declaring his support for the peace process and the Agreement and affirming that Ireland would be high on his agenda if elected.
This has come on the heels of growing involvement and interest by Republican elected representatives countrywide, in Ireland and the peace process. There has always been strong support from Republicans in local areas with an Irish American constituency, but in recent years this has moved beyond that with support coming from all areas, including those with little or no significant Irish American communities.
The battle for the New York Senate seat between Hillary Clinton and Rich Lazio has also seen significant attention on Ireland. Lazio, the Republican candidate who got the nomination when Rudy Guliani dropped out, took out an ad in both the Irish Voice and Echo declaring his voting record on Congressional resolutions relating to Ireland, the peace process, and the deportees. Both he and Hillary Clinton have met with the deportees and their lawyers. Hillary is proud of her own role in the peace process, particularly the Vital Voices conference.
While the context is different and the drama of ceasefires, talks, negotiations, and the Good Friday Agreeement is over, Ireland and the peace process is still a good story in America and one that politicians acros the board still want to identify with. It won't be the same as in Clintons's time but the days when the British Embassy in Washington's dictat on Ireland dominated are long gone.