By Michael J. Cummings, Irish American Unity Conference boardmember
The approach of St Patrick’s Day was, in my time as public relations director of the National Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a period of anxiety. There were the attempts to hijack the religious and heritage themes of the parades to promote some political correctness. Then there were the greeting cards and Saint Patrick’s Day paraphernalia mocking all things Irish.
However, the greatest concern - certainly before the Clinton era - was the “shamrock shenanigans” unfolding in Washington. A bowl of shamrock would be bestowed by the Irish prime minister, pints would be lifted, platitudinous statements would be issued, and a conflict that cost over 3000 lives would draw condemnation of violence with little reference to justice and the rule of law.
Today, it seems that the bad old days have returned. Barely 15 years since the 1998 Irish peace pact was signed, the British are ignoring the law, obstructing justice and inhibiting peace. The only thing missing is the outrage.
For fifty years after World War II, the British held a chokehold on the Department of State and the U.S. position on the Six County conflict. But they had a willing partner in successive Irish governments whose elite diplomatic staff rarely ventured beyond the cocktail circuit and the tourism portfolio.
In 1978, as Taoiseach Jack Lynch prepared for a U.S. visit, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs described the concerned and activist Irish-American community this way in a briefing memo: “They cling closely to familiar myths of British repression which provides them with a history, an identity and a cause.”
Bloody Sunday, Dublin Monaghan bombings, internment, RUC lawlessness, were, according to the Irish diplomatic corps at the time, all “myths” of British repression. How bad was this mindset? Talking once with Angela Carter, of the Keshcarrigan Bookshop in New York City, she spoke of trying to interest the consulate in doing more to promote the Irish language here.
“We must not be seen doing anything to help “the enemy” was the response. It was a veiled reference to Sinn Féin’s promotion of the national language of Ireland.
For years, House Speaker O’Neill would dismiss the pleas of many Americans concerned about the garrison rule of the British because the Irish government would rarely speak and take little action against the abuses and lawlessness.
“What do you want me to do, be more Irish than the Irish government?” would be O’Neill’s derisive reply. Speaker Foley, who never met a royal he didn’t like, once claimed at a hearing that “there was no such thing as British oppression.” A breathtaking statement, but one that was unfortunately uttered.
Irish National Caucus president, Fr. Sean McManus, gives a fair accounting of all this in his book “My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland.” Given the spineless speakers, British lobbying. and Ireland’s silence throughout the 1970s and 80s, the voices of members of Congress such as Ben Gilman, Ham Fish, Don Payne, Eliot Engel, Joe Kennedy, and Chris Smith on behalf of the victims of British oppression were all the more remarkable.
From then to now. St. Patrick’s Day 2012 might well have been a turning point for her majesty’s government’s plans for Ireland. Who would have thought it would have taken only 14 years from the Good Friday Agreement to restore a White House officially indifferent to British violations of the terms and spirit of the pact.
Consider these developments: President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron meet March 14th and not a word is mentioned of holding those accountable for the Bloody Sunday murders, or the failure of London to disclose the British army role in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
In Irish Heritage Month, Secretary of State Clinton’s pleas help release 1000 political prisoners in Myanamar, but not a word is uttered for two political prisoners in Northern Ireland, Gerry McGeough and Marian Price.
The U.S. says nothing when the British government announces that there will be no public inquiry into their part in the murdering of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, as previously promised. At least when Egypt arrested a pro-democracy activist a few years back, then Secretary of State Rice showed displeasure by canceling a planned trip to Egypt. The Obama administration remains mute to this day on the Finucane slaying.
The powers of the Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman’s office, established as part of the agreement to review police action, are being curtailed by the British and 300 ex-police officers, richly pensioned off, have been re-hired to accelerate the cover up of police lawlessness and corruption. They call it “records management.”
The Irish Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) and foreign affairs minister, Eamon Gilmore, returns from the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in America to publicly express concern that Josef Kony, the Ugandan mass murderer, remains at large and urges the International Criminal Court to act upon the 33 counts of crimes against humanity against him.
Ironically, 33 is the number of deaths from the Dublin-Monaghan bombings but not one word was uttered in America by any Irish government official demanding the British army be held accountable for the conflict’s largest loss of life.
Not alone is the U.S. silent on the core conflict issues, but it now collaborates in the bias and political chicanery of the British. Appeasement of the British encouraged a spiteful former MI-5 operative to use a U.S.-UK Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty to request records from Boston College’s Irish Oral History project.
The treaty was intended to aid prosecution of money laundering by drug cartels, but the British believe it is better used to investigate 40- year-old crimes, particularly if there is a chance it can give a political black eye to Sinn Féin.
By contrast, Britain’s efforts to exculpate every British soldier and police officer from criminal culpability of their killing of Catholics continues unabated.
Does the fact that British banks hold a large portion of Irish debt explain why Ireland has not used the MLAT to demand records of the British Ministry of Defense relating to the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan massacre?
Some will think unwarranted our concern for these developments in the Irish peace process. Dr. Paul Nolan, author of the recently released Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report, is concerned and fears for the future.
There are today, he notes, 26 more “peace” walls than when the Belfast Agreement was signed. Housing and schools are still seriously segregated. A high percentage of Catholic police recruits drop out. He believes we may now be enjoying simply a pause in the conflict, a sort of “generational” truce in Ireland.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory, and others have called for a mechanism to deal with the past. But if Britain continues its corruption of the GFA we need not worry about a mechanism for dealing with the past. Ireland’s silence and U.S. indifference will ensure that the past is merely repeated.