By Patrick Markey
In an appeal for the Irish-American vote, Vice President Al Gore promised Northern Ireland would be a top priority in his government if he is elected president and pledged to continue the Clinton administration’s work there.
Speaking at the Irish American Presidential Forum in New York on Saturday, Gore said he hoped to visit Ireland and Northern Ireland if he is successful in his run for the White House.
"I want to you know that in a Gore administration we would stand ready at a moment’s notice to support the process in any way that the parties find useful. In a Gore administration peace and justice in Northern Ireland would be in the very top rank of foreign policy," the vice president said.
Addressing the current suspension of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive, Gore said he hoped the administration would be able to press the process forward during the annual St. Patrick’s Day visits to the White House by the North’s political leaders.
"I know and you know that we are at a very sensitive time right now, and frustrated that these institutions are now in suspension. But we carry the hopefulness of that moment and we know that the best thing we can do is push forward," he said.
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Although he steered away from the details of the current crisis and did not mention arms decommissioning, Gore said there would be no restrictions on visas or other contacts placed on the Sinn Fein leadership.
All six Democratic and Republican presidential candidates had been invited to participate in the forum at Manhattan’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, an event that is used to address the Irish American agenda. Participants were asked to answer questions on issues such as U.S. involvement in Northern Ireland, policing reforms in the province and human rights.
Organizers said Republican candidates George W. Bush and Senator John McCain had expressed interest in addressing the audience through a television link-up. But they said the forum would only accept personal appearances by candidates.
Traditionally a forum for Democrats, the event has previously managed to draw Bill Clinton, Gore as a senator, Jerry Brown and former Vice President Walter Mondale. Although organizers said they hoped to attract a republican candidate to stump before an Irish-American audience, this year proved little different. Only Gore showed up.
Bush had been campaigning at an upstate New York Irish parade. John McCain, who was endorsed by Long Island Rep. Peter King, one of the event’s co-chairman, also took his campaign elsewhere.
"Don’t lose sight of who is here today and who is not," said Rep. Joe Crowley of Queens, also a co-chairman of the forum.
After a three-hour wait, the audience was unlikely to forget that. With only Gore speaking on stage at the end of the event, co-chairmen John Dearie and Crowley were left to fill in time left open for a debate between the candidates.
As sniffer dogs padded through the main hall and Secret Service agents mingled with the growing crowd of onlookers, Dearie stretched the time with calls to the pianist and solo singer to provide more traditional ballads. Even the introductions to the VIPs among the audience were extended to give the Secret Service a nod of appreciation.
The crowd must have sensed the vice president was near when they heard "Danny Boy" for the second time and Rep. Crowley felt the urge to treat them to a pretty decent rendition of "American Pie."
Just after five o’clock with the national press flocking in before him, the vice president took to the stage for a 25-minute speech before sweeping out again and bringing the event to a close. No questions, no debate and, certainly, no surprises.
Gore even managed to wear the right shade of color. He stepped up on stage sporting a bright green necktie borrowed from New York attorney Brian O’Dwyer, who had, luckily, just marched in a St. Patrick’s Day parade.