By Jim Smith
BOSTON — A firestorm of protest has erupted over the decision by Boston College to honor Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the school’s graduation ceremonies next Monday, May 24.
"This decision is a disgraceful betrayal of the Catholics of Northern Ireland and an appalling insult to the Irish Catholic immigrants who built Boston College," said C.J. Doyle, an alumnus of B.C. and executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. "Trimble has a long history of crude, violent and hysterical bigotry against Irish Catholics.
Numerous Irish-American groups are planning an informational picket outside the grounds of the college on the morning of the graduation. Marie Howe of Somerville, a former majority leader of the Massachusetts Legislature and founder of the Boston Committee for American-Irish Solidarity, told the Echo Monday that her group will be handing out leaflets condemning the school’s decision and exposing what she said are Trimble’s reputed links to loyalist death squads.
Other groups planning to send representatives to the protest include Irish Northern Aid, the AOH, the GAA, and the Catholic League.
B.C. announced the award in a press release issued on April 27, in which Trimble and several other honorees are described by B.C. President William Leahy, S.J., as individuals who "have worked to make our world a better place, and in doing so, they offer both inspiration and challenge to all of us at Boston College."
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Scores of letters from around the country and the world, including England and Norway, began pouring into the college once those plans became known via the Internet, many expressing bewilderment and anger.
"We’ve gotten plenty of calls and letters against this decision, but we believe we’re doing the right thing in honoring Mr. Trimble for his role in the peace negotiations," B.C. Director of Public Affairs Jack Dunn said last week. "This is not an endorsement of his politics but an acknowledgment of his contributions to the peace process."
Dunn also said that SDLP leader John Hume, who received the same honorary degree from B.C. in 1995, was directly involved in the decision to award the honorary degree to Trimble. Both Trimble and Hume shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize.
Howe’s group was instrumental four years ago in squelching B.C.’s plans to honor Margaret Thatcher with its highest honor, the Ignatius Medal at a May 1995 fund-raiser at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. At that time the school faced a public-relations nightmare for weeks after it announced its intention to honor the former British Prime Minister.
"We only learned about this award recently, and we’re mobilizing as fast as we can," Howe said. "Giving an award to this man is a disgrace, pure and simple."
Dunn said he did not expect that the intensity of the mounting controversy will be as great as that experienced four years ago, because Trimble will not be addressing the graduates and is not receiving the school’s highest honor.
Protest organizers, however, say that the Catholic college, in its zeal to promote itself as progressive and tolerant of diversity, has made a major blunder by honoring Trimble.
"It just doesn’t make any sense for B.C. to honor an anti-Catholic bigot like Trimble," said Doyle. "They seem to be losing touch with their roots over there."