By Jack Holland
In a series of communiques to Irish leaders, Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush made a strong play for the Irish-American vote this week when he committed himself, as president, to appointing a special envoy to the North and supporting the full implementation of Patten Report on police reform, according to reliable sources.
A letter outlining Bush’s Irish platform, which represents in part the policies agreed on at the Republican Party convention this summer, has already been given to the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Gov. John Rowland of Connecticut, meanwhile, who is on a visit to Ireland this week, is also believed to be communicating Bush’s Irish policies to Seamus Mallon of the SDLP and Unionist leader David Trimble.
According to reliable sources, in the letter to Ahern, candidate Bush declares his support for "the full implementation of the [Patten] commission’s recommendations."
On the envoy issue, Bush wrote to Ahern: "I believe that the support of the United States was an important element in helping parties achieve the Good Friday Agreement, and that America should be ready, if necessary, to appoint a Special Envoy to further facilitate the search for lasting peace, justice and reconciliation."
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According to Francis J. Duggan, who is co-chairman of the National Assembly of Irish American Republicans, the letter "touches on things that are most important," among them the issue of fully implementing Patten, which nationalists allege the British have failed to do.
Duggan claims that on the MacBride Principles governing fair employment practices, the official Republican position now goes beyond the Democratic Party in its commitment.
"The Democratic State Department was against MacBride," Duggan said.
According to Duggan, a Bush administration would also set up a mechanism to deal with the cases of Irish deportees, against whom INS proceedings have been suspended under direction of the Attorney General Janet Reno.
In a letter dated Sept. 4, Republican Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan wrote to President Clinton on the issue of the deportees, arguing that "it is critical to the peace process, and as a humanitarian gesture to advance the Good Friday Accord, that you render a final decision on permanently suspending these deportation proceedings before you leave office."
The Republican platform on the North represented something of a breakthrough as regards the party’s traditional position on that issue. Bush’s letter to the Irish party leaders is clearly intended to keep up that momentum. It also is a clear demonstration that the North will remain on the White House agenda, whether or not a Democratic president occupies that office.
This will be seen as a break with former Republican administrations, which many Irish Americans felt were not independent enough of British government policy on Northern Ireland. To emphasis this transformation Bush’s letter to Trimble and Mallon ends:
"Please know that you and the people of the entire island of Ireland have a friend in George W. Bush. America should remain engaged in the Irish peace processs, and I will work hard and pray always for a lasting peace in Northern Ireland."