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Clinton will honor Omagh dead

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty

and Ray O’Hanlon

WASHINGTON D.C. — President Clinton will pay respect to the Omagh dead when he visits Northern Ireland in two weeks.

"Obviously it has been too soon for us to make plans," a White House official told the Echo. "But we do anticipate the president offering his sympathies while in Ireland."

"We had a crowded schedule before the bombing, but now President Clinton wants us to work even harder to make his visit provide a lift to those devastated by violence," said an administration source.

Clinton was briefed about the bombing several times over the weekend. In a statement, he described the bombing as a "barbaric act" intended to wreck Northern Ireland’s aspiration for peace and reconciliation.

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"On behalf of every American, I condemn this butchery and hope that the culprits will be brought to justice quickly," the president said.

"I extend our deep sympathy to those affected by this tragedy. I renew my pledge to stand with the people of Northern Ireland against the perpetrators of violence; they will find no friends here. Now is the time for the parties of peace in Northern Ireland to redouble their efforts."

Clinton spoke by phone with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had just returned from a congressional trip to Ireland, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

"The President called Prime Minister Blair to express his condolences and offer his support during this tragic time," White House spokesperson Nita Bewley said.

"It indicated the absolute personal commitment of the president to Ireland that he would set aside time on a day like today to deal with those problems when his own head is on the chopping block," said one aide in a reference to the Ken Starr investigation.

"He’s got all of that on his mind, add Kosovo, the falling ruble, a crumbling economy in Japan, and what is the one topic he’s still personally plugging away on — Ireland," said a Clinton official.

Clinton, who will accompany the president to Russia, will depart Moscow a day earlier from her husband to address a conference in Belfast, Sept. 2.

"The first lady promised she would attend the Vital Voices conference in Northern Ireland and looks forward to meeting with some of the women she has worked with in the past in Belfast," said Mrs. Clinton’s spokeswoman, Marsha Berry.

Meanwhile, the bombing appears to have raised administration concern with regard to U.S. fund-raising for so-called IRA "splinter groups."

White House officials said they will be on the look out for any attempts to raise funds in support of violent republicans.

"Those who may think they can come here and raise funds for their causes are going to be turned away if they’re at all linked to any of these groups," a White House official said.

In contrast, the White House was expressing its satisfaction with the response to the bombing by Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams.

"Sinn Féin has signed up to build peace, and we wouldn’t expect anything less than the statement Adams made after the bombing," said an official.

Meanwhile, condemnation of the bombing poured in from a variety of politicians and groups.

Speaker Gingrich said that quest for peace in Northern Ireland could not be derailed by "despicable terrorists."

Rep. Ben Gilman, House International Relations Committee chairman, described the bombing as a "demented and senseless act of terrorism."

Added Gilman: "This terrorist act, if intended to send some misguided message on the anniversary of the British military presence in Northern Ireland, actually serves to continue that presence and delays the day when the terrorist bomb and gun will be taken out of Irish politics."

Sen. George Mitchell, who chaired the talks leading to the Good Friday accord, accused the bombers of trying to kill "not just people, but the peace process."

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani extended condolences on behalf of the city to the victims.

"This cowardly act of bombing innocent men, women and children was intended to destroy the peace process. . . . We hope instead that this act deepens the resolve of all the communities in Ireland to continue on the path to peace and reconciliation." Giuliani said.

The blast was condemned by Irish-American organizations. The Irish American Unity Conference "unequivocally" condemned the bombing and urged that those responsible be held accountable.

Americans For a New Irish Agenda deplored the "senseless mayhem" and pointed an accusing finger at the "Real IRA," also known as the "True IRA," a group which had "not only inflicted death and grievous suffering on hundreds of innocent people," but which had "also brought disgrace on the name of Irish Republicanism."

ANIA, at the same time, advised against internment in Ireland, saying that this would only "muster sympathy for those responsible for such criminal acts."

Irish Northern Aid chairman Paul Doris said that the "appalling act" of the bombing was carried out by those opposed to the peace process.

Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Irish National Caucus, described the bombing as a brutally violent and viciously evil act. "No words are adequate to condemn it," McManus said.

"If a few misguided Irish Americans were ever tempted to support the group responsible for the Omagh bombing, then surely they must now reject such a group," McManus said.

In also denouncing the attack, Rep. Peter King focused particular attention on what he described as "the so-called Real IRA and its political front, the 32 County Sovereignty Committee."

King described both as "enemies of the Irish people who are defiling the cause of Irish Republicanism."

Said King: "All evidence leads to the conclusion that the so-called Real IRA is responsible . . . the Real IRA and the 32 County Sovereignty Committee have no support among Irish Americans. We know them for what they are, vicious murderers who are attempting to destroy the Good Friday Agreement and the cause of peace and justice in Ireland."

Martin Galvin, who has assisted the 32 County group in seeking support from Irish Americans, said he was stunned and deeply saddened by the bombing. It was, he said, "a tragedy of tremendous proportions."

However, Galvin said that the Sovereignty Committee had issued a statement that it was not involved and added that there was "legitimate distance between the committee and the group being called the Real IRA."

Added Galvin: "This was the case between Sinn Féin and the IRA for years. People have to look not just at this tragedy but at the wider context of British rule in Ireland. British rule in Ireland will continue to cause opposition and conflict."

The New York Times, meanwhile, focused on the "Real IRA" in an editorial which described the group as "the most dangerous of the IRA splinter groups." The editorial urged Northern Ireland politicians to protect the Omagh bomb’s real target, "peace."

The Daily News, which also named the Real IRA in news coverage, described the bombing in an editorial as "criminal murder."

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