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Democrats, GOP target Irish voters

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Susan Falvella-Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush too close to call, Irish American supporters of both candidates are increasingly at odds over which man will better serve Irish American concerns

The tensions between both camps came flaring into the open last week at a forum in Washington, D.C., organized by the political action group Irish American Democrats.

The Sept. 27 event was designed to give vent to the Democratic Party’s position on Irish issues in general and Vice President Al Gore’s pledges on Ireland in particular.

The forum, at a Washington, D.C., hotel, was held just a couple of days after a new statement on Ireland by Gore and a couple of weeks after a letter from George W. Bush pledging strong action on Ireland should he be elected president.

In the past, a gathering such as this would likely have passed with barely a partisan whimper. But this time, the rivalry that is everyday evident in the broader election campaign was in plain sight.

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The Irish American Democrats forum attracted top-flight Democratic speakers such as former senator and architect of the Good Friday accord, George Mitchell, Sen. Christopher Dodd and Leon Fuerth, Gore’s national security adviser.

Other speakers included Rep. Sam Gejdenson, who said that the future relationship between the U.S. and Ireland, both North and South, would be "better in Democratic hands."

Rep. Richard Neal told the 150 or so who paid $25 to attend that with regard to the U.S. role in the search for a settlement in Northern Ireland, "it was Tip O’Neill that started this very important work."

"Election of Al Gore will ensure that progress will continue," Neal added.

Not everyone in the room agreed with this assessment.

Frank Duggan of the National Assembly of Irish American Republicans showed up at the program and indicated displeasure over partisan rhetoric about the peace process.

"I don’t like what’s happening," Duggan said. "It’s hurting the peace process."

Duggan offered an IAR press release around the room. It was headlined: "Governor Bush Leads on Ireland – Al Gore Follows."

Another GOP press release that found itself into the forum venue was directly critical of the event itself.

The partisan "Democrats Only" Irish "Forum" was, according to the release, "turning into a major political embarrassment." This release was issued by Irish for Bush/Cheney 2000, a campaign-based group with offices in both Washington and New York.

It is sad that Al Gore would try to snooker Irish-American voters by falsely painting the peace process as a Democrat partisan affair," the release stated.

It further complained that no Republican speakers were allowed or had been invited to the event.

The forum’s organizer, Stella O’Leary, rejected any suggestion of unfairness.

"I’m embarrassed for them," she said of her GOP critics. "What has disrupting our forum got to do with it? I don’t understood it. It’s extremely poor form. They can go and organize their own forum if they want."

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