The first encounter between the Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the new president, George W. Bush, scheduled for later this week will be watched keenly, and not only by Irish and Irish Americans.
The administration of President Clinton may well represent the high-water mark of the U.S. government’s involvement in the Northern Ireland issue. The new administration has a new agenda, new priorities and must respond as it sees fit to developing situations and unpredictable events. But still, Clinton set an important precedent in regard to Ireland that will not easily be forgotten, especially by those politically active Irish Americans, many of them Republicans, who invested so much time and energy in helping bring it about.
The St. Patrick’s Day festivities serve as a useful, yearly reminder of the role the U.S. has played and can still play in the land from which so many of its citizens are derived. No better occasion can be found to point to the results of a dynamic U.S. foreign policy approach in relation to what had long been considered an intractable problem. An important cease-fire was brought about, largely due to a U.S. initiative, which in turn created the opportunity for the fledgling peace process to take wing. Many lives were saved as a result, and a fund of good will built up among those members of the Irish community who call themselves Unionists and who were for so long suspicious of American interest in Ireland.
Irish Americans were galvanized, and a new consensus established both here and in Ireland, laying a solid foundation for political progress and the economic benefits that flowed (and continue to flow) from peace. Neither the diehards nor the dissidents and their supporters have been able to seriously impede the momentum for peace that was then set rolling with American help. That stands — and will stand — as a shining memorial to U.S. intervention.
As President Bush receives his crystal bowl of shamrocks from the taoiseach on Friday, he might well reflect on this achievement. Even if Bush shared his predecessor’s personal involvement in Ireland, it is doubtful the kind of historic opportunity that arose in 1993 will occur again. History, after all, is made by events, as much as by individuals, and often individuals (no matter how powerful) can do little to influence how those events unfold.
However, a precedent has been established. All that remains is for the new president to see to it that the good will that exists continues to be turned into political capital from which both the Irish and American peoples can only benefit.
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