By Ray O’Hanlon
The planned Irish American Presidential Forum in New York might now be taking place over two days, not one, at the end of this week.
Organizers described planning for the event as "fluid" but confirmed at press time that Vice President Al Gore is now scheduled to attend the event on Saturday afternoon, March 4, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan.
John Dearie, one of the three organizers of the forum, said it was now possible that the forum would also include statements by other invited candidates at the same venue on Friday afternoon.
The Friday session was being made available to all candidates but would most likely attract the top GOP contenders, George W. Bush and John McCain.
"It remains a very fluid situation but we are hopeful that Bush and McCain will be in New York on Friday," Dearie said Tuesday. "It’s important that we have the broadest number of candidates and especially the leading contenders."
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He said that strong interest in attending had also come from the campaigns of GOP candidate Alan Keyes and veteran presidential challenger, Pat Buchanan. The situation with regard to Democratic hopeful Bill Bradley was not yet clear, Dearie indicated.
He said that Gore was presently expected to address the forum on Saturday afternoon at about 4.
Gore spoke at the 1996 forum and also in ’88. No Republican candidate has ever attended since Dearie initiated the forum in 1984.
The ’96 forum, as with this year’s, is being organized on a bipartisan basis. In addition to Dearie, a former Democratic assemblyman, the event is being hosted by Rep. Joe Crowley, a Queens Democrat, and Rep. Peter King, a Long Island Republican.
Candidates who show up at John Jay will be asked questions covering seven categories.
The first asks the would-be presidents if they will maintain the Clinton administration policies of direct participation in the peace process by way of a peace envoy; allow high-level administration access to Northern Ireland’s political leaders when they visit the U.S., and maintain the present policy of allowing U.S. visas to all participants in the peace process.
The second seeks a commitment of support for the MacBride Principles, while the third, in part, seeks a commitment for screening of Northern Ireland police officers for human-rights violations before they are allowed to train with law-enforcement agencies in the U.S.
Question Four asks each candidate if, as president, he would lend his voice to calls for independent investigations into the murders of Pat Finucane, Rosemary Nelson and Robert Hamill.
The fifth question asks if the candidates favor the ending of all proceedings against the group known as the deportees. Question Six asks if the candidates would travel to Ireland, North and South, as president and meet there with all parties in the peace process. The seventh question concerns immigration visas and seeks the support of the candidates for visa programs favorable to Irish applicants including the Schumer and Walsh programs.
Against the backdrop of the New York event, meanwhile, the San Francisco-based human rights group Northern Ireland Alert has issued a "scorecard" based on "extensive research" into the voting records, speeches and articles of "candidates Bradley, Bush, Gore and McCain on Northern Ireland issues."
The group gives its top rating of "Dedicated" to Gore for his "tremendous resume of Northern Ireland-related activity," while Bradley earns an "Active" rating for his senatorial track record on the North.
Bush and McCain, in contrast, are rated as "Uninterested" by NIA, although the group does acknowledge Gov. Bush’s statement last fall that said that the U.S. should do "everything it can" to ensure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. It also points to McCain’s growing relationship with Rep. King, who draws a consistent "Dedicated" rating in the congressional version of NIA’s scorecard.
Anyone wishing to attend the Irish American Presidential Forum at John Jay College must call specific phone numbers to book tickets. They will be required to give a name and social security number for each ticket.
The numbers and individuals to contact are: Mike Sweeney at Rep. Joe Crowley’s office, (800) 779-1400; Aine Sheridan at the "Adrian Flannelly" radio show, (212) 935-0606, and Laticia Thornton at John Dearie’s office, (718) 543-1100.