By Ray O’Hanlon
Rep. Ben Gilman, a pivotal GOP shaper of congressional policy toward Ireland in recent years, has been sent packing east.
The former chairman of the House International Relations Committee is to head a new House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia.
Irish-American groups had been hopeful that Gilman, who had to surrender his committee chair after he reached his six-year term limit, would end up chairing a revived subcommittee dealing with Europe and the Middle East.
But Rep. Elton Gallegly, a Republican from California, is to chair a newly minted subcommittee dealing with Europe alone. Though not especially well known in an Irish context, Gallegly is a signatory to House resolutions aimed at barring the sale of weapons to the RUC and restricting joint RUC/FBI training programs
In addition to Gilman’s departure for Suez and points east of the famous canal, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, a vociferous critic of British policies in the North, is to be co-chair of the Gilman-led middle eastern grouping.
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The new subcommittees and their various chairmen were announced last week by Rep. Henry Hyde, the new chairman of the full House International Relations Committee.
"Gilman’s absence from the chair of a committee dealing with Ireland is a great loss, no doubt about it," said Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Irish National Caucus.
McManus said that he expected that Smith, by virtue of his continued chairmanship of the congressional subcommittee of the Helsinki Commission, would remain focused on human rights issues in Northern Ireland.
McManus has previously welcomed Hyde’s chairmanship of the House International Relations Committee. Hyde, he said, had been a sympathetic figure to Irish-American concerns over the years and a strong backer of the MacBride Principles on fair employment.
Gilman, meanwhile, continues to be one of the four co-chairs of the congressional Ad hoc Committee on Irish Affairs.