By Ray O’Hanlon
In the latest twist in an escalating battle for Irish American votes, Vice President Al Gore this week released a new statement on Ireland.
And where the recent Democratic Party platform statement on Ireland was short on self-congratulation and policy specifics, Gore’s new statement focused on a number of key Irish American concerns, not least the thorny issue of police reform in Northern Ireland.
In his statement, Gore called on the British government to fully implement the recommendations of the Patten Commission with regard to reform of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Gore’s statement followed a recent letter from his main rival, Gov. George W. Bush, which backed up Bush’s earlier pledge to appoint a special envoy to Ireland if elected president.
That letter, the contents of which were first revealed in the Echo, was written to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and other Irish political leaders. It also called for full implementation of Patten.
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Gore, in his statement said: "I am proud to have been part of an Administration that helped create the conditions that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement. Our decision to grant a visa to Gerry Adams in 1994, against the advice of so many, led to the IRA cease-fire later that year.
"That cease-fire, along with that of the Loyalists, led to multi-party talks so ably chaired by former Senator George Mitchell. We helped broker the Good Friday Agreement, the best hope to achieve truly lasting peace for the island of Ireland. I am very proud of that achievement. But we must remain actively involved and be of whatever assistance we can to the parties and the two Governments. I also want to make clear my position on the Patten Commission’s recommendations for police reform in Northern Ireland.
"I urge the British Government to fully and expeditiously implement these recommendations. The goal of the Patten Commission’s recommendations is to take politics out of policing and to create a police service in Northern Ireland that meets the highest possible standards and that enjoys the support of both communities.
"I will continue to support full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and I look forward to the day when the decommissioning of all illegally-held paramilitary arms is achieved.
"I am committed to finding a solution to the problem of deportees and extraditions. I will look at this issue in the context and in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. I want to assure you that Northern Ireland will remain high on my foreign policy agenda. No Administration has done more to advance the cause of peace in Northern Ireland than the current Administration, and Joe Lieberman and I promise to continue on that path."
Meanwhile, against the backdrop of statement and counter-statement by the two leading presidential campaigns, the San Francisco-based human rights organization, Northern Ireland Alert, has issued its latest in a series of "scorecard" assessments of the presidential candidates.
The group also assessed the two leading candidates in the New York Senate race, Rep. Rick Lazio and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Northern Ireland Alert praised both Vice President Al Gore and his Republican challenger Gov. George W. Bush. However, the group concluded that Gore’s record was "light years" ahead of any rival candidate and "deserves a chance to be continued over the next four years."
The report stated: "Both Vice President Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, bring a wealth of experience, knowledge and ability to this key foreign policy initiative.
"As for Gov. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, we are troubled by their lack of acute interest and concrete activity on Irish affairs over the years. Although we are heartened by their campaign’s recent efforts to move away from the Republican ‘hands off’ policy of the past, their record is no match for that of the Gore/Lieberman team."
NIA rated Bush as an "interested" candidate in Irish issues, the group’s fourth highest ranking. However, it did not award its top ranking of "dedicated" to Al Gore, this based on the Gore campaign’s "recent lack of engagement" on Ireland. Gore was awarded NIA’s second highest ranking, "very active." The report was, however, compiled before Gore’s latest statement.
The group’s report did take note of Gov. Bush’s letter to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and its promise to appoint a special envoy should he be elected. This move was, according to NIA, "even more encouraging" than Bush’s previous groundbreaking moves to engage Irish issues.
In a separate assessment, Sen. Lieberman on his own was rated as "active" on Ireland, the group’s third highest evaluation while Mr. Cheney was rated as "uninterested," the lowest possible ranking.
In the senate race, NIA praised both Rep. Lazio and Mrs. Clinton. However, Clinton was given the ranking nod over her GOP rival. She was rated as "dedicated" while Lazio secured the group’s second highest ranking of "very active."