By Susan Falvella Garraty
Washington D.C. — Although the word is that new Speaker of the House of Representatives, J. Dennis Hastert (R-Il), may be one of the few American politicians to claim no Irish blood, he will continue the tradition of hosting a St. Patrick’s Day lunch to which the taoiseach and all the Northern Ireland political party leaders will be invited.
The American Ireland Fund, meanwhile, will honor Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy this year at its St. Patrick’s Eve Washington dinner.
Organizers said they expected Speaker Hastert to attend the dinner as well as President Bill Clinton. It has been a considerable number of years since a Speaker of the House attended the annual dinner, and four since Clinton has been able to do so.
Meanwhile, the recent visit by British Conservative Party leader William Hague made it clear that the deep-rooted relationship between the Tories and the GOP endures.
Hague met with various conservative American leaders including Texas Governor George W. Bush who is widely seen as the GOP’s leading candidate for the 2000 presidential election. The two men talked for 45 minutes.
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A close ally with UUP leader, David Trimble, Hague also took time on the trip to make clear his views on the direction of the Northern Ireland peace process.
He said that there was ground being lost in the effort to secure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.
“We’re coming to the crunch,” he said.
And although he said his party supports the Blair government as it attempts to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement, he said there should be no more prisoner releases until the IRA decommissions some of its arms.
“The danger will be that we will come to a point next year when we will have released all the terrorists and still not have disarmament and then what? I would suggest that we should at the very least put further releases on hold.”
“We should stop the release of terrorist prisoners until we see a reduction in the number of punishment beatings,” said Hague.
“We’re now fairly far into (the two year time period for disarmament). We’ll get to the end of that and there will be no decommissioning and all the terrorists will have been left out,” he warned.
As to what others could do to assist the process, Hague had advice for them as well. “It’s important to stop the escalating violence, and that friends or supporters of Sinn FTin’s activities in Ireland should say we’re not going to give you any money or any moral support unless you actually show you believe in peace.”