By Ray O’Hanlon
Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her new role as candidate for the U.S. Senate, supports the idea of a new look at the cases surrounding the group of Irish nationals known as the deportees.
She also wants the U.S. to double its annual contribution to the International Fund for Ireland and might be dusting off her sneakers for a march up Fifth Avenue in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
It was the marching matter that most fired up the press last Thursday as Rodham Clinton answered questions during a press conference in O’Neill’s Restaurant on Third Avenue aimed at her newly adopted state’s large Irish-American community.
Asked if she thought she would march in the parade, a seemingly innocuous question that prompted an immediate burst of laughter in the room, Rodham Clinton replied: "I would hope so. As long as I’ve got good company, I would certainly go marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade."
The allusion to "good company" was a reference to supporters standing beside her at the press conference including Reps. Joe Crowley and Carolyn Maloney and State Senator Martin Connor.
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But the company she might keep, or not keep, in a walk up Fifth Avenue on March 17 spawned the following morning’s headlines such as one in the New York Times: "To March or Not: Irish Parade Is First Lady’s Latest Issue."
The row over the continued exclusion of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization from the parade prompted Rodham Clinton’s spokesman to suggest that her comments at the press conference didn’t amount to a firm commitment to take part in the parade.
"We will revisit the issue when we get closer to St. Patrick’s Day," Howard Wolfson said.
ILGO, which has been visiting the issue for 10 years, called on the first lady to meet with the group in the wake of her "gaffe."
ILGO added in a statement: "Clinton, apparently ignorant of the 10-year history of bigotry associated with the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade, cheerily announced that she intended to march."
ILGO spokeswoman Anne Maguire said: "This is not about whether Hillary Clinton was ill-advised. We have been fighting the combined forces of Mayor Giuliani, the NYPD, the courts, the AOH, and the Catholic archdiocese for the last 10 years and Clinton needs to make her stand now — she either supports lesbians and gay men in New York or she actively supports the bigots who tell us we can’t be Irish and gay at the same time."
Less coverage was devoted in the press to Rodham Clinton’s proposal to more than double the annual U.S. IFI contribution from its present $19.6 million to $40 million and virtually no ink or airtime was set aside for the deportees, perhaps because nobody during the press conference referred to them as former members of republican paramilitary groups, or even more bluntly as former IRA and INLA men.
With regard to the IFI funding, Rodham Clinton set out her position with regard to her, and President Clinton’s, central role in the peace process and her belief that the U.S. has to stay involved in Northern Ireland in order to ensure that peace, political and economic progress are all sustained.
"At this hopeful and historic moment that all of us have hoped for and prayed for, we know that we still have a lot of hard work to do moving on beyond the promise of peace, on to the work of democracy," she said.
"In order to do all we can to build the foundations for lasting peace we have to recognize what has been lost in all the communities that were ravaged by violence over all these years. We are facing the scars of lost lives and joblessness, even hopelessness, among many people.
"To ensure that peace and progress, we must invest in that future we’re trying to build. We have to support broad economic development so that those who have given up their arms can put their hearts and hands and heads to work in building a better future."
One way the U.S. has helped foster economic development, she said, was through the International Fund for Ireland.
"In order to build a strong and lasting peace and a vibrant democracy, there have to be jobs and economic development for people," she said. "That is why as a senator I would propose doubling the United States contribution to the IFI. The U.S. contributes $20 million a year to the IFI. I would work to double that to $40 million because fighting hopelessness may be the most important objective we have to help make sure this peace works."
The candidate said that in working on behalf of the women’s group Vital Voices, she had heard "over and over again" how the lack of economic opportunity stood in the way of lasting peace.
"So I hope that all Americans who have saluted and celebrated the extraordinary agreements and action implementing those agreements will now be willing to make a very personal investment. I hope and believe we can have broad bipartisan support and large public support for doubling this fund and putting it to work on behalf of peace and the people of Northern Ireland."
With regard to the half-dozen or so deportees, whose cases are currently in a state of suspension, but which could be reopened by the Clinton justice department, Rodham Clinton indicated that she would "certainly entertain" working toward a permanent closure of proceedings against the group.
"We need to get the Troubles behind us," she said. "We need to be clear that when people are willing to take these risks for peace, willing to compromise, which is required in reaching an agreement like this, that we need to look differently about our policies and I think that the issue of the deportees is one that should be reconsidered."