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Inside File: A real snail-mail job

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson is fast finding out that ruling Britain and running Northern Ireland are not exactly one and the same. Mandelson’s relations with Irish foreign affairs minister Brian Cowen are reportedly under strain while his declining to appear before Ben Gilman’s House International Relations Committee — even on video — is not exactly raising one’s star higher over Capitol Hill.

To top all this, Mandelson has managed to irk New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Hevesi, as reported in the Echo last week, wrote Mandelson to express his "deep concern" and indeed "dismay" over the recent peace process woes. Hevesi’s letter was dated March 27 but his office sat on the correspondence for a few weeks as it awaited a reply from Mandy. None was forthcoming, so the letter was made public on April 27, a full month after it was sent.

Of course, Mandelson’s reluctance to address Hevesi’s concern might have had something to do with the fact that Hevesi, whose mayoral ambitions are well known, made it clear in his correspondence that he rather preferred Mo Mowlam’s way of dealing with troublesome obstacles in the North, not least those raised, in Hevesi’s view, by the permanent civil servants at the Northern Ireland Office.

Wrote Hevesi: "I had the opportunity of meeting with your predecessor, Mo Mowlam, on a number of occasions, both here and in Ireland. She understood, I think, the very real barrier to change posed by elements in the bureaucracy of the NIO, and the need for the government to act forcefully in confronting those who resist needed change."

After a slap like that, Hevesi will be lucky if his reply arrives by snail male — fourth class.

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Senator Pete?

Rep. Peter King is reportedly waiting in the wings to take up the GOP banner should Mayor Rudolph Giuliani bow out of his Senate campaign due to his health or any other reason. King in the Senate would be quite a sight. It would give Jesse Helms a fit, if nothing else. Back in 1997, King got into a furious spat with Helms over Northern Ireland. Helms wanted both the IRA and Sinn Féin to be listed by the U.S. as terrorist organizations, a decision that would have pulled the rug from under Sinn Féin’s fund-raising efforts. King, in a letter, accused Helms of being a biased, ignorant bigot. No love lost there.

Giuliani, on the other hand, doesn’t have as much of a problem with ol’ Jesse. The New York Times reported last week that Rudy would continue to support Helms as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee even though they are some distance apart in day-to-day political thinking.

Meanwhile, if King should end up in the Senate race as GOP candidate, there would be an intriguing standoff between him and Hillary Rodham Clinton on the issue of Northern Ireland. Any debate on the peace process would probably have the two appearing like nodding donkeys. Undoubtedly, some Irish Americans who take a particular interest in the wee North would prefer to see a best of both worlds outcome in which King remains in the House of Representatives while Hillary trots off to the Senate.

Giuliani, in contrast to both, has a mixed profile on the North. He once prosecuted Joe Doherty but later claimed that he was only doing his job. And he has thrown out the welcome mat for Gerry Adams on several occasions. Still, if Rudy goes ahead with his Senate bid and wants to attract the maximum number of Irish votes in New York, he will have to do more than occasionally bid welcome to visiting Shinners. He was invited to Belfast a while back and it will be interesting to see if he makes the trip in the coming months. Hillary has him on that score. She’s been to the wee North five times. As for Pete King and his North trips! Anybody got a calculator?

War on two fronts

Attorney Russell Smith has his work cut out for him. Not only is he representing Gael-rapper Chris Byrne in his $5 million copyright lawsuit against the BBC, but he’s also defending Sean McPhilemy and his co-defendants in the $100 million libel lawsuit filed by the aggrieved Prentice brothers, Belfast car dealers, in Washington, D.C.

Still, Smith has considerable experience in matters legal, civil and expensive. He once sued on behalf of "Public Enemy" rapper Chuck D, who was furious over the use of some of his material on a commercial promoting malt liquor. Smith secured a seven-figure settlement for dear old Chuck.

But that’s his offensive record. D.C. will be a defensive game. Smith has 37 witnesses lined up to testify on behalf of McPhilemy and his book, "The Committee." One of them is Colin Wallace, the SAS-trained former British Army information officer in Northern Ireland who caused quite a stir a few years back when he went public with allegations that her majesty’s forces in the North engaged in all sorts of disinformation tactics and dirty tricks in the 1970s. Looks as if the jury in this case is going to be in for quite a history lesson — indeed two rather contrasting ones.

Biffo’s global dream

Irish foreign policy, like that of any nation, can be constant, or it can change like the weather. In the area of nuclear weapons, however, the Republic has been consistent to the point of turning the moral high ground into a green sward.

Irish foreign minister Brian Cowen came to the United Nations General Assembly the other day, and while "Biffo" didn’t exactly bang his shoe on the podium a-la-Khrushchev, he did make it clear that Ireland takes a dim view indeed of those countries that insist on holding on to the kind of present-generation atomic weapons that make the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs look like mere firecrackers.

"A fundamental objective of Ireland’s foreign policy is to uphold the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its non-proliferation regime," Cowen told the assembly delegates.

Ireland does indeed posses an honorable record in the non-proliferation debate. It was Cowen’s predecessor Frank Aiken who first formulated the non-proliferation treaty back in 1958.

Forty-two years on, however, Cowen is acutely aware of the limits of moral persuasion. Next time he speaks on the matter of nukes at the UN, he might consider banging that shoe. Nothing like a bit of leather to get world leaders all excited.

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