By Ray O’Hanlon
Ben Gilman might be dusting off his old video of "Lawrence of Arabia" now that he is chairing the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, but sources tell "IF" that the Rockland County Republican is going to use his still senior position on the House International Relations Committee to keep his eyes fixed on all matters Irish.
Indeed, Gilman, who is also a co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs and remains chairman emeritus of the International Relations Committee, was hard at it last week during a meeting between the committee and visiting British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. The two had a testy exchange over the current stalemate in the peace process, with Gilman stressing the need for RUC reform before all else and Cook sticking to his guns over IRA decommissioning.
Gilman’s concern over RUC reform runs deep in the man. Just a few days ago, he led a congressional delegation to Ireland for meetings with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Foreign Affairs Minister Brian Cowen. In a letter to Ahern, Gilman stated that the jury was still out on whether there would be a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland as promised by the Good Friday agreement.
"Sadly," Gilman wrote, "the recent legislative process in the UK unwisely brought politics back into the Northern policing question. . . . The British government should have stuck to the original Patten reforms, which were themselves a compromise and well crafted. Patten knew the politicians in the divided North were incapable of fixing the police service, and wisely set out to do it for them."
Shortly before his Irish visit, Gilman also wrote President Clinton on the same matter. In a reply dated Jan. 16, four days before he left office, Clinton said that he strongly supported "the goals set by Chris Patten . . . with respect to taking the politics out of policing."
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Said a Capitol Hill source, "With Gilman as chairman emeritus and he being also the senior Republican on the committee, the committee is going to remain very active on Ireland."
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Robin Cook had talks during his Washington visit with Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Northern Ireland, that nasty business that so messed up the special relationship in recent years, was not discussed. There wasn’t even mention of a missile shield for the Catholics of Larne.
Great Scot, Bertie barred
Obviously, "Braveheart" played bigger in Hollywood than it did in certain parts of Glasgow. The scene where the English king, Edward Longshanks, sent the Irish into battle with William Wallace and his army of ragged Scots, only to have both kilted armies join forces and turn against Edward’s English/Welsh host, has apparently made little impression in some of the murkier corners of a town where the idea of Scottish independence runs well below weightier issues such as Celtic and Rangers and which soccer team is making the other look like a bunch of Sasanach wimps.
The background to all this emerged in a report last week that the taoiseach scrubbed a visit to Glasgow because he was warned that his personal safety could not be guaranteed was indeed a timely reminder that the woes of the wee North sometimes boil to the surface in the homeland of the haggis and thistle.
Ahern had planned to view an "old firm" Glasgow Celtic-Glasgow Rangers soccer game before unveiling a memorial to fleeing victims of the Irish Famine at a Catholic shrine just outside the city. Local MP Frank Roy, however, wrote Ahern to suggest that the visit wasn’t a good idea on the grounds that it might provoke sectarian violence.
In fairness to Roy — No Rob he — the idea of wee North-style sectarian bloody mindedness is not completely out to lunch in Glasgow. A few years ago, a Celtic supporter, Mark Scott, was murdered in the city simply because he was wearing a Celtic jersey. Still, it is hardly surprising that Roy’s intervention has provoked a furious reaction from fellow Scottish politicians, one of whom excoriated Roy for making Scotland "look like Mississippi."
Poor Mississippi, a state that was held up for so long as the reason why Arkansas managed to avoid last place on the various socioeconomic indicator lists, including those dealing with the treatment of minorities.
No need for the descendants of William Wallace to fret too much, though. If Arkansas always had Mississippi, Scotland, or at least Glasgow, always has the likes of Larne just across the water to point a finger at. As for Ahern? Next time he plans a trip to Scotland he should wear a Manchester United jersey. No better way of uniting the feuding clans and fans by the River Clyde, if only for an afternoon. He might get a bit bruised, but being the first man to unite the Scots since William Wallace would be no mean thing. Might even land the taoiseach a role in the next Mel Gibson flick.
Catholic League President William Donohue is not a man to roll over easily when he feels that the name of his church, the clergy who run it or the tenets of his faith have been impugned. But he did tip the hat to AOH President Tom Gilligan in a recent letter, apologizing for a swipe he took at the Hibernian Digest over an article by Belfast’s Fr. Des Wilson that was critical of actions taken by the archbishop of Armagh, Sean Brady. Donohue expressed shock over what he felt was anti-church coverage in the AOH’s official journal.
Gilligan, in a strongly worded riposte, rejected any suggestion that the Digest was anti-church and went on to staunchly defend Wilson, who had been sniping at Brady’s heels as a result of the archbishop attending a meeting with RUC commanders. Gilligan’s cannonade obviously had effect because Donohue wrote back stating that Gilligan’s points had been well taken, that the RUC was a "despicable entity," that it had been unwise of him to paint with too broad a brush with regard to the Hibernian Digest, and that he had allowed his disappointment with Fr. Wilson’s criticism of Brady color his thinking.
Donohue concluded by stating that he was a proud member of the AOH and that the AOH could rely on the resources of the Catholic League "whenever anti-Catholic bigotry rears its ugly head."