By Ray O’Hanlon
Rep. Henry Hyde’s elevation to the chair of the House International Relations committee is by no means the worst outcome of the juggling of chairmanships at the outset of the 107th Congress.
Hyde has taken a positive stance on Irish issues more than once down the years, most notably in the matter of fair employment in Northern Ireland and the MacBride Principles.
In 1995, Hyde co-authored a letter to fellow Republican legislators that clearly gave vent to a growing view in GOP circles that Irish-American votes were not necessarily automatically Democratic. The letter in question was concerned with the International Fund for Ireland, but it’s the final paragraph that stood out in a purely political context: "Millions of Irish Americans who traditionally have been loyal to the Democratic party have in recent years been supporting Republican candidates, often providing critical support in heavily Democratic districts. It makes sense to work to improve this relationship between Irish Americans and the GOP."
Clearly, many Irish Americans from both parties will be sad to see Ben Gilman relinquish his chairmanship, but Hyde, those who have watched him over the years say, is not likely to let Ireland slip below the congressional horizon.
Meanwhile, there is some muttering with regard to the nomination of John Ashcroft to succeed Janet Reno as attorney general. Irish-American concerns are particularly focused on the fact that Ashcroft happily accepted an honorary degree from the Rev. Ian Paisley’s alma Mater, Bob Jones University, a while back. The 2000 election campaign witnessed a big row over the Bob Jones view of the world after George W. Bush visited the South Carolina campus. Reps. Pete King and Joe Crowley were in the middle of that scuffle.
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Readers with memories still intact after the Christmas and New Year festivities might well recall a story a few years back about Dubliner Paul Kavanagh, an Irish diplomat on loan to the United Nations who became one of former Secretary General Perez de Cuellar’s top aides — a member, indeed, of the Peruvian’s inner cabinet. Well, Kavanagh’s back in New York at the Irish Mission to the UN, one of several new arrivals beefing up the Mission as Ireland warms up its two-year rotating seat on the Security Council.
Kavanagh’s knowledge of the United Nations, garnered over several years from the inside, will clearly be invaluable during the time that the Auld Sod has to straighten out, to some meaningful degree at least, the tangled affairs of the world’s nations. Kavanagh’s role at the Irish Mission is that of "political coordinator" — a job for life on the East River if ever there was one.
Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory is having fits at the prospect of Bill Clinton’s Irish policies being left in the hands of, well, whoever those policies are handed to in the Bush White House.
Here’s Mary going hard at it: "Another contentious locale that should be watching the clock and counting the days is Northern Ireland. Clinton recently visited there with a rational expectation of having his patience of the last six years rewarded. He has coaxed and courted Ulster, he has taken heat, he has given food and drink and a White House welcome to its most obscure and intransigent politicians. But during his tour, on which he received an ecstatic welcome from the ordinary people of Ireland, no political ground was given.
"The two parties, the Unionists and the IRA, are once again locked in the strife that so easily engulfs all discussions in Ireland. The issues are decommissioning, demilitarization and police reform, and, as usual, the Good Friday agreement, which never would have happened without Clinton’s fervent intervention. . . . The Irish people are sick and tired of the rows, but don’t always dare to go out in the streets to protest the blockheadedness of their politicians — names are taken and so is revenge. But they can turn out for Clinton with impunity and they did from Dublin to Dundalk. Clinton begged the leaders to compromise, but they couldn’t — or at least didn’t.
"Maybe it will dawn on them that bush has no sentimental or political ties to Northern Ireland, no desire to further a cause of the Kennedys. They cannot look forward to spending St. Patrick’s Day at the White House. Ireland goes back to the State Department, where reverence for ‘the special relationship’ with Britain is traditional."
Dear oh dear!
The degree to which Dubya actually feels that the Irish issues are important will be reflected in his selection of a U.S. ambassador to Ireland to succeed Mike Sullivan. Suffice it to say, it won’t be a Kennedy. But could it be a Democrat such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan or Ray Flynn, the former ambassador to the Vatican who plumped for Bush in the presidential election?
If not, there are any number of GOP worthies who would be only delighted to take up residence in what Moynihan considers the jewel in the crown of the State Department’s long list of overseas ambassadorial residences.
Various names have already cropped up. Mike Finnegan, former top aide to Gov. George Pataki, is one. Another is the silken-voiced Peggy Noonan, pundit, journalist, author and speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. California-based auto-parts mogul Tom Tracy is another hopeful.
The one thing Dubya should not do, of course, is repeat the sin of his father, who sent one of his octogenarian cronies to Dublin. William FitzGerald, it is infamously remembered, did not know the difference between nationalists and unionists at his Senate confirmation hearing. Given that particular Bush legacy, just about anyone would be an improvement.
Equally, given the present delicate state of the peace process, the Dublin posting is not a job for just any GOP pal with eyes on a free house. Bush should choose his plenipotentiary carefully.
Hillary Clinton’s new pad in Washington D.C. — and make no mistake, it’s hers as opposed to his — looks like being party central in more ways than one for the Democrats. "IF" will be curious to see if Hillary throws a St. Patrick’s Day bash in her new digs just to keep the green flag flying for the party faithful.
The house itself is seemingly quite a pile. "IF" made a call to find our where it’s exactly at. "Off Massachusetts Avenue, a stone’s throw from the British Embassy," said a geographically well-placed source who, "IF" can only assume, was speaking figuratively.