By Ray O’Hanlon
Kudos to the Emerald Isle Immigration Center for the recent Paul O’Dwyer Peace and Justice Award event at the White House. For a few minutes, the event allowed Bill Clinton to be president again. Indeed, the beleaguered Clinton seemed able relax a little and speak his mind — at least that part of it devoted to Ireland. But what was still in the back of his mind found echoes in his words.
Speaking off script, Clinton spoke of the peace process. "This is not a done deal, number one. It’s wonderful, and even on our last trip it was great. . . . We went to Stormont . . . the different parties stood in the same room together. Even Mr. Paisley’s crowd was in the same room with everybody else and we had a visit. It was kind of nice. I liked it."
Message to GOP Congress: You can work with those you despise.
"We have to complete every last step of this process. But the good news is the people really want it. You know, we went to Armagh. . . . We had thousands of people there, young and old, in the seat of St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland — the last popular Englishman in Ireland until Tony Blair came along, I think. But it was so wonderful to see all those young people there. And then I can’t add anything to what Hillary told you about Omagh, except that through all their heartbreak they wanted us to go on, and they wanted this to go on.
A subtle message here for the American people? Let us, the Clintons, go on too.
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"And in the Republic . . . they weren’t there for me so much as they were there for the United States, and for the idea that the United States is a genuine friend to the Irish people, and to the reconciliation of the Irish people."
Bashful Bill. Of course they were there for him. Just you try pulling a crowd of 50,000 in Limerick. Not even the McCourts could do that.
"No nation has done as much as long, as consistently, for peacekeeping as Ireland has. Over the last 40 years, I don’t believe there’s been a single day there hasn’t been an Irish peacekeeper somewhere in the world — 75 have perished, but today, they’re still there, from Africa to the Middle East to Bosnia, shoulder to shoulder, with American troops. "
Plea here to Irish Americans: Stand by your man. Me.
"From the Middle East to Kosovo to Kashmir to the tribal conflicts in Africa, I would like to tell them the story of the hundreds of years of Irish history. I would like to tell them about the potato famines and the civil war and the conflicts with the British, and the deeply embedded hatreds, and how in our time it all went away. . . . And if we finish this job, then we can go anywhere in the world and say, ‘Look, I know you’ve got a lot of problems and I know you can’t stand your neighbor over there, but let me tell you about Northern Ireland.’ And every one of you knows . . . that you have played a role in that.
"If we can finish this job," serves as a reminder to Irish Americans that the "we" is still mostly "he," the 42nd president. Clinton did lavish praise on Al Gore’s role in working out the White House policy on Ireland.
"A hundred years ago this year, William Butler Yeats gave a speech evaluating Ireland’s past and predicting a new day. . . . Almost 20 years after he wrote that, he was saying that things fall apart, the center cannot hold. I think he would be greatly pleased to know that things have come together, and the center seems to be holding very well, thank you."
Clinton, a political centrist, suggesting political Armageddon if he is pushed out of office?
"So again let me say, I thank you all. This award belongs to all of you. But we have work to do. And when we do, when Ireland finally does completely come home to itself, it will be a gift not only to the Irish and not only to those of us who are Irish Americans; it will be a gift for the whole world — a gift the world sorely needs. And all of you will have played a role in giving it."
Another plea. This Irish American needs you Irish Americans. Don’t quit on me now.
Clinton’s acquisition of the Paul O’Dwyer award made no headlines in the Washington Post. It not even merit a mention. Perhaps he should have done a striptease. The New York Times featured a couple of photographs but only referred to it as a White House event. Given Paul O’Dwyer’s lifelong association with New York, "IF" reckons that the caption writer might have slipped in a mention. CNN and C-Span gave the event prominent air time although it was obviously Clinton first, the circumstances second. We take what we can get.
Meanwhile, the Boston Globe has shipped out of Dublin. Kevin Cullen, the first ever staff reporter from a major U.S. daily to be assigned full time to Ireland, has been moved to London. He will cover Europe, including Ireland, from the British capital. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted.
"It was brilliant. It was a dream come true." Chicago’s Maureen O’Looney reacting to her recent White House visit for the presentation of the Paul O’Dwyer Peace and Justice Award to President Clinton.
€ "He played a major role in orchestrating a powerful contingent of Irish-American politicians, including the speaker, to oppose pro-Irish groups espousing violence." Albert Hunt on the late political strategist Kirk O’Donnell, in the Wall Street Journal.
€ "This is the kind of drivel we’ve come to expect from such a fine lad as Taki." Author Terry Golway in the Daily News responding to social columnist Taki’s contention in the British magazine The Spectator that Ireland "harbors more terrorist than drunks."
Ireland last occupied a seat on the United Nations Security Council 20 years ago. Notice how the planet has gone to hell since. Anyway, Irish foreign minister David Andrews is in New York this week to deliver Ireland’s annual address to the General Assembly. On the side he will be lobbying for a renewed Irish presence among the 10 rotating seats on the 15-member council. The hope is that Ireland will be once again in a hot seat in 2001. Just in time to save the planet again.