By Ray O’Hanlon
The recent spate of meetings in Washington involving visiting politicians from Ireland and Britain, Brian Cowen being but the latest, are reminiscent of the 1980s when Capitol Hill, as opposed to the White House, was the primary focal point for Irish government ministers and Irish diplomats dealing with the Troubles.
It’s been evident in recent weeks that the present Irish government is placing renewed emphasis in the Congress even as it attempts to assess the attitudes of the top foreign policy figures in the new administration, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and, of course, President Bush himself. Doubtless, Bertie Ahern will be in full assessment mode when he arrives in Washington next week with the bowl of shamrock and a travel bag full of wishful thinking.
At this early stage there are sure signs that old friends such as Ted Kennedy are as in demand as ever as far as Irish leaders are concerned. But new faces are also emerging. "IF" hears that one Capitol Hill politician who has particularly impressed Dublin and its embassy in D.C. is GOP senator from Maine, Susan Collins. Collins was one of the eight signatories to the recent letter to Bush sent by the National Assembly of Irish American Republicans.
Forty shades of . . .
Whatever about the importance of this year’s shamrock session at the White House, there’s no doubt that the wee thing is yer only plant on St. Patrick’s Day — no matter where you are. "IF" recently picked up this little story from a diplomatic source. A few years back an Irish government delegation was in Atlanta for the city’s big parade. Somebody in the party noticed that they didn’t have any shamrock for the big. No surprise, really, in the land of peaches and pines. Still, it was felt that some effort had to be made to sport the green.
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So off went a couple of the visitors in search of the wee plant. They turned up at a nursery, a rather big one too and more in hope than anticipation asked the lady at the customer service desk if they had any shamrock. Certainly, said she, "and what color would you like." Ah, America!
Oh boy, Danny!
As previously noted, the SDLP is carving lumps out of the planet’s forest acreage in recent months with its elected representatives faxing details of their every move and pronouncement. Right now, SDLP East Antrim assembly member Danny O’Connor is out front in the race for fastest fax in the North. In recent days, O’Connor has been on paper commenting on all manner of things, not least the latest howler from Sammy Wilson — he of the naked rear end. O’Connor is up in arms over remarks made by Wilson, current lord mayor of Belfast, about the town that sits in the heartland of Danny’s constituency. That town is the one and only Larne.
Wilson reckons there’s a good old republican/loyalist feud going on in the place despite that fact that just about everyone East of Suez, including the RUC, is having a hard time plotting any activity in the gaff other than loyalists chucking pipe bombs into homes full of women and children. Not surprising then that Danny’s steaming and his fax machine is smoking.
Tolling for peace
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness wins the "IF" prize for varied activities on his upcoming St. Patrick’s Day visit to the U.S. In addition to hanging out with the boys at the Clover Club in Boston, McGuinness will be forging new ties for his party in Bluegrass country. Three days before St. Patrick’s Day itself, McGuinness will be in Newport, Ky., to ring the "World Peace Bell." The bell is part of Newport’s Millennium Monument" and, according to a report in the Kentucky Post, has attracted quite a few notable visitors, including some world leaders and winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
McGuinness will not have to do any heavy lifting to ring what is "the largest free-swinging bell in the world." All he has to do is press a button. If only peace was really as easy as that.
One obvious difference between last Sunday’s parades on Staten Island and in Queens was the fact that virtually nobody on the island actually questioned the legitimacy of the parade itself. Not so in the Sunnyside/Woodside neighborhoods of Queens where the Brendan Fay-organized "inclusive" parade went off to the delight of participants and some, but by no means all, residents in the area.
Objections voiced before the event didn’t only come from local Republican Party members. The local Woodside Herald newspaper also let fly at the event in an editorial which read in part: "While we have nothing against an ‘inclusive’ St. Patrick’s parade which ‘cherishes all the children in the nation equally,’ we cannot help but feel that this ‘wannabe’ parade is nothing more than a push by gay and lesbian groups to mock the rich heritage of the Irish and the traditional Manhattan parade. By including groups with tenuous connections to Ireland and Irish history, parade organizers are attempting to give the Queens version an appearance of legitimacy that just isn’t there."
And this from The Tablet, the Catholic newspaper for the Queens/Brooklyn Diocese: "There are two parades in Queens this weekend. One is a pure breed of an Irish celebration. The second is a phoney (sic) baloney hijacking of the good name of the Irish and a great saint."
The "pure breed" Irish celebration to which The Tablet was referring was the annual Rockaway St. Patrick’s Parade, an event that received rather less ink than the Sunnyside/Woodside and Staten Island parades. But "IF" reckons most of the folks out there were probably happy enough with the bit of peace and quiet.
While some are ready to mark the 20th anniversary of the hunger strikes, Margaret Thatcher is warming up to cut the ribbon at a renovated basketball stadium on the campus of Oklahoma State University. "IF" kids you not.
The "Iron Lady" luvs this game, presumably for a fee. Hal Cousins of the American Irish Political Education Committee in the Sooner State wants people to throw a little light on Maggie’s pre-hoops career by contacting the college newspaper the Daily O’Collegian’s letters-to-the editor page. The paper’s fax is (405) 744-7936 while the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. "IF" trusts that all opinion will be civil and devoid of technicals. Cousins himself can be contacted at (405) 677-3623.