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Inside File The GFA — in its own words

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Much ado about the demise of the Northern Ireland Executive in the context of the failure of the IRA, in particular, to cough up its pikes and muskets. But lost in the rhetoric surrounding the political child of the Good Friday agreement has been the agreement itself and this is what it says about decommissioning weapons: "All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organizations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement."

Now "within two years" would plant us in May of this year, not the month just beginning. And how can you accurately quantify the using of "any influence they may have" with regard to any one of the parties in the Executive?

Clearly, whoever wrote this crucial paragraph was aware that decommissioning might be a long and troubled process all on its wee own. There is no "deadline" in the true meaning of the term contained in it, although clearly there is a sense of one in the current public mood on both sides of the border.

In the case of the Ulster Unionists, there is a clear sense of a deadline this very week. At the same time, the decommissioning paragraph doesn’t explicitly link any one party to any one paramilitary group. So if the Ulster Unionists press the Provos to the wall, as they are doing now, it might appear to some that they are not using their overall influence constructively and indeed may well be putting back the day when the guns are finally destroyed for all time. Go figure!

One man’s deportee

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Billy Jimmy Fulton, the man who has done so much of late for the reputation of Irish, or indeed, British immigrants in California, quite possibly has questions to answer about the murder of Rosemary Nelson. But he might also have to answer to fellow loyalists should he be deported to the wee North.

Fulton could argue that he has a well-founded fear of persecution should he be sent back to his particular corner of what he would like to believe is the United Kingdom. That persecution could come in the form of an Ulster Volunteer Force bullet.

Billy Jimmy might not know it yet, but he is effectively a member of a very select club. He’s a "deportee" — Billy Boy version.

"IF" has not stopped breathing in anticipation of a rush of Irish-American support for Billy Jimmy. Then again, should he file a claim for political asylum, his case will nudge-up rather closely in legal terms to the cases of a number of other deportees long familiar to readers of this paper.

Billy Jimmy might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but as the late Paul O’Dwyer wisely pointed out in the case of another pariah in Irish-American eyes, Peter McMullen — aka "Pete the Para" — every case can create precedent and by ignoring a particular case simply because you think the guy is a scumbag, you can potentially allow damage be caused the interests of those you view as heroes of a legitimate struggle.

Meanwhile, hyperbole is hardly the word when it comes to the politics of wee North. Take Sir Reg Empey of the Ulster Unionists, for example. Here’s his take on the latest impasse: "Unionists have been stretched to and beyond limit after limit after limit. Our patience is completely exhausted in this matter." Ah, Jaysus, Reg, after 830 years there’s always room for one more limit. Go on, man, stretch yerself! Once more with feeling.

Gore before

A few days after the 1992 Irish American Presidential Forum in New York, Bill Clinton brushed aside the somewhat divergent challenges of Jerry Brown and Gennifer Flowers and won the New York Democratic Primary. As he began to take on the mantle of his party’s presidential candidate, Irish America carefully filed away the pledges he made at the forum, ready to dust them off if Clinton won the presidential election that November.

One of Clinton’s promises was to appoint as U.S. peace envoy to Northern Ireland once he became president. It was a revolutionary idea, one that promised to turn decades of U.S. policy toward Ireland on its head.

Brown had promised the same thing at the forum, but his star was going down even as Clinton’s was rising. In the following years it was nearly always Clinton who came to mind when the peace envoy pledge came up in conversation. George Mitchell had put a face to the promise and he, of course, answered to the man from Arkansas.

Not so often remembered is the fact that Al Gore promised the envoy back in April 1988. Gore spoke at the ’88 forum in the then Penta Hotel and told the assembled crowd that, as president, he would appoint a U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland if he thought it would help resolve the troubles.

But Gore wasn’t the main man that day, nor any day afterward that year. Michael Dukakis was carrying the torch for the Democrats and he hadn’t mentioned a peace envoy at all. Twelve years on and it will be interesting to see if Gore remembers that he was ahead of his nemesis in ’88 and his subsequent boss on the matter of the envoy. On this one at least, Gore will be standing on firmer ground than he was when he claimed to have invented the internet.

Gizza prize

"IF" just can’t keep up with those Irish American Democrats. The Washington D.C.-based lobby group headed by Stella O’Leary is to present Hillary Clinton with The Irish American Peace Prize at a reception in D.C. on, of course, Valentine’s Day.

Will it be a heart-shaped piece of Waterford Crystal with a dozen roses and a box of chocolates on the side? Who knows? But no matter what it is, "IF" feels very much beaten to the post. One was considering conjuring up a peace prize all of one’s own but now it can only merely be "An" Irish American Peace Prize. No fair, boo hoo!

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