By Ray O’Hanlon
Papers across the U.S. often take their lead on foreign policy from editorials in the New York Times. So when the Times had a lash at Sinn Féin and the IRA over decommissioning recently, it was only a matter of time before more editorials began cropping up in the nation’s main dailies. The initial Times swipe at the Provos/Shinners was on Feb. 1. It was headlined: "Dangerous Stall by the I.R.A." The second editorial, in the Feb. 10 edition, was on much the same lines: "Costly Stubbornness by the I.R.A."
The opening lines of editorial two, which coincided with the visit to the U.S. last week of Sinn Féin chairman Mitchell McLaughlin, was not exactly music to the Derry man’s ears: "It would be tragic if the Irish Republican Army undermined the nearly two-year-old peace settlement in Northern Ireland by refusing to turn in even a small component of its arsenal. Yet that is just what the I.R.A. seems determined to do . . . "
A meeting with the Times editorial board could not be arranged to coincide with McLaughlin’s New York stopover. From his point of view, that would turn out to be unfortunate.
On Saturday morning, with the North’s Executive suspended, the Times came out with a third editorial. Again, little solace for Sinn Féin. The last-minute IRA statement had been an "advance." But it wouldn’t be enough.
There was, however, one editorial that went against the recent trend, although part of it was also certain to give republicans stomach acid. The Minneapolis Star stated: "Great pressure has been brought to bear on the IRA and its political affiliate, Sinn Fein, to begin disarming. Much has been made of Trimble’s concession thus far and of his precarious political situation. The IRA, so the story goes, refuses to move ahead with disarmament as envisioned in the Good Friday Agreement and in the creation of the new government two months back.
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"But that’s not a fair telling of the story. The republican side also has given up a lot — especially its dream of uniting Ulster with the Irish Republic. . . . The British government should call the Unionists’ bluff and decline to suspend the Belfast government. If the Unionists wish to quit, let them. The worst peril lies in pandering to such obstructionists."
David Trimble is expected in the U.S. at the end of this week. He will be going to Washington, D.C., and Boston. But his first port of call will be, you guessed it, Minneapolis, where he has a longstanding speaking engagement.
Biffo and Mandy
Or should it be Mork and Mindy? Anyway, Brian Cowen — "Biffo," to enemies and friends alike — and Peter Mandelson, or Mandy, as the tabs like to call him, met for a chat in Belfast on Monday as the latest political crisis deepened. The newly minted Irish minister for foreign affairs and the recently installed Northern secretary had, by all accounts, a full and frank exchange of views. Biffo is not a man to be intimidated easily and this is a good thing because there are those who would take the view that Dublin was caught with its pants down last week as the short-lived Executive was flushed down the jacks by London.
Hands off Bob
"IF" was disturbed to hear reports that some Al Gore’s supporters were recently calling retiring Sen. Bob Kerrey names in New Hampshire. Hopefully, there were no Irish Americans in the pack. OK, so Kerrey is a Bradley fan, but the Gore crowd should know that it was the Nebraska senator who injected the Northern Ireland peace envoy plan into the 1992 Democratic campaign.
The idea was drawn up by Kerrey in consultation with Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the retiring New York senator. The wording was formulated by Martin O’Malley, now the Democratic mayor of Baltimore.
When Kerrey dropped out of the 1992 race, his envoy pledge was rolled virtually verbatim into the Clinton platform. Gore now stands as the most direct inheritor of that envoy idea. In a very real sense it is a gift from Bob Kerrey. But the yobos who threw mud at Kerrey were not to know this because they are of the kind who know very little about anything at all.
Gerry Adams sounded really down in the dumps last week, hinting at resignation and expressing his anger at being the messenger who is always getting shot. He need not have fretted. Gerry’s birthday is in October. He’s a Libra — armalite on one scale, ballot box on the other — and his horoscope, one version of it anyway, wasn’t half bad. It read in part: "No one is out to get you. No one is after your job. No one is plotting behind your back. For some strange reason you believe there is a conspiracy afoot — even stranger is that you believe it is aimed at you."
We can take it
"I just hope that everyone will belly up to the bar and do their part." Begod, but Bill Clinton is getting fierce fancy with the language altogether. Not a "y’all" in sight. Clinton was speaking about the troubled peace process last week and his words brought back memories of the gaffe in which he compared the political leaders in the North to a couple of drunks in a bar. A lot of people were angry over that, but the latest jibe from Bubba, well, "IF," for one, can take it.
On a scale of one to 10 it ranks at about two. Still, Clinton is the president and his words count. The New York Post was huffing and puffing over it, eh, y’all. The tab even unleashed one of its dreaded editorial writers on the story. "Isn’t it grand, that the Good Lord gave the Irish such a glorious sense of humor? Begorra, now just imagine how much trouble President Clinton would be in if He hadn’t." Good thing for the Post editorial writing team that we can laugh at them too, and, in fairness, it did open its doors to Mitchell McLaughlin on Friday.
And speaking of the Post. Its report on that Fermanagh hotel bomb was headlined "Blast Rocks Belfast." Two paragraphs down we learn that the bomb went off 90 miles west of the town. Eh, Krakatoa west of Belfast?