By Ray O’Hanlon
Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews is in New York this week preparing to deliver Ireland’s annual address to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. The wee North is high on his agenda, of course, but so too is East Timor, a place about as far away from East Belfast on the globe as you can possibly get.
Suffice it to say, there is great concern in Ireland over the appalling state of affairs in the onetime Portuguese, and more lately, Indonesian colony. And there’s the rub. While the wee North is a complex issue of clashing identities and loyalties just up the road, other world political basket cases seem to be more easily tackled by Irish citizens and politicians alike.
East Timor, in Irish eyes, is virtually in a league of its own in this regard: A defenseless land colonized twice over. Irish Ambassador to the UN Richard Ryan was alone among European Union plenipotentiaries to mention the word "genocide" in a statement on East Timor made recently to the UN Security Council. Irish prominence in the debate has been raised further by Mary Robinson’s statements in her capacity as UN Human Rights chief. Last week, there was further Irish agitation with the visit to the U.S. of a delegation from the Ireland East Timor Solidarity Group.
Patricia "Paddy" Kelly of IETSG lost no time in comparing events in East Timor to the Great Hunger in Ireland 150 years ago. Kelly, a veteran human-rights campaigner and Belfast native, said she had been horrified by what she had seen in East Timor. She also felt more frightened there than in any other of the world’s trouble spots she previously visited.
That sense of fear was well illustrated in a New York Times report Sunday of Irishman and UN employee Terence Burke, who, while attempting to secure fresh water in the East Timor capital of Dili, had a gun put to his temple by a pro-Indonesian militiaman. The year of living dangerously indeed.
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Patten, lust for acceptance
First the report, now the battle for Irish-American hearts and minds. Chris Patten is expected in the U.S. this week on a visit aimed at boosting his report into the future of the RUC. Patten will be aware that his report has been favorably acknowledged by prominent U.S. politicians, not least President Clinton. But he’s also aware of Irish-American warnings that full implementation of the report’s recommendations must now follow.
Not untypical was the view of Fr. Sean McManus of the Irish National Caucus, who welcomed some proposals but said he was "very disappointed" that there were no changes proposed for the RUC Special Branch, emergency legislation or on the use of plastic bullets.
"I also think 10 years is too long to bring about the proposed 30 percent Nationalist/Catholic membership in the police service. Furthermore, the percentage rate should be 43 percent, not 30 percent," McManus, who knows all about employment percentages due to his years at the front in the MacBride Principles campaign, said.
Editorial comment in major U.S. newspapers was generally favorable. The Washington Post decided that into the tense showdown over the Northern Ireland peace accord, a potential deal maker, the Patten report, had now been injected.
"The completion of the Patten report puts a strong card in the hand of once-again mediator George Mitchell. This is the promise of the proposed Northern Ireland Police Service," the Post said.
The rival Washington Times struck a similar vein in its editorial. The report, it stated, "creates a model for a law enforcement agency that respects human rights as well as being representative of the people it serves."
The Boston Globe was blunt: "The Royal Ulster Constabulary has been from its founding an imperial British institution. To earn the support of Catholics in Northern Ireland it needs to be radically changed, and the commission headed by Christopher Patten proposes to do just that. Its report is a major step toward a just society in Northern Ireland and should be accepted by all parties to the conflict."
Room at Joe’s Inn
Hillary Rodham Clinton might have picked a house in New York state, but it ain’t home yet. Not that she has too hard a time finding a roof for a dark night. On one recent visit, however, Rodham Clinton did have to make rapid plans for an overnight after meeting with Democratic Party workers in Queens. She ended up staying with Rep. Joe Crowley and his wife, Kasey, at the couple’s Elmhurst home.
After a rapid assessment by the Secret Service that the premises could be secured, Hillary hit the sack while the Crowleys, Joe, Kasey, and recently arrived son, Joseph Cullen Crowley, spent the night in the basement — finished, it must be said. The Secret Service and the first Lady’s staff filed just about every other nook and cranny.
Of course, the First Lady’s overnight was immediately being interpreted by some as a White House thumbs-up for Crowley, who is facing grumblings from some Queens Democrats over the fact that he rather too easily slipped into the congressional shoes of Tom Manton.
Edward the Confessor
Journalist Ed Moloney’s plight would be no less if he were a doctor, psychiatrist or even a priest. Under British anti-terrorism law, specifically Section 18 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act of 1989, only lawyers are allowed the privilege of keeping silent about information they hear concerning an act that falls within the parameters of the legislation. So even if Moloney were a bishop and was refusing to disclose information to a court concerning a crime on the grounds that it was imparted to him in confession, he would still be facing five years in jail.
Given that the law goes hard against even the seal of the confessional, it is not surprising that it goes hard against the rather less defined rituals of secular journalism.
Meanwhile, a planned demonstration on Moloney’s behalf outside the British Consulate in Manhattan on Saturday, Sept. 25, has been put back to Saturday, Oct. 2, at 3 p.m. For details, call (718) 515-3126 or (212) 353-8700 ext. 147 during office hours.