By Ray O’Hanlon
The importance of continued U.S. involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process was emphasized at the recent Democratic National Committee Platform meeting in St. Louis.
Frank Durkan of the Irish American Unity Conference told the committee that it was vital that all facets of the Good Friday agreement, particularly those dealing with RUC reform, be fully implemented.
A request was also submitted that the Democratic Party include in its election-year plank on Ireland a recommendation that all proceedings against the Irish deportees and the extraditees in California be terminated.
The platform committee included Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. She was quick to remind Durkan that another female Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith, had been to the fore on Irish issues in recent years. Kennedy Townsend was present in the room during Bill Clinton’s recent "Redneck" speech on Ireland and is certainly aware of how much importance Irish-American Democrats place on a continued U.S. role in Ireland once Clinton is out of office. "IF" will be interested to see if Irish-American GOP backers move to have similar sentiments included in the Republican platform.
The Drumcree dribble
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A new sight at Drumcree last weekend was water cannon. Seems that the RUC is moving away from the use of plastic bullets, which, not surprisingly, have been highly controversial down the years, not least because they can be lethal. Hence, the water cannon, which were on loan from the Belgian police. Many in Northern Ireland had an inkling as to how powerful these devices could be. They had been put to use against soccer hooligans during the recent Euro 2000 soccer tournament.
One Belfast resident told "IF" that the TV news had shown one unfortunate woman in Belgium being blown down the street, over and over like so many tumbleweeds, by the force of the jet of water from the cannon. But something happened to the water cannon between Brussels and Belfast. The water pressure evaporated. There were howls of derision all over when the cannon were turned against Orange protesters at Drumcree.
The jets of water were nothing compared to the Belgian torrent. Sure enough, a photo in the Irish Times last week showed one of the water cannon in action. For a couple of feet the water jet was concentrated enough but the photo revealed that very quickly it turned into a drizzle, the kind that you would use to water the flowers in your garden and a flow that was certainly no match for an Orangeman’s sturdy umbrella. Ah, law and order comes dripping slowly.
The interfering dollar
Fine Gael leader John Bruton wants an end to Irish political parties being able to collect money in faraway, foreign places like New York and Boston. "IF" can only assume that the Fine Gael money machine in the U.S. is in need of some oiling. Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are the two main beneficiaries of Irish-American largesse, so there’s no surprise that Bruton might be concerned over how that money, particularly the Shinner slice of it, might be spent in an election campaign south of the Rio South Armagh.
Bruton reckons that the money raised by Irish parties abroad constitutes interference in the internal political life of the wee sod. Presumably, emigrant votes would be another form of interference. Equally, all that U.S. investment in the Celtic Tiger must constitute a form of economic interference. And not to mention all those interfering tourists and bureaucrats from Brussels. And, of course, there’s the interfering immigrants now that Ireland is rolling in money, much of it from interfering Europe. And there’s interfering asylum seekers, and Sinead O’Connor, who’s always interfering with something or another. And the weather, which is always an interference when you go outside. And the United Nations, fierce shower of interfering . . . well.
Anyway, we should be kind. Bruton’s suspicions of the Shinners and FF may be well founded. After all, they are branches of the same political, if not money, tree. But one thing is certain. Next time "Brutal" lands in America, he’s buying his own lunch. No freebies here anymore, pal.
Air Lingus is now being run by the Flying Foleys. Michael, the Irish Foley, is the airline’s newly designated chief executive back in Dublin, while Jack, the Irish American Foley, is the carrier’s head of operations in North America. Anybody named Foley turning up to fly Aer Lingus in the coming weeks should claim kinship. You might be offered a job.
Meanwhile, the carrier’s North Atlantic service, a ball and chain around the leg of profit only a few years ago, is now the big money spinner. According to the Irish magazine Business & Finance, the Atlantic now generates 60 percent of Aer Lingus operating profits.
"A measure of how successful the airline has been in reducing traditional seasonal imbalances in this sector is reflected by the fact that it carried as many people across the Atlantic in November of last year as it did in July of 1997," B&F stated in a recent report.
The world turns
So there was Charlie Haughey, minister for finance back in 1968, refusing to sanction a lousy £2,000 in extra expenditure to complete salvage of the Aer Lingus aircraft St. Phelim, the Vickers Viscount that crashed near Tuskar Rock lighthouse killing all 61 people on board.
Given the revelations of recent times, such penny pinching in the face of a shocking tragedy does not look very good. Charlie was apparently afraid that if the extra expenditure turned up something important, public interest would be raised to such a pitch that even more money would have to be spent.
Brian Lenihan, minister for transport and power, didn’t agree with Haughey. The man who in later years would be often portrayed as Haughey’s personal herald, wrote Haughey saying that he had fully considered the possibility of damaging publicity.
"I am satisfied," Lenihan said, "that the marginal unfavorable publicity which might be caused would not, and should not in any case, be allowed to outweigh the overriding considerations of safety and the public interest."
Lenihan got his way and Charlie reluctantly forked over the money. The resumed search then uncovered significant parts of the downed plane. The twist in all of this is that the Haughey-Lenihan exchange emerged in the recent review of the St. Phelim investigation ordered by the present minister for public enterprise, Mary O’Rourke. O’Rourke, of course, is the late Brian Lenihan’s sister.