Category: Archive

Most in U.S. say, ‘give peace a chance’

February 15, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Patrick Markey

Repairing a wall in Woodside, Queens, Paul Rafferty and Raymond Cox downed their tools for a moment, took a moment’s respite from the afternoon heat Monday and talked peace.

“It would be nice if there was peace to go home to,” said Rafferty, who is from County Down.

“Anything is better than nothing, anything better than fighting,” the 20-year-old said. Cox agreed. Both had reservations over Good Friday’s peace accord, but, like many others, were willing to give the agreement a chance.

After weeks of heated debates and spirited arguments from visiting politicos, talk turns to decision this week as the Irish head to the voting booths for the May 22 referenda on the Belfast Agreement.

During the often contentious discussion played out in America’s Irish communities, observers have passed every shade of judgment on the document in the run-up to the historic vote.

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With such sensitive issues as the RUC’s future, the release of prisoners, and amendments to Articles Two and Three of the irish Constitution, more often than not, it has never been simply about voting yes or no.

Questions over sovereignty and continued British presence linger for some, but many here said they have set aside unanswered concerns in the hope that here was a chance for positive change. A cautious optimism has outweighed their doubts.

“It’s be great if holds out,” said Kerry native Martin Begley in the Woodside section of New York. “I’m sure it’ll be a yes. In general everybody seems to want it. It’s a step forward. And Sinn Fein are getting stronger year by year.”

In New York’s Irish communities, that positive reaction was often laced with a healthy dose of skepticism. Most said they believed that the accord would be voted through on Friday, despite worries over Unionist reaction.

“It’s the best thing that’s happened to us in a long time,” said Dubliner Eamon McCabe, waiting for a bus near Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. “It’s the best chance we’ve had for peace. And just the fact that the two sides are talking is something I find incredible.”

Others were more wary.

“With the new British government, there’s been some movement toward peace,” said Doug’ Markey, who is from County Down.

But, he said, the accord was still a “sell out.” he predicted the situation could collapse again in four or five years. A united Ireland was still a long way off, he said.

In the U.S., just as in Ireland, the accord has not meet with united support.

Martin Galvin, an attorney long involved in the Republican movement, said he believed the number of debates and their attendance here illustrated the level of concern over the accord in Irish American circles.

That concern, Galvin said, centered on the “giving up of basic Republican principle,” Irish national sovereignty and what he called the “continued loyalist dynamic” in the North denying Nationalists equality and justice. Growing numbers of Irish Americans recognize the failure of the accord on the sovereignty, he said, and would continue to defend that issue.

For others, too, what they see as the dilution of Republican values is unacceptable.

“I consider this the same sell out and the same road as in 1922,” said George Harrison and former IRA gun-runner and left-wing political activist who is originally from County Mayo.

“They may mean well, but I reject it,” Harrison said. The accord falls short of the cause for which the 1916 volunteers and the hunger strikers died, he said. Until the British leave “lock, stock and barrel,” there can be no solution to Ireland’s troubles, Harrison said.

After recent meetings and talks on the Belfast accord throughout New York, those issues became the center point of discussion. But reservations set aside, most had adopted a more positive wait-and-see attitude.

“There has been plenty of debate, which is always welcome,” said Eamonn Dornan, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center. “There is a lot more work to be done, and more hurdles ahead. No one I know has changed their convictions and there is certainly a lot of positive energy about the change in the way of doing things.”

Mario Biaggi, the former Bronx congressman and the founder of the ad hoc committee on the Irish question, said: “I was more concerned from the outset, but there has been some movement, especially within Sinn Fein, even the loyalists are coming to this realization.

“With the change in the British government’s position and the loyalists, there has been a coming together, in which the United States involvement played a part.

“Ireland’s history is fraught with deceit and uncertainty, the folks have a right to be concerned about British agreements. But let’s give it a chance.”

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