By Ray O’Hanlon and
Susan Falvella Garraty
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam has called on Irish Americans not to aid organizations she describes as “splinter groups” hostile to the current peace process.
Speaking during her visit to Washington, D.C., and New York last week, Mowlam derided a number of organizations as being both unrepresentative of broad public opinion in Northern Ireland and a continued security threat.
“I will be asking the leaders of Irish-American groups not to support the splinter groups,” she told reporters during a press briefing at the residence of the British ambassador in Washington.
The following day, in New York, Mowlam identified the groups she had in mind: The 32 County Sovereignty Committee, the Continuity IRA, the INLA and the loyalist LVF.
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In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” program, Mowlam said that “extreme elements” in Northern Ireland are still receiving funds from the U.S.
Mowlam’s statements prompted an immediate rebuttal from Bernadette Sands McKevitt of the 32 County group.
“The 32 County Sovereignty movement challenges the right of British M.P. Marjorie Mowlam to interfere in the legitimate endeavors of our movement to highlight internationally our right to national sovereignty by advising American people not to support our movement. This is another example of Britain attempting to thwart the struggle for freedom and independence in Ireland,” Sands McKevitt said.
She added that the 32 County Sovereignty Movement intended to send a visiting delegation to the U.S. “in the coming months to put to the American people our analysis of the situation in Ireland and to lobby for support of this position.”
Mowlam, meanwhile, described her visit as an opportunity to say thanks for the U.S. role in the peace process.
She described President Clinton as being “not a fair-weather friend” and someone who “stuck with us through good and bad.” She called peace talks chairman George Mitchell someone “who saved me from disaster more than once.”
Mowlam described the peace process as still being on course despite recent brutal murders in the North that have shown that “evilness is still about.”
She said there was a great underlying desire for the Good Friday Agreement to work. “Change for both sides will be tough, but everybody is going to have to change,” she said. “I’m more confident now than in the last 15 months. Despite difficulties, we’re going to make it.”
Mowlam said she would like to see British troops off the streets in the North, although this was a matter for the RUC chief constable. The aforementioned splinter groups were, however, posing a problem in this regard and there was no time frame for such withdrawals.
With regard to the Northern Ireland Assembly, due to sit again in mid-September, Mowlam said that both sides could “do things” to make it easier for Sinn FTin and the Ulster Unionists, led by David Trimble, to work together. “I’ve got to take a back seat,” she said. “It’s no longer blame the Brits. It’s up to the parties.”
Decommissioning was the big stumbling block, although she said she didn’t think it helpful to put figures on the number of weapons to be decommissioned at any one time.
Asked if she felt it would be helpful if Sinn FTin did not nominate Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to the two Assembly executive seats it was entitled to, Mowlam initially said that the matter was Sinn FTin’s decision.
But when pressed, she said that she would like to see one of the Sinn FTin executive members being a woman. Sinn FTin was “ahead of most” in terms of involving women, she said.
During her visit, Mowlam met in Washington with First Lady Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, top Clinton administration officials and Capitol Hill leaders, among them House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. Edward Kennedy.
In New York, she met with American Ireland Fund National President Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the New York Times editorial board.