October 3-9, 2001 By Jack Holland.The US administration is moving rapidly to contain what is now emerging as a major diplomatic embarrassment after the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Richard Egan, was pictured shaking hands with Joe Cahill, a leading member of the IRA who was convicted of running guns from Libya to Ireland.
Egan met Cahill, a founding member of the Provisional IRA, and a man regarded as the movement’s original link to Libyan strongman Col. Muammar Gaddafi, at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis last weekend.
The meeting came as the U.S. administration was gearing up to build a coalition for its war on international terrorism, following the attacks on New York and Washington by Moslem fundamentalists.
Attempts to portray the meeting as proof that the U.S. administration was taking a “benign” view of recent allegations that the IRA had links to a Colombian terrorist organization FARC have been rebuffed by a States Department spokesman.
He said that the administration would be “very concerned” if the allegations were true. FARC has been waging a war against the U.S.-backed Colombian government, and has powerful ties to drug traffickers.
A spokesman said that is was “incorrect” to say the ambassador’s visit to the Sinn Fein conference was a sign that the US viewed the allegations benignly. He referred back to State Department envoy Richard Haas’ statement that if proven these allegations would have “serious consequences” for the Bush administration’s attitude to Sinn Fein and the IRA.
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The visit of the recently appointed ambassador to the Ard Fheis has been played up by Sinn Fein sources as giving an “imprimatur” on the party’s current policies, including that on the decommissioning of IRA weapons. But well-informed sources in both Ireland and the US warn that it could “backfire badly” on Sinn Fein as it is certain to embarrass President Bush’s strong anti-terrorist campaign.
Egan is a former businessman from Massachusetts who was the founder and CEO of EMC, a computer data storage company. He resigned this position when his ambassadorial appointment was confirmed.
Cahill is one of the most prominent members of the Provisional IRA and a long-time member of its governing body, the Army Council. In 1972 he was believed to have been involved in smuggling rockets from Libya into Ireland. In March 1973 he was arrested with a huge shipment of Libyan weapons.
After his release from prison, he was known to be a frequent clandestine visitor to the US where he met republican fund-raisers and gun-runners.