When he was divvying up the praise for the historic demarche that was the IRA’s forsaking of arms, Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness took care to lavish praise on Irish America.
But he reminded Irish Americans that even the combined existence of the Good Friday agreement and the IRA’s declaration of an end to its war did not mean that Northern Ireland should no longer be a vital issue, a matter of utmost concern on this side of the Atlantic.
Indeed, quite the contrary.
“Irish Americans in particular will have a key role,” McGuinness said of the months and years ahead.
“In the short term, Irish Americans can keep pressure on the U.S. government to keep the pressure on the British government to implement all of the Good Friday agreement.”
The key word in this assessment is “pressure.” And it comes from a man who knows more than most what many forms pressure can take.
In this context, McGuinness, it is to be assumed, was referring to the political kind.
From the outset of the Troubles, the concern and active involvement of the Irish in America served as a reminder to the forces at loggerheads in the conflict that there was a reserved but concerned outside observer who someday could turn into an arbitrator.
This transformation would take many years, but the merging of Irish America and the United States of America became a reality in the 1990s.
The IRA decision to dump arms, though it was arguably in gestation long before President Bill Clinton set foot on Irish soil, was for sure made more certain, and likely drawn forward in time, as a result of an unprecedented and sustained U.S. intervention in the intertwined affairs of Northern Ireland, the Republic and Great Britain.
Little wonder, then, that McGuinness made his pitch during his visit to Washington for more of the same.
History could well decide that it was the United States that laid the principal groundwork for a shift from war to peaceful political activity, not just for republicanism, but for its loyalist opposite.
The ink had barely dried on the IRA statement when the combined voice of Irish America and the United States weighed in with words of praise, cautious optimism and a wish list that not least included full implementation of the Belfast accords.
The words of praise were reciprocated. Sinn Fein, noticeably, was at pains to shower credit on President Bush, who has been, it’s been generally viewed, a little warier than his predecessor with regard to the North imbroglio.
“Many Irish republicans worried if the election of George Bush meant a lessening of interest in Ireland. They, and I, have been pleasantly surprised,” McGuinness told the Echo in an interview.
“George Bush never misses a chance to support the Good Friday agreement,” he said.
Such laudatory sentiment is not new and is by no means a throwaway in the flush of Sinn Fe