The U.S. Role

I think the most important point of what the Irish-American diaspora in this century has been that it's suffered from a huge myth. It's suffered from the myth that America was a second front. It suffered from the myth that it had huge influence with the administration, whatever that administration was.

But if you look at the record, in fact, it had little or no influence. And that became painfully clear when the troubles broke out in 1969. It became particularly clear in the first couple of years of the troubles, when they find that the administration, the Nixon administration, relied totally on what they were told by the British authorities.

Secondly, in the United States there was a split between, if you like, the treetops and the grass roots--the treetops who believed that there may be a constitutional way forward, believed that they could bring moral pressure on the administration to bring pressure on the British to do something about it. One commentator had described it thus: "The Micks telling the Yanks to tell the Brits to tell the Prots that the only answer is a united Ireland."

But it was organized at two levels. There was the treetops, the Four Horsemen, as they were known--Speaker Tip O'Neill, Senators Edward Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Governor Hugh Carey. They were heavily influenced by John Hume, who was the leader of the Nationalists in the north, and by the Irish government, that there had to be a constitutional way forward, and that Irish-Americans should not be giving their money to the IRA for weapons.

So, you have the treetops, which were trying to work through the administration, and you have the grass roots, the guys who were giving their dollars - from the Bronx, South Boston, or whatever, to help the struggle in Northern Ireland. And you have for example, 1973, an FBI report which says that it is embarrassed by the Irish conflict, because the Irish conflict has been paid for by U.S. dollars. There is a realization that something had to be done.

So, Irish America had to come to terms with the fact that insofar as the administration was concerned about the Irish question, it was only concerned because it was part of a larger network of international terrorism, and something had to be done to break that link. It is there that the Horsemen begin to play a very strong role. The Horsemen come out with statements very opposed to the IRA campaign, as it becomes much more vicious during the 1970s. It is the Horsemen who argue very strongly that you should not be helping these people.

Irish America generally, until very recent years, was seen as being a hindrance rather than a help. So, there was a feeling, still remains a feeling, among the British political establishment that this has nothing to do with the United States, and there is a huge irritation among the more establishment newspapers, for example, about the role that the United States has played. That indicates the United States' influence is growing, and is important.

Part of the problem with the Irish-American community is one of ignorance. They have a romantic view of what Ireland was, they have a very simplistic view of the struggle. Now, as the troubles have gone on, that has become more sophisticated. But they did idealize. Secondly, Irish-American propagandists were very clever in using the language of liberty, which rings with the American community, which goes all the way back to the revolution and which Northern Ireland Protestants could never understand. But it was that use of propaganda, which kept it on the burner all the time.

Clinton's Granting a Visa to Gerry Adams in 1994

One thing I think we should remember about President Clinton--he's the first post-Cold War president. His predecessors, Bush, Reagan, all the way back to Kennedy, etc., were part of that Cold War which believed very strongly in the special Anglo-American relationship.

President Clinton owes nothing to that heritage. He owes nothing to those who were proud of the Second World War. He was the person taking over in the post-Cold War. You had a new world order where everything became possible. Also, he owed no favors to John Major, because the conservative party had acted on behalf of George Bush in the presidential campaign. He was his own man. The Irish American vote was very important. All of these were factors in persuading the President to get involved.

What President Clinton had to gain, I think, was one, domestic. He could solidify his hold into the Democratic party through Irish America, which had begun to drift towards the Republican party in the previous decade. But, secondly, for the man who says "the economy, stupid," he actually was concerned with foreign policy issues.

And the Irish conflict was one which was winnable. It wasn't too complex; it wasn't too regional. It was coming to some sort of successful completion. So, he could paint himself as an international man of peace. And he'd do a great degree of good. The United States generally could be a prestigious third party.

When the president invited Gerry Adams to United States, or at least give him a visa to come, he was moving away ... Gerry Adams, over the past 20 years, had been refused seven visas to come to the United States. He was now being recognized at the very center of democracy. He realized that. So, Adams gained that. But, you know, it was a two-way ticket. What he lost was that he couldn't deliver, that he couldn't demonstrate that he was a Nelson Mandela.

The granting of the visa to Gerry Adams had an important impact with the IRA. It gave the IRA a certain degree of self confidence. That if Sinn Fein did go into negotiation, it was going into negotiation with the goodwill of the most powerful state in the world. Not necessarily the acquiescence, but at least with the United States wanting to play the role .... wanting to push the process forward. And, you know for a people who believed themselves to be demonized, marginalized, isolated completely, psychologically this was very powerful indeed.

There would not have been an IRA cease fire in August of 1994 if the Republican movement had not been convinced that the Clinton administration was wholly on board, wholly committed to trying to move the process forward. Leaning at least on the British authorities, because they knew that the Irish authorities wanted to move in that direction in any case.

And, equally, the IRA cease fire would not have been restored where the IRA again [was] not convinced that the administration was important. What I'm saying is the role that the Clinton administration has played has been central to the peace process. It has not been marginal; it has been central. It has pursuaded Irish Republicans that their views are being taken seriously on a wider stage.

Equally, it persuaded their political leadership that they may have to go for something less than what they actually want to implement in one go. That they might have to accept something less than Irish unity. It has persuaded them that politics is about process and compromise and concession.

And, all of that has come about because the President and staff inside the NSC listen to people like John Hume and went for it. They ignored the advice coming from the State Department and from the Justice Department, and they said we're going for this. They have kept in weekly, if not daily contact with the actors to make sure that the peace process would stay in place.

They have, in the present Blair government, the Labor government, a very close ally indeed. So, the parts are there for the peace process to actually take off, and the American administration has been central to all of that.

The role of the Clinton administration has been central to the whole peace process. They took the risk in standing alongside Gerry Adams, in giving Adams the moral fiber and the political fiber to convince his own people that they'd never reach the stage where politics is a game on time. "It's the right process, it's the right compromise, it's the right concession and conciliation. You may not get all you want, but you won't get anything better by any other means. Go for it."

What is essentially different is that the last peace talks failed. People got into the present peace talks in a much less euphoric frame of mind. But, they've also gone into it with a much lesser degree of fatalism. The advantage of the 17 months was that the greater community in Northern Ireland said we can make this one.

So, the pieces are there for everything to come together. And as long as the administration stays with it, and as long as the Blair government with its huge majority stays with it, then it is possible to realize peace, if not in a matter of months, certainly a matter of years.


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