I wish more people would read Vaclav Havel

In this political season … can’t help but wish more thought like Vaclav Havel did.  My favorite quotes from his Summer Meditations.  Should be mandatory reading for every pol or wannabe pol:

Times have changed, clouds have filled the sky, clarity and general harmony have disappeared, and our country is heading into a period of not inconsiderable difficulties.

As in everything else, I must start with myself.  That is: in all circumstances try to be decent, just, tolerant, and understanding, and at the same time try to resist corruption and deception. In other words, I must do my utmost to act in harmony with my conscience and my better self.  For instance, I am frequently advised to be more “tactical”, not to say everything right away, to dissimulate gently, not to fear wooing someone more than my nature commands, or to distance myself from someone against my real will in the matter. In the interests of strengthening my hand, I am advised at times to assent to someone’s ambition for power, to flatter someone merely because it pleases him, or to reject someone even though it goes against my convictions, because he does not enjoy favour with others.

I have been blamed for being a dreamer or an idealist for quite some time, and I don’t mind.  There are enough pragmatists and opportunists.  The more it’s said that somebody is an idealist or a dreamer, the more it seems there is a need for such a voice.

Among my many bad qualities there is one that happens to be missing -  a longing or a love for power.  Not being bound by that, I am essentially freer than those who cling to their power or position, and this allows me to indulge in the luxury of behaving untactically.

In the months leading up to the June 1992 election, almost every political activity, including debates over extremely important legislation in Parliament, has taken place in the shadow of a pre-election campaign, of an extravagant hunger for power and a willingness to gain the favour of a confused electorate by offering a colourful range of attractive nonsense.

As ridiculous or quixotic as it may sound these days, one thing seems certain to me: that it is my responsibility to emphasize, again and again, the moral origin of all genuine politics, to stress the significance of moral values and standards in all spheres of social life, including economics, and to explain that if we don’t try, within ourselves, to discover or rediscover or cultivate what I call “higher responsibility,” things will turn out very badly indeed for our country.

Political intrigue is not really politics, and, although you can get away with superficial politics for a time, it does not bring much hope of lasting success. Through intrigue one may easily become prime minister, but that will be the extent of one’s success; one can hardly improve the world that way.  I am happy to leave political intrigue to others; I will not compete with them, certainly not by using their weapons.

Genuine politics -  politics worthy of the name, and the only politics I am willing to devote myself to — is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community, and serving those who will come after us.  It’s deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole, a responsibility that is what it is — a “higher” responsibility — only because it has a metaphysical grounding: that is, it grows out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere “above us,” in what I have called “the memory of Being” -  an integral aspect of the secret order of the cosmos, of nature, and of life, which believers call God and to whose judgment everything is subject.  Genuine conscience and genuine responsibility are always, in the end, explicable only as an expression of the silent assumption that we are observed “from above”, that everything is visible, nothing is forgotten, and so earthly time has no power to wipe away the sharp disappointments of earthly failure: our spirit knows that it is not the only entity aware of these failures.

A person who is sure of the values he believes in and struggles for, and who knows he simply cannot betray them, is usually able to recognize the degree of compromise permissible in the practical application of his ideals, and to know when a risk becomes more than he can take upon himself.

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We are looking forward to a fun Oscar Wilde Awards event in February.  Reading Variety’s recent piece on the 30 most anticipated films of the year, it feels very “Irish” in many ways.

On everyone’s most anticipated list is, of course, Star Wars:  Episode VII – The Force Awakens.  We can’t help but be partial to this one as it is directed by our “honorary” Irishman J.J. Abrams, who also happens to emcee our Oscar Wilde Awards at his Bad Robot production company.  Irish actor, Domhnall Gleeson, is in the film, as are Irish Americans Carrie Fisher (who we honored earlier this year), Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill.  Mark attended our event in February as did Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy, and loads of people who worked behind the scenes on this one.  Most importantly for Irish tourism, J.J. filmed for a few days on Skellig Michael off the west coast of Ireland.  I can’t wait to see it.  I think Skellig Michael may steal the show.

While I’m mentioning the very busy Domhnall Gleeson, he is also in Brooklyn, the John Crowley film based on Colm Toibin’s book about an Irish immigrant who is portrayed by our former honoree, Saoirse Ronan.

Also out this year is Irish director Lenny Abrahmson’s latest, Room, based on the Emma O’Donoghue novel.

There’s a bit of Boston Irish America in two hotly anticipated films, although not the most flattering bits.  Black Mass has Johnny Depp starring as Boston mobster Whitey Bolger.  And Tom McCarthy directs Spotlight, about Boston Globe reporters uncovering the child molestation scandal and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.

German-Irish Michael Fassbender is in no less than two anticipated films – Steve Jobs and MacBeth.

Irish American Rooney Mara is getting rave reviews for Carol, which also stars Cate Blanchett.  Blanchett is not without some Irish connections herself – she was brilliant in the film Veronica Guerin a few years ago and her agent is our Advisory Board member, and a former honoree, Hylda Queally.  Hylda (from County Clare) is a top agent at CAA who always has several actors in the mix for Oscars.  She reps Marion Cotillard who stars with Fassbender in MacBeth and Jessica Chastain, also Irish American, who figures in the list of 30 twice, with Crimson Peak and Martian.

Ralph Fiennes, partly Irish and partly raised on the west coast of Ireland, is in A Bigger Splash.

Steven Spielberg is back with Tom Hanks with Bridge of Spies.  Okay, so Steven isn’t exactly Irish, but he has turned up at the Oscar Wilde Awards more than once and is regular, quiet visitor to Ireland.

We previously honored Michael Burns, Vice Chairman of Lionsgate, and his company has a film in the mix with Sicario, starring Emily Blunt.  Emily’s not Irish yet, but leave it with me.

And here is one that may be a surprise to some, Jennifer Lawrence.  No, not a surprise when she’s being talked about when Oscars are discussed (this year for Joy).   But did you know she’s Irish American?  I know you’re thinking I make this stuff up but her mother was my source on that, and she should know.  With the help of the genealogy experts at Eneclann, we did some research and know it’s true (Hobbins, Fahey, Sheehan and Broderick are the Irish surnames in the family).

Legend stars Tom Hardy (Irish/British) and also in that film is one of our Cultúr Club members, Stephen Lord.  And rounding out the 30 is the next James Bond film, Sceptre, written by one of our former honorees, John Logan, whose parents came from Northern Ireland.

And this list doesn’t even begin to mention all the amazing Irish and Irish Americans behind the scenes on so many films.

About the only thing I can’t find a connection for is the Pixar animated The Good Dinosaur.  But the dinosaur is green so …

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Certificates of Irish Heritage Revisionism

In 2012, when I pointed out that certificates of Irish heritage were silly, I was attacked repeatedly in Niall O’Dowd’s tabloids. Now that the Irish Government is ending the scheme, according to RTE, O’Dowd now claims he predicted they wouldn’t be popular.  I don’t recall O’Dowd predicting that.  What I do recall is that O’Dowd attacked me at the time for saying the scheme was nonsense.  And Irish Senator Mark Daly piled on in O’Dowd’s publications, demanding that I be hauled before an Oireachtas committee no less!  And by Googling, I see Larry Donnelly also attacked me in O’Dowd’s publications.   (I took the opportunity to meet with the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Oireachtas at the time and addressed the certificates issue.)

O’Dowd’s attack on me was loaded with false and misleading assertions but this was nothing new. He’s been on the warpath ever since I wrote an opinion piece in the Irish Times more than seven years ago accurately predicting that the Irish who were illegally in the US would not be given a special deal as O’Dowd had be predicting.   He even revises that story.  Despite being at the forefront of that effort, when O’Dowd realized there wouldn’t be one, he started to claim that he had never sought a special deal!  Marion Finucane was one of the few to challenge O’Dowd on her RTE radio program on 22 March 2008.  O’Dowd told Finucane that the Taoiseach was mistaken, that  “we were not looking for a special deal.”  Finucane, referring to me, said, “She said you were.”  O’Dowd:  “She probably did but she is also incorrect.”  There is endless evidence of O’Dowd calling for a special deal.

He does have chutzpah.

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Niall O’Dowd’s Irish tabloid misrepresents the Mitchell Scholarship program yet again

If you are someone who reads Irish American newspapers, the Irish Echo tends to report facts, including the full story on the Northern Ireland funding cut for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program.

The casual reader should take with a grain of salt reports on the Mitchell Scholarship in the tabloid Irish Central. Many are well aware of Niall O’Dowd’s great hope that the Mitchell Scholarship program will end.  We’re not sorry to disappoint him.  His tabloid’s most recent article is yet another example of half-truths and outright errors.

First, as Mr. O’Dowd is very well aware, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not John Kerry, who eliminated funding for the Mitchell Scholarship program.

The piece also says that I told the BBC that the Mitchell Scholarship would not likely continue past 2015 unless some funding is restored or more private donors are found.”  That is untrue.  What I said, if one actually reads the article, was that Scholars would not be sent to Northern Ireland if funding is not found from those who might hope to see Northern Ireland universities remain a part of the program.

In the fall, the Mitchell Scholarship program will send the 2015-2016 class to Ireland and Northern Ireland.  In the fall, we also will select a full cohort of Scholars to study in Ireland in 2016-2017 and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.   With the support of many, including Sean O’Sullivan of SOSventures, Morgan Stanley, CRH, Marcy Carsey, our alums and especially the ongoing support of the Irish Government’s Department of Education, the Mitchell program is no longer under immediate threat.

Unlike programs like the Rhodes and Schwarzman, the Mitchell began with an idea, not with a wealthy person’s money.  Unlike the Marshall Scholarship program, which is funded by the British Government, we do not have the annual support of the US Government (it was Secretary Clinton’s State Department officials who told us they were eliminating funding because they didn’t care about Europe any more).  We do care about our relations with Europe and particularly the island of Ireland.  We are constantly working to raise an endowment so that America’s best and brightest can continue to study on the island of Ireland.   I have always been quite honest about the fact that the long-term viability of the program will come down to whether or not there is a critical mass of people who care to build the relationship for the future.

The casual reader should understand the real background to Irish Central’s repeated criticisms.  Nearly a decade ago, I wrote a piece in the Irish Times in which I told the truth, that there would not be a special deal for the Irish who were illegally in the US – that they would be legalized as part of a larger effort.  I was honest and correct, and it enraged O’Dowd.   His personal dislike for me has resulted in him and has tabloid regularly attempting to trash the Mitchell and the US-Ireland Alliance.

In the past three years, of the 10 individuals lucky enough to be offered both a Rhodes and Mitchell interview, 8 have opted for the Mitchell, making it the most sought after prestigious scholarship of its kind.  There are nearly 300 applicants every year for the Mitchell.  One would think this is something Mr. O’Dowd would fully encourage and support.   Fortunately, there are others who are recognizing the value of providing a tie to the Ireland for America’s future leaders.  Hopefully others will join us.  If you would like to support our work, it is easy to do so.

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Ben Trachtenberg continuing to build ties

This is the kind of story about giving back that I love! Ben Trachtenberg was a Mitchell Scholar who attended the University of Limerick (Class of 2002). He went to Columbia Law School when he returned to the US and is now an Associate Professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. Ever since he returned to the US, Ben has maintained ties to the island of Ireland and has gone back for things like giving lectures in law.

Ben knows that there are so many deserving students and not nearly enough opportunities to study abroad. He pitched a great idea to the University of Missouri — that it should award its own scholarship to students and recent alumni who applied for prestigious national scholarships like the Mitchell, Rhodes and Marshall but did not win. And the Mark Twain Fellowship was created.

This year, Jessica Anania, a University of Missouri student, was a very deserving finalist in the Mitchell Scholarship program. We hate that not everyone can receive a Mitchell and we’re delighted when many of our finalists are selected for other awards. Jessica was recently selected to receive the Mark Twain Fellowship and so will study at Queen’s University of Belfast after all. http://fellowships.missouri.edu/news/2015/anania.php

Not only is Ben’s idea helping American students, it is helping strengthen ties between the US and the island of Ireland. Congrats Jessica.

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Enough Already

This week was so seven years ago.

Irish America publisher Niall O’Dowd may be loud, but that doesn’t make him right, or representative of most Irish Americans. In his never-ending need to ingratiate himself with the Clintons, he inducted Hillary Clinton into his Irish America Hall of Fame this week. All that did was to remind everyone that when Clinton ran against Obama in 2008, she and her camp falsely claimed she played an instrumental role in the Northern Ireland peace process leading up to the 1998 Belfast Agreement. As Senator Ted Kennedy’s foreign policy adviser, I was directly involved in that process, as was O’Dowd, and he would know full well that the First Lady’s role was far from instrumental. He keeps trying to suggest more than was there with vague but grandiose-sounding comments like, “Hillary Clinton played a leading role in creating the links between the White House and leaders on the ground that would become so important during crunch time when negotiations came.” That’s as specific as he can get, and as non-specific as he has to be, because there’s no there there.

In 1997, Irish Times journalist Conor O’Clery wrote the first detailed book on the US role in Northern Ireland as it related to obtaining that first visa for Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to visit the US and that period leading up to the Belfast Agreement. As O’Dowd was one of O’Clery’s primary sources, one would think that if the First Lady had played any significant role, he would have credited her, as would anyone else O’Clery interviewed. But in O’Clery’s, Daring Diplomacy: Clinton’s Secret Search for Peace in Ireland, Hillary Clinton is mentioned five times but there are no references to her playing any role, she is referred to merely as accompanying her husband.

Most tellingly, if her contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process were so significant, why didn’t she mention that herself in her 2003 book Living History? In the 500-page autobiography she mentions Northern Ireland on several occasions but never suggests she played an instrumental role in ending the conflict. As Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times in 2008, “Having a first lady tea in Belfast is not equivalent to bringing peace to Northern Ireland.”

And O’Dowd was also at it again with his futile demands to separate the Irish from everyone else who is illegally in the US. The Irish Times reported that O’Dowd told the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny) that he might want to take a page from the Israeli Government, which “did well in the US because they were prepared to ‘kick down doors’.” The Taoiseach responded by correctly recognizing that he is “not in a position to dictate to the American administration on the issue of immigration reform.”

Underlying all this are O’Dowd’s delusions about an Irish American vote and political power that simply don’t exist. He would like the Clintons, and everyone else, to believe that there’s an Irish vote and he’s the man to get it for them. But as the former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley told the late Irish Times journalist Seán Flynn in 2010, “Irishness per se does not deliver a huge political dividend.” Aside from how one feels about the influence of money in politics, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s revenues in 2013 were nearly $72 million. There is no equivalent Irish/Irish American organization and thus no serious clout in elections or policy. When journalist Niall Stanage looked at the Federal Election Commission records from the 2007-2008 election cycle, he found that the Irish American Democrats’ PAC raised $35,840 and most of that miniscule amount was from just a few people. One reason there is no such Irish war chest is because there are no galvanizing issues around which most Irish Americans feel a need to lobby.

I wrote in the Irish Times in 2007 that there would be no special deal for the Irish illegally in the US. It was simply a statement of fact. Personally, I’m all for immigration reform but a special deal was never going to happen and saying otherwise to those living in the shadows is to mislead them. American politicians are not going to irritate millions of Latinos by bumping a couple thousand Irish to the front of the line (incidentally, there is no evidence to support that the number of Irish illegally in the US is 50,000, O’Dowd created that figure).

O’Dowd is certainly entitled to lobby for Hillary Clinton and the Irish who are illegally in the US – but he’s helping neither.

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20th Anniversary of the IRA Ceasefire

August 31st marks the 20th anniversary of the IRA cease-fire in Northern Ireland.  August 25th marks the fifth anniversary of Senator Ted Kennedy’s death and I’ve been thinking about our work when I served as his foreign policy adviser.  Precise language and choreography were critical in the processes.

I had been serving as the go-between for Sinn Fein and the Clinton White House.  Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams talked with Niall O’Dowd, the New York publisher of the Irish Voice, O’Dowd talked with me and I talked with the White House – mainly with my former Kennedy office colleague Nancy Soderberg, along with National Security Advisor Tony Lake and Jane Holl who handled Europe on the National Security staff.

The back and forth had been going on for more than a year. There had been a major row in January 1994 in the lead up to President Clinton deciding to grant Gerry Adams a visa to visit the US for less than 48 hours.

By July 1994, we were getting antsy about how long it was taking the IRA to declare a cease-fire.  We were anxious for Sinn Fein/IRA to accept the historic opportunity offered by the Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds and British Prime Minister John Major with their Joint Declaration the previous December.

In mid-July, O’Dowd and the small group he’d been working with — former Congressman Bruce Morrison, businessman Bill Flynn and quiet philanthropist Chuck Feeney — headed to Belfast in advance of a special Sinn Fein conference at which Sinn Fein would respond to the Joint Declaration.  O’Dowd told me of various options Sinn Fein was considering and he wanted to know how the US would react to them.  After discussing the options with Soderberg, she wanted me to tell O’Dowd that Sinn Fein’s response needed to reflect a philosophical rejection of violence and that any mention of a limited time-frame for a cease-fire would not be acceptable.

A week later, O’Dowd rang from Belfast where he had met with Adams.  He was optimistic that the upcoming Sinn Fein announcement would not refer to a time limited cease-fire. There had apparently been discussion of a three-month ceasefire but it was made clear that that would not cut it in the US.  He didn’t know if Sinn Fein would make it clear that they were now philosophically opposed to the use of violence. He expected they would endorse some aspects of the Joint Declaration and say that there were some aspects they have problems with.  He thought the  IRA would announce a ceasefire about two weeks later.  By this stage, having made our views clear, we would just have to wait and watch and we hoped that the Sinn Fein statement would not be wishy-washy.   Throughout the period I was also in constant conversations with Irish Government officials as well as Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith and her team in Dublin.  There was nervousness about reports that Adams said he doubted the IRA was about to call a truce.  O’Dowd wasn’t concerned, he saw that as an effort to lower expectations.

Sinn Fein met in Letterkenny, County Donegal on Sunday, 24 July.  We were not happy with the outcome.  Sinn Fein was seen to have rejected the Declaration, which Adams said did “not deal adequately with some of the core issues.”  Kennedy called Sinn Fein’s response “extremely disappointing” noting that the Joint Declaration was “fair to all sides in Northern Ireland, and Sinn Fein should have joined it long ago.”  Kennedy took a harder line than Reynolds.  We thought carefully and consulted widely before Kennedy chose those words.  The White House and Reynolds’ coalition partner Dick Spring also expressed disappointment.  Sinn Fein provided none of what Soderberg had been seeking.

On 3 August, Soderberg, O’Dowd and I had a conference call and while Soderberg and I  argued that Adams had said nothing new, O’Dowd found significance in the unanimous endorsement of the Sinn Fein leadership, i.e. Adams.  O’Dowd told us he believed that Adams would go to the IRA Army Council in two weeks with a proposition for a ceasefire of an indeterminate time period and that Sinn Fein was already briefing its supporters in the US on an open-ended cessation.

It was a typical occurrence that Sinn Fein and their supporters would consider statements monumental that were lost on everyone else.  Soderberg told O’Dowd that she and I followed this issue very closely and if the significance of the minutiae of Sinn Fein pronouncements was lost on us, how could they expect anyone else to get it?  A philosophical shift of thinking in Gerry Adams’ own mind was not enough.

O’Dowd was convinced, and we had come to agree over the past year, that Sinn Fein/IRA had concluded that they had nothing to gain by continued violence and could only hope to achieve their goals through politics.  Once again we could do little but wait a little longer.  By now, O’Dowd thought the actual announcement might not come until Labor Day. Soderberg was heading off on vacation and I would be in Ireland from the 14th through the 28th, but we stayed in contact throughout.

O’Dowd, Flynn, Feeney and Morrision decided to return to Belfast on 24 August to meet with Sinn Fein and to commit their support if the IRA would agree to halt the violence. O’Dowd and company planned to hold a press conference as O’Dowd said Sinn Fein wanted to be seen as responding to America.  There was some concern in various quarters that some in the delegation loved press attention and that that could put at efforts at risk.  My view was that O’Dowd was unlikely to do or say anything publicly that Adams hadn’t greenlit and if the optics of a press conference helped bring a ceasefire, I didn’t care.

I had plans to be in Ireland during the Congressional recess for a mix of work and pleasure in August.  I flew to Ireland on 12 August, and spent several days in Dublin before heading west.  My trip was not uneventful.  A house I was staying at in Dublin was robbed one night and police thought I surprised the robbers because they had left through an upstairs window. I was in contact with the Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy because the robbers had sliced open my suitcases and we wondered briefly if it was just a simple robbery or was in some way related to my work.  The police and the owner of the house (who was away on vacation) told me that several other houses on the street had been robbed and it was a matter of time until they hit that one.   We concluded it was an “ordinary” robbery.  Then, on 18 August, Irish gangster Martin ‘The General’ Cahill was assassinated in a street nearby in what would be the last IRA murder before the ceasefire.

While I was in Ireland, a visa was granted to veteran IRA leader Joe Cahill to visit the US.  Cahill had cred with the rank and file supporters of the IRA in the US and he came to prepare the ground for the impending ceasefire.  Ambassador Smith supported the visa and Senator Kennedy told the President he supported granting the visa and hoped it marked the final hurdle before the IRA announced a ceasefire.

I was in Heathrow on my way home when O’Dowd rang me to say the announcement was imminent and suggested I turn around and fly back to Ireland for the celebration.  It had been a long month, a long year, and thrilled as I was, I opted to return home and celebrate there.

On 31 August, the IRA declared a complete cessation.  Senator Kennedy who had been tireless in his commitment to aiding the process called it “a joyous and hopeful day for all of Ireland and for all the Irish people.”

On 24 September, I was with Senator Kennedy and his wife Vicki in Boston when Kennedy met Adams for the first time. Within weeks, the Loyalists would call their own ceasefire and the rest is history.

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Don’t miss this John Michael McDonagh film starring Brendan Gleeson

see photos from the New York screening: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usirelandalliance/sets/72157645615197918

I just saw the film Calvary for the third time — it’s one of those films you can see several times and catch something you missed before.

Brendan Gleeson plays a priest living in the west of Ireland.   A parishioner, who was molested by a priest as child, tells this ‘good’ priest in the confessional that he’s going to kill him in one week because, sure there’s no news in killing a bad priest.  The story is of the priest’s interactions with the disillusioned locals.

Gleeson gives an outstanding performance and its strength is often in the subtlety.  There are many great scenes, like the one where Father James is having an innocent conversation with a little girl when her father drives up and freaks out when he sees a priest talking to his child. Gleeson’s painful expression at the recognition that he can’t even talk to child is a sad reflection of the world we find ourselves in today and is just one example of Gleeson’s impressive talent for conveying emotion by expression alone.

John Michael McDonagh (The Guard) is the writer/director and his film is full of well-written, thought-provoking dialogue.  He directs an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran, Isaach de Bankole, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josee Croze, Domhnall Gleeson, David Wilmot, Pat Short, Gary Lydon, Killian Scott and Orla O’Rourke.  As Gleeson has noted in interviews, each character that has an issue with the priest/church has a legitimate grievance.

And the film is beautifully shot with Ben Bulben in County Sligo coldly casting an eye over all.   There are several references to the current and recent history of Ireland, the disappointment with clergy, bankers and politicians.  But as McDonagh has noted, it’s not an ‘Irish’ film, as much as it is a universal film.  This smart dark comedy is about disillusionment and cynicism but it is also about our desire to see our cynicism proven wrong.  It speaks to our yearning for even just a few authentic, honest leaders.

I hope the Academy voters remember this film and Gleeson’s performance come January, as both are award-worthy.

The US-Ireland Alliance has been working with Fox Searchlight on some advance screenings — I attended the Washington, DC and New York City screenings and audiences love the film.  Thanks John Michael and Brendan for being so generous with your time and sharing your insights on the film with audiences.

The film will be released in the US on Friday, 1 August.  Don’t miss it.  These are some reviews:




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The trouble with Northern Ireland

Two recent incidents are emblematic of why so many people switch off when it comes to Northern Ireland.

For a decade until 1998, I was Senator Ted Kennedy’s foreign policy adviser and heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process.  One of my jobs was to help him convince President Clinton to grant Gerry Adams a visa to visit the US in 1994 because we believed that could help bring an end to the violence there.

In this blog, (see 21 January entry), I wrote about the 20 year anniversary of that visa which was instrumental in leading the IRA to declare a ceasefire later that year.  In response to that blog, David Hilditch, a DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, wrote to me saying ‘shame on you.’  As I wrote to Mr. Hilditch, we saw an opportunity to do something that could help stop the violence in Northern Ireland.  We did so and were right to do so.  I asked him if he’d rather we hadn’t, perhaps he’d rather people still be killing each other?  As of yet, no reply from Mr. Hilditch.

Both sides equally carry their grudges.  In December 2004, the Northern Bank in Belfast was robbed. In January 2005, Robert McCartney was murdered in Belfast.  Members of the IRA were implicated in both incidents.  Even though I no longer worked for Senator Kennedy, I continued to advise him on all things Irish until his death.  I recommended that he not meet with Gerry Adams when he was in Washington for the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in 2005 because doing so would suggest we had no problem with the robbery and the murder and would send the signal that there would be no repercussions for such things.  Senator Kennedy agreed and declined to meet Adams.  Senator Clinton’s adviser Kris Balderston asked my advice and I gave the same.   Senator Clinton refused to see Adams as well.  President Bush did the same.  Rita O’Hare, the Sinn Fein representative to the US, was furious with me and never spoke to me again.  After not seeing Rita for years, I saw her last night at the Irish Embassy St. Patrick’s Day party and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to laughingly ask her, “Are you still not speaking to me?”  I caught her off guard but repeated that two more times.  She stared daggers at me, didn’t say a word and marched off in a huff. Kennedy’s snub was widely credited with contributing to the IRA decommissioning within months. As I said to Hilditch, Ms. O’Hare, what am I meant to be apologizing for?

Senator George Mitchell, in writing about his foray into Northern Ireland, recounted that someone said to him “To understand us, Senator, you must realize that we in Northern Ireland will drive 100 miles out of our way to receive an insult.” And he could have added, “and we’ll never get over it.”  Northern Ireland is slow to grasp the future because far too many are mired in the past, with some event resenting what turned out to be good things.

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Who cares if Victoria Nuland uses the F word

Why the kerfuffle that Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, said “F — k the E.U”?

I have sympathy for her (I don’t know her personally). Many people in the heat of arguments and negotiations let fly with some language our mothers would rather not hear us use. She was having what she thought was a private conversation. I’ve done the same and I’d be fairly confident others have said the same about me. Who cares? When others aren’t doing something you think is so obviously what they should be doing (as appears was the case with Nuland), you get frustrated. I’m sure the Europeans regularly say “f  – k the Americans.”

According to Wikipedia, the word f — k is used 506 times in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” — I assume mainly by Leonardo DiCaprio. Which makes me think the story about Nuland has a lot to do with her being a woman and it’s just the old double standard. Would anyone even have bothered to leak that if it had been the late Richard Holbrooke saying it?

Unfortunately, we can’t all be the Dalai Lama. And doesn’t medical research suggest it’s better to let it out? Personally, I prefer direct talk as opposed to diplospeak.

The real issue isn’t Nuland’s language but the fact that the Administration really does seem to care less about Europe.

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