Sensible but quiet voices in Northern Ireland

First time I’ve heard Linda Ervine interviewed.  Really worth a listen – she talks about the controversy over the Irish language. Has anyone talked to her about running for office?  I have to hope and believe many unionists think like her.  Both unionism and nationalism are valid aspirations.  Let’s hope that the middle rises and the youth of Northern Ireland will soon be in leadership positions!  I remember a time, when I worked for Senator Kennedy, that I was meeting with David Ervine.  We got on the elevator in the Senate Dirksen building and a woman got on, heard us speaking, looked at David and said, “You’re Irish” in a way that was more statement than question.  David smiled and said, “I am.”  

Posted in Brexit, Foreign Policy, Northern Ireland | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


Congressman Joe Crowley’s primary defeat this week to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to Ireland and anyone who cares about the US-Ireland relationship. The writing has long been on the wall but too little is being done to seriously reimagine the relationship.

There was nothing more indicative of the non-existent Irish American vote and diminishing political influence than a couple of St. Patrick’s Day parades in 2014. Two new mayors — Marty Walsh in Boston and Bill de Blasio in New York City — refused to march because members of the LGBT community were not welcomed. The Boston Beer Company, Heineken, and even the most iconic of Irish brands, Guinness, withdrew their support for the parades. Politicians and companies were more concerned about the power and influence of the LGBT community than they were of the Irish. That’s because Irish American influence has been exaggerated.

As fewer Irish have immigrated to the US in the last two decades, and as America has become more post-ethnicity (most of us are a mix of various ancestries), fewer Americans tick the box on the US census form that denotes Ireland as their ancestral home. A couple of decades ago, the number was 44 million. That number has declined to 33 million but the degree to which Irish Americans identify with Ireland in any meaningful way varies widely, with the vast majority having very little connection.

There is no monolithic Irish America. No cohesive entity. No voting bloc. For electoral purposes, we are simply a segment of white Americans of European descent.

If there ever was an Irish vote, it hasn’t existed at the national level for decades. Discrimination against Catholic Americans led them to rally around the campaign of John F. Kennedy. There was talk of an Irish American vote during the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton elections but that was somewhat misleading in that the Catholic Americans who were Irish may have voted on the basis of their Catholicism (on issues such as abortion), but only a handful would have voted on the basis of candidates’ positions on Irish issues. Irish-Americans are Democrats and Republicans. A large number of Irish Americans voted for Donald Trump, belying the long-held assertions of some that Irish Americans are disproportionately Democrat.

In 2015, Stella O’Leary, of Irish American Democrats, spoke at the Clinton Institute for American Studies at University College Dublin. In conversation with former Irish Times journalist Conor O’Clery, O’Leary claimed (as she has long done) that Congressman Joe Crowley’s 2014 election victory was evidence of the power of the Irish vote. She said his district was “18% Irish” and that “his vote is 45% Irish because the others are not voting (Indians, Afghanis).”

That is complete nonsense. US Census figures showed that Irish Americans made up only 3.7% of Crowley’s district. About 47% of the district (NY-14th) was Latino, 25%, White, 16% Asian, and 10% African American. It was impossible for 45% of Crowley’s vote to come from the Irish as he would have had to receive more Irish votes than there were Irish voters!

Fast forward to this week and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez soundly defeated Crowley in the Democratic primary. At 28 years old, Ocasio-Cortez is young, Puerto Rican, socialist, and female and won with 57.5% of the vote, despite Crowley outspending her 10 to 1.

Demographics in the US have been changing for some time. Talk of an Irish American vote has been nothing more than smoke and mirrors and it’s time that those who care about the relationship stop humoring such nonsense, get their heads out of the sand, and seriously consider innovative ways to build the relationship for the future.

While I welcome the Taoiseach’s decision to put more diplomats in more cities as part of his plan to double Ireland’s “global footprint” – more bodies without an actual strategy is of little value. For decades, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs reports on the future of the relationship have lacked vision, or they repeat ideas that many of us have put out there for years, which they simply never act on.

There is also a lack of Irish American and Irish philanthropy proportionate to the population. There were funds when Ireland was poor and when the Troubles raged in Northern Ireland, but it takes a different sort of vision to recognize that the problem for the relationship is not so much in Ireland as it is in America.

It is well past time to build a new relationship from the ground up. To have future influence, Ireland needs to actively engage not only with the diaspora but the “diaspora plus”. Demographics in the US are not on the side of Ireland, but there is no reason why people who aren’t Irish can’t become interested in Ireland – culture being the greatest calling card. We’ve worked consistently on this front at the US-Ireland Alliance. The George J. Mitchell Scholarships have always been open to future leaders of every ethnicity in the US, not just Irish Americans. At our Oscar Wilde Awards in Los Angeles, we have long made artists ‘honorary’ Irish – turns out that honoring J.J. Abrams (director of STAR WARS) was a good thing for Ireland. We have had, before successive Irish governments, a proposal to teach American high school students (Irish and non-Irish) about Ireland, with the aim of getting them to Ireland for a visit during their formative years. Those proposals just collect dust.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of interest, beyond platitudes. Is there any will to spend the time and money necessary to build the next generation relationship? This is the responsibility of many – the Irish Government, American multinationals in Ireland, and individuals. It’s all about business, education and culture and strong relationships in those areas, properly cultivated and harnessed, will bring future political goodwill, and possibly clout.

When the US-Ireland Alliance was created twenty years ago, it was with a very real question about whether or not a critical mass would recognize these demographic shifts and nurture a different relationship. One can only hope Crowley’s defeat will serve as a wakeup call – for too many years, those who can make a difference have just hit the snooze button.

Posted in The US-Ireland Relationship | Leave a comment


The Irish Times ran a story this week about Irish TD John Deasy taking issue with the number of Irish illegally in the US. For years, the number 50,000 has been bandied about with no one questioning where that number came from. Deasy reported that the Pew Foundation said the number was closer to 10,000.

Then the Irish Times ran a follow up story with views about what Deasy said. I am mentioned as noting that the Migration Policy Institute told me last November that there are fewer than 16,000 Irish illegally in the US (and it could be much lower, which would track with what the Pew Foundation told Deasy).

In the same Irish Times piece, Niall O’Dowd, co-founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, said that Deasy was wrong because he had not looked at the “one authentic source”, figures from the Department of Homeland Security. The Irish Times looked at those numbers and reported 2,569 visa overstays in 2016; 2,113 overstays in 2015; and 2,292 in 2014. (The real numbers are actually a bit lower because the report also notes the numbers of people who returned to Ireland after “their lawful period of admission expired.” Furthermore, the report says that the numbers don’t account for those who may have received legitimate visa extensions.)

But what is most interesting is the fact that Homeland Security only recently began providing these reports. As the New York Times noted on May 22, 2017, the Homeland Security report was, “just the second issued in the last 20 years despite being required annually by law.”

O’Dowd told the Irish Times: “You can go back many years and find that number was much higher than current numbers.” But if reports only go back to 2014, where can you find earlier numbers from the US Government?

O’Dowd has been using the number 50,000 for years. In July 2006, Cox News Service quoted O’Dowd as saying that the ILIR was “formed last year in response to the growing struggles of Irish illegal immigrants in the United States, which he estimates number 50,000 to 60,000.” (That same quote can be found on the ILIR’s website.)

But just seven months earlier (December 14, 2005), O’Dowd’s wife, and the editor of the Irish Voice, Debbie McGoldrick wrote, “the new lobby group created by the Irish Voice … will advocate on behalf of the estimated 20,000-30,000 Irish undocumented in the U.S.”

Are we to believe that in the space of seven months, at the height of Ireland’s economic boom, when fewer Irish were coming to the US and many were returning, that the number of Irish illegally in the US doubled?


Posted in The US-Ireland Relationship | Leave a comment


(Correction on blog below, Naoise Barry no longer works for Pinewood.)

My experiences with the Irish Film Board (IFB) are kind of like James Comey’s experiences with President Trump — I’ve learned to take notes in the meetings, or as soon as I walk out the door, because I can expect alternative facts to follow.

Comments made by Naoise Barry on Sunday on Marian Finucane’s program require a response. For too long, the IFB in general, and Naoise in particular, have taken credit for my work and that of the US-Ireland Alliance. Because this can directly impact what the Irish Government may see, or fail to see, as the value of the US-Ireland Alliance, I am compelled to set the record straight.

For those in the US, Marian Finucane is a radio host in Ireland. On Sunday (16 July) she did a program about film tourism in Ireland (the link is at the bottom). One of her guests was Naoise Barry, formerly of the IFB, now with Pinewood Studios. This is what was said, followed by my fact-checking in italics. In Washington Post terms, Naoise rates several Pinocchios.

Marian: “Naoise Barry, the Irish producer of STAR WARS is here.” “You were credited with bringing STAR WARS here. Is that correct Naoise?”

(According to IMDB-Pro credits, Naoise Barry is not listed as a producer of STAR WARS.)

Naoise: “Marian, that’s right, yes…. in 2013 at a meeting I found myself in Santa Monica, in Los Angeles, don’t you know, meeting with a man called J.J. Abrams …. “

(Naoise didn’t “find” himself in a meeting with J.J. Abrams, he was in a meeting that I initiated and arranged. I had been trying to interest J.J. in filming in Ireland since 2010. At that time, I arranged a meeting for James Morris of the IFB with J.J. Despite J.J. and his team spending at least an hour with us, the IFB spectacularly failed to follow up on that meeting. In November 2012, nearly three years later, after James Hickey became the new CEO of the IFB, I decided to make another run at this (letting the great opportunities for Ireland outweigh my understandable reluctance about the IFB). After I asked J.J. in November 2012 if we could try another meeting, I invited Naoise and James to come with me to J.J.’s office in February 2013, just prior to the US-Ireland Alliance’s annual Oscar Wilde Awards, which J.J. has kindly allowed the Alliance hold at his production company in Santa Monica.)

Naoise: “I was actually in there to pitch him on the idea that he might make a piece of Mission Impossible 5 in Ireland. I had this idea that Tom Cruise could scale down the Cliffs of Moher.”

The only reason Naoise was pitching MISSION IMPOSSIBLE was because that was my idea, along with the idea of having Tom Cruise repel down the Cliffs. On 21 November 2012, when I informed James and Naoise of the meeting I’d arranged, I wrote: “if tom cruise can repel down the Dubai tower, can he repel down the Cliffs of Moher J”

Naoise: “He let me give my pitch and then cut me off and said ‘well actually no, we’re going to Abu Dhabi and we’re going to Iceland and we won’t be coming to Ireland’ but he said, ‘I have another movie, I can’t tell you what it is, but we’re going to be shooting it in about a year’s time and we liked the photographs that you’ve shown us here today’ at the meeting and it turned out that one of the photographs that I’d shown him in my deck on my iPad was a picture of Skellig Michael.”

J.J. did not mention Abu Dhabi or Iceland in the meeting nor did he rule out MISSION IMPOSSIBLE in the meeting. In June 2013, in writing to the then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny and current Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was Minister for Tourism at the time, I mentioned MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and Naoise was still talking about MISSION IMPOSSIBLE in an email he sent to me in September 2013. I’m not sure exactly when the locations for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION were determined, but J.J. did not say he was filming it in Abu Dhabi and Iceland. (Presumably Naoise is confusing Abu Dhabi with Dubai, which was a location in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL, where Cruise repelled down the building in Dubai – two years before our meeting.)

The iPad deck of photos of location shots provided to J.J. in advance of the meeting, and referenced in the meeting, was a deck that I conceived and pulled together from a number of sources, including, but not limited to, images from the Irish Film Board. I spent November and December of 2012 putting together a meeting-specific iPad deck for J.J. and his team. When I first asked Naoise about sourcing some photos, he wrote:Our film locations database has over 50,000 photos, representing 2500 separate locations. They library consists if photos taken by location scouts for past film and TV productions.” I found the IFB’s online presentation of location shots pretty uninspiring. There were a bunch of thumbnail images and you had to click into them individually to see them. I couldn’t imagine myself slogging through thousands of random images, much less expect J.J. and his team to do so. I wanted them to be able to flip through an iPad much the way one reads a magazine on an iPad. I spent a lot of time, and the Alliance paid our technical guy, to put it together. I had rewatched the two previous MISSION IMPOSSIBLE films Bad Robot had produced. There were some similar scenes in these films – car chases, scary vertical drops, stately venues for black tie dinners, underground and street chases, etc. I created a deck with photos thematically arranged.

J.J. was not secretive about “another movie, I can’t tell you what it is,” as Naoise suggests. J.J. was the one who brought up STAR WARS in the meeting. It had already been announced, the month before our meeting, that J.J would be the director of the upcoming STAR WARS. Incidentally, Skellig Michael was not in my original photos deck, I do not recall Skellig ever mentioned that early in the conversation. Naoise was to follow up with more photos after our conversation, specifically geared toward possible STAR WARS locations. I assume Skellig was part of later follow up.

Anyone who has spoken to me about STAR WARS would tell you that I have regularly credited the IFB and Naoise for following up (unlike in 2010) and doing what they were meant to be doing – that’s their job. But the bottom line is that there would have been nothing to follow up on except for my persistence for years and the occurrence of the annual Oscar Wilde Awards event. For some bizarre reason (and there are a few I can think of) Naoise and the IFB have regularly tried downplay my role, or eliminate it from their history altogether. I appreciate that J.J. has regularly and graciously spoke of my role, and anyone who has attended the Oscar Wilde Awards has heard this. Just as one example, this link includes a reference months prior to the decision being made to film in Ireland (if you don’t want to read the whole thing, just search for my name and read those two paragraphs)

Tourism Ireland predicted that STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS will mean billions for the Irish economy. On Marian’s show, the representative from Tourism Ireland noted that the publicity alone would have cost them €19 million euros. Hopefully, Taoiseach Varadkar and his team will see the value of the work of the US-Ireland Alliance and not be fooled by civil servants and former civil servants who would have Ministers believe it is all down to them. I’m delighted that STARS WARS has been such a huge success for Ireland and will continue to be and I appreciate the involvement of so many people in making this happen.

The Marian Finucane program referred to:




Posted in The Arts, The US-Ireland Relationship | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in The US-Ireland Relationship | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in The US-Ireland Relationship | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Education, Foreign Policy, The US-Ireland Relationship | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in The US-Ireland Relationship | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

20 year anniversary of the Adams visa

Twenty years ago this month, Senator Ted Kennedy was at the forefront of an effort to convince President Clinton to grant Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams a visa, so that he might briefly visit the United States.  As leader of the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, Adams had been prohibited from entering.  Senator Kennedy had come to believe that the visit was an important part of a process that could bring an end to decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.  Later that month, despite vociferous opposition from the British Government, as well as many in his own Administration, President Clinton granted the visa and within a year the IRA would declare a cease-fire and the Loyalist paramilitaries would follow.

The visa for Adams was achieved because the right people were in the right places at the right time – the time that the IRA was prepared to end its violent pursuit of a united Ireland.  That same year, 1994, also marked the early stage of the Celtic Tiger, a period of economic growth that would last for more than a decade and transform Ireland before crashing ignominiously in 2008.

In 1998, with the signing of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, I left Senator Kennedy’s employ to create the US-Ireland Alliance which includes a scholarship named in honor of Senator George Mitchell, who deftly achieved a necessarily, constructively ambiguous agreement that required navigating a recent, bloody past, an historical enmity, and unrelenting bitterness that made W.B. Yeats’ reference to Ireland as a place of “great hatred, little room” seem like an understatement.  Our difficulty in securing stable funding for the Mitchell Scholarship reflects a wider complacency that comes with peace and the taking for granted of old relationships about which most Millennials know little.

A nation-wide competition is held annually to select twelve future American leaders who spend a year of post-graduate study on the island of Ireland.  The program has become so popular that several recent applicants have chosen to accept the Mitchell interview rather than interview for the long-established Rhodes Scholarship, which has for a century, sent future leaders like Bill Clinton to Oxford.  Unlike the Rhodes that is funded from Cecil Rhodes’ estate, the Mitchell has yet to find a major benefactor or corporation that sees the value in assuring that future generations of American leaders will have a connection to the island.

For more than a decade, the US Government largely funded the Mitchell Scholarship program but for the last two years, the Department of State, beginning under Secretary Hillary Clinton, has sought to eliminate funding altogether, repeatedly telling us that Europe is no longer a priority.

The island of Ireland has changed, as has America’s relationship with it.  While Northern Ireland is not without continuing problems, the Troubles are fortunately a thing of the past.  While Ireland continues to struggle economically, it is no longer a country to which the vast majority of Irish Americans feel a need to send remittances.  Of the Irish emigrants who do leave Ireland now, fewer head for America than did in previous decades and thus a continuous flow of new immigrants cannot be relied on to maintain the relationship.  Times have changed so much in twenty years that Gerry Adams now sits in the Irish parliament and Sinn Fein is part of a governing coalition in Northern Ireland.

New York financier Stephen Schwarzman with a number of businesses and individuals who care about the future of the US relationship with China (albeit driven largely by their own business interests) recently created a $300 million scholarship intended to rival the Rhodes.  As the Irish would say – fair play to them — there cannot be too many opportunities for young Americans to spend some time abroad.  The Mitchell Scholarship already rivals the Rhodes, but do enough companies and individuals care enough about this relationship to help assure its future?  The jury is still out.

Posted in The US-Ireland Relationship | Leave a comment