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.

About Trina Vargo

Trina Vargo created the US-Ireland Alliance in 1998 after having served for eleven years as a Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Working directly with political leaders in Northern Ireland, the Clinton Administration, and the Irish Government, she served as a key behind-the-scenes player in the Northern Ireland peace process. She created the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program and the Oscar Wilde Awards which honor the Irish in entertainment. Views are her own.
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