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Irish Voice News
AOH, Sinn Fein Question Obama Statement
August 28, 2008
By April Drew and Cahir O’Doherty
SENATOR Barack Obama has stated that a U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland may not be necessary if he is elected president. The statement released on Tuesday has been challenged by, among others, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, America’s largest Irish group, and Sinn Fein.
The statement, believed to be written on behalf of Obama by Trina Vargo of the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, which published the piece on its website, said, “Barack Obama understands that U.S. attention and support will be required to solidify the peace.”
He also “recognizes that the crisis period for Northern Ireland has passed and that the people of Northern Ireland are now in charge of their own destiny.”
The Irish policy statement said that Obama, if elected president, would consult with the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), the British Prime Minister and various party leaders in Northern Ireland to “determine whether a special U.S. envoy for Northern Ireland continues to be necessary, or whether a senior administration official, serving as point person for Northern Ireland, would be most effective.”
The statement also adds that Obama is aware that Ireland has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, and for the better.
“Northern Ireland does not require our daily attention, and as Ireland is now one of the wealthiest countries in the world, it is natural that our relationship will evolve accordingly.”
Reaction to the Obama statement was swift. Since the Clinton administration and continuing throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, a number of special envoys have served Northern Ireland, including incumbent Paula Dobriansky, who liaises for the Bush administration with parties in Northern Ireland on a regular basis.
Rita O’Hare, Sinn Fein’s U.S. representative, expressed her surprise at the wording of the document, which she found to be contradictory and unclear.
“I’m not quite sure what this statement means, which makes it difficult to give a very clear and considered response. What is the difference between a special envoy and a special appointee?” she asked.
“What does disturb me about this statement is this seeming signal it sends that it’s all sorted over in the North when it is clearly not the case. But if the statement means Obama is going to appoint someone senior from his administration — if he is heading that administration — then fine,” said O’Hare.
“In terms of the claim that the crisis in the North is over I would ask which crisis is over? What is coming down the line here is that there has not been a meeting of the Executive for six weeks,” she added.
“As a Sinn Fein representative for America I would very firmly say that the crisis is not over and there’s very great concern about the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refusing to do business that isn’t DUP business.”
Newly elected Ancient Order of Hibernians president Seamus Boyle feels that the statement doesn’t clearly outline Obama’s intention.
“I don’t know if he is planning on doing it or not,” Boyle told the Irish Voice. “We need to have someone there. No matter what happens, whether it’s an official or an envoy someone needs to be there.”
Boyle said that although the crisis is over to a “certain point,” he feels “there is still a lot of work to be done. We definitely need someone there.”
Worried that the position of an envoy is going to become a thing of the past, Boyle said, expressing his concern, “What began with George Mitchell now seems to be getting less and less important. Now it seems the position could just go to an administrative person and that is certainly not what we are looking for,” said Boyle.
“We need someone on top of it all the time. We have gone too far to start going backwards..
Jeff Cleary, executive director of the Irish American Republicans, said he found the statement to be “an empty, indecisive statement that reflects the inexperience of Obama.”
Cleary added, “Americans are well aware of John’s McCain’s overwhelming support for the Irish peace process and his commitment to peace in the future.”
Cleary stated if Obama, whose Irish ancestors hail from Moneygall, Co. Offaly, is elected, he fears “a no Irish need apply attitude” will develop towards Irish issues in the future.
Brian O’ Dwyer, a New York attorney who is head of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and a prominent Hillary Clinton supporter, said he was “profoundly disappointed to the point of being shocked” at the statement.
He said, “I think there are a series of things about the statement that pertain bad things for Irish America.”
O’Dwyer was angry that such a statement was released by an organization run by Vargo.
“Trina Vargo has proven to be a constant enemy of Irish immigration reform,” said O’Dwyer.
“I notice in the statement no mention has been made of any provision to cure the historic inequity discrimination felt by the Irish and the immigration laws.”
O’Dwyer feels that Obama is “calling for a detachment of American involvement in Northern Irish affairs.”
“I must say that those of us who have worked regularly in the field of helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland know that there is still a lot of work to be done,” he added.
O’Dwyer feels a U.S. envoy is as important today as it was when President Clinton appointed one.
The statement also said that Obama “understands that there is not a monolithic ‘Irish American’ vote. He appreciates the support of Irish Americans and, as president, will work with the Irish American community to stand up to special interests.”
The statement also says that Obama will “continue the tradition of welcoming the taoiseach to the White House on St Patrick’s Day,” and also mentions that he “intends to visit Ireland as president.”
The statement said Obama recognizes the Bush Administration’s continued support of the peace process.
It also reiterates Obama’s promise to pursue comprehensive immigration reform.
“His father’s experience has informed his own views on the issue, and he has seen the enormous contributions that Irish immigrants have made to this country,” it said.
The U.S.-Ireland Alliance website states the organization is “ non-partisan” and “does not endorse any candidates.”
“We have offered the same opportunity to Senator McCain’s campaign and will post his statement if we receive one.”
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