pre-St. Patrick's Day gathering at the White House
on March 13 must have been a heartening experience
for Gerry Adams. After all, only the most strident
unionists would argue that Adams constituted the greatest
threat to peace and stability in the room. For three
decades the Sinn Fein leader has been ritually denounced
as a sanctimonious warmonger waging a needless conflict
in defiance of the law, public opinion, and common
decency, while exhibiting an attitude toward innocent
victims that might be charitably termed cavalier.
Had anyone whispered anew these charges in Washington,
Adams might reasonably have concluded that the jab
was directed at his host.
apparently no one risked souring the drink by raising
the unseemly topic of war. Bertie Ahern went so far
as to praise the Bush administration as "a leader
within the United Nations," a tribute so demonstrably
flimsy that even Bertie must have recognized it as
a jaw-dropping falsehood.
four days later, President Bush issued a High Noon-style
call to arms that doubled as a middle finger to Bertie's
beloved UN. The fact that the president's trigger
finger was visibly itching didn't trouble those eager
to praise his tepid support of our little peace process.
years past, any shame associated with St. Patrick's
Day was limited to displays of bigotry or drunkenness
on Fifth Avenue. That pales in comparison to the spectacle
in Washington as the very politicians who offer daily
bromides about peace in Northern Ireland doffed their
caps before a president slavering for war.
St. Patrick's Day event bears little resemblance to
the Clinton era, when the commander-in-chief was a
gleeful participant in the shamrockery. Today, the
entire affair seems more a matter of obligation than
the warmth of the welcome should really be of no consequence.
Most Irish politicians - with the exceptions of David
Trimble (who supports the war) and Ahern (who facilitates
it at Shannon Airport) - should have refused to attend.
shudder at the image of our representatives as sweaty-palmed
supplicants listening to presidential sermons on the
need for a non-violent solution to our national trauma,
the sanctity of law, and the will of the people for
peace. But our party leaders remained mute in the
face of this brazen hypocrisy.
willful ignorance is nothing new. When Trimble left
the recent Hillsborough talks for pressing business
elsewhere, he earned unfavorable comparison to Ahern
and Tony Blair, who, we were reminded, had taken time
from their hectic schedules to push for peace. Few
noted the irony that their schedules mainly involved
assisting in the plans for an attack on Iraq.
George W. Bush can remain oblivious to this glaring
contradiction is unsurprising since the slender intellect
of an evangelical is seldom given to self-doubt or
reflection. We are resigned to that. What sticks in
the craw is the political and moral cowardice of Irish
politicians who vocally oppose the Iraq war yet can't
wipe the lipstick from their tuxedos fast enough when
an invitation to the White House arrives.
overwhelming anti-war sentiment among both Ireland's
people and politicians, it seems everyone bound for
Washington checked their principles at Dublin airport.
Not a single Irish leader of any stripe considered
their position worth defending by refusing to break
bread with the man responsible for the war.
they labored under the misapprehension that the event
was to celebrate the Irish contribution to America.
Not so. They were merely bit-part players in a bigger
picture, a convenient photo-op designed to portray
President Bush as a man interested in peace in at
least one corner of the globe.
is appalling that our representatives consider polite
discretion at a cocktail reception more important
than voicing the concerns of their citizens. Michael
D. Higgins, the Labor party foreign affairs spokesman,
was scathing: "The cowardly equivocation of Bertie
Ahern and his government colleagues . . . has brought
shame on the country. The voice of Ireland on international
affairs - once proud, once strong, once genuinely
independent - has been reduced to an impotent whimper."
single out just Bertie? Sure, he arrived fresh from
sweeping the tarmac at Shannon in readiness for warplanes,
but he hasn't pretended otherwise. Sinn Fein leaders,
on the other hand, oppose the war but lack the courage
of their convictions this side of the pond. That didn't
stop Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh from urging Bertie's
party to "show some guts" and demand he
stand against war. In all the excitement, Aengus forgot
to ask his own colleagues to show some guts too. And
what of the SDLP, which voted against Blair's war
plans on March 18? A withering party desperate for
any measure of attention is evidently not apt to stand
on principle either.
suggest that Irish politicians ought to have boycotted
the White House invites predictable cries of "anti-Americanism"
from folks who regard the annual outing as reward
for 12 months of posterior kissing, an opportunity
to drool deferentially on the presidential loafers.
Others go further and leap headlong into an intellectual
abyss by arguing that tourist dollars and American
support for the peace process entitles Bush to uncritical
support for his war.
the contrary. More than ever, the Bush administration
is utterly devoid of credibility and moral authority
when it calls for peace in Northern Ireland and demands
that we go the extra mile to get there. It is long
past time that Irish leaders put down the champagne
glasses and said so.
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