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Irish leaders miss chance to speak out against war

Eamon Lynch • Irish Echo, April 2-8, 2003

The 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.

But 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.

Only 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.

In 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.

Bush's 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 desire.

Yet 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.

I 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.

This 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.

That 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.

Despite 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.

Perhaps 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.

It 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."

Why 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.

To 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.

On 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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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost.
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Index: Current Articles

11 April 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Critique of the Anti War Movement

Liam O'Ruairc


A Diversion from the Task
Eoin O'Broin


Bush and Blair Summon the Irish Contras...
Anthony McIntyre


Not Firm Ground But Wet Sand: Prevaricating for Peace

Paul Fitzsimmons


Irish Leaders Miss Chance to Speak Out Against War
Eamon Lynch


London Update


Baghdad: First They Cheered and Then They...
Anthony McIntyre


America's Dual Mission

M. Shahid Alam


War: It Already Started
Paul de Rooij


Lacking Credibility
Bert Ward


7 April 2003


Adams Will Tell Bush He's Anti-War
Eoin O'Broin


Stand Firm
Davy Carlin


Anti-War Human Rights Activists on Trial


First We Take Basra, And Then We Take ...Basra Again
Anthony McIntyre


Belfast - Building an Anti-War Movement

Davy Carlin




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