Clinton did a smart thing in letting IRA ally visit

February 02, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

It's always nice when doing the right thing also turns out to be the smart thing.

And Bill Clinton has done both by allowing Gerry Adams, the head of the Irish Republican Army's political wing, to enter this country for 48-hours to discuss the possibilities of peace in Northern Ireland.

Yes, it is risky. Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, has not endorsed the Dec. 15 peace framework entered into between the British and Irish governments. That offered Adams a place at the bargaining table in exchange for the IRA's laying down its arms.

But Clinton had a choice between continuing the politics of paralysis or taking a step, however small, toward peace.

After all, newspapers around the world carried a photograph Monday of the PLO's Yasser Arafat holding hands and smiling with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. And if these guys can get together, you mean the IRA and the British can't?

Besides, if the British could have annihilated the IRA by now, it would have. Instead, the IRA is very much alive and the bombings and killings continue, ebbing and flowing, but grinding on.

So peace does have a practical side. And to Clinton, Adams' personal statement that "I want to see an end to all violence and an end to this conflict" was good enough to let him in the country to talk about it.

The British government is not pleased at this, but it has not been a fan of Bill Clinton in any case.

Three weeks before Election Day 1992, Clinton wrote a letter to Bruce Morrison, a former congressman from Connecticut and co-chairman of Irish-Americans for Clinton/Gore, in which Clinton said:

"We believe the British government must do more to oppose the job discrimination that has created unemployment levels 2 1/2 times higher for Catholic workers than Protestant workers [in Northern Ireland].

"We also believe that the British government must establish more effective safeguards against the wanton use of lethal force and against further collusion between the security groups and Protestant paramilitary groups."

The British government was not amused.

But Clinton did not care. Though Britain has been our staunchest ally for a long time, there are 44 million persons of Irish descent in this country. (Compared with about only 6 million in Ireland and Northern Ireland combined.)

Irish-Americans are this country's second-largest ethnic group (after German-Americans), they vote and they care about what happens in their ancestral home.

Which is why allowing Gerry Adams in this country was a smart thing for Clinton to do politically -- prominent Irish-American politicians such as Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y. had asked Clinton to do it -- but was it also right?

I called Bruce Morrison, now an attorney specializing in immigration law in New Haven, Conn., yesterday and asked him.

"I think it was a good thing," Morrison, who was part of the group who greeted Adams when he landed in New York Monday, said. "The question is not whether killing is wrong. Of course it is wrong. The question is what is the most expedient way to end it with a just and lasting solution.

"Gerry Adams, whom I've known since the mid-'80s when I made several visits to Northern Ireland as a member of Congress, is a political leader, not a military leader. He has staked his career on politics, not on bomb-building. He knows if he has any political future, it is as an agent of peace-making.

"There is no question he is cagey with words. But his rhetoric, by itself, is unimportant. It is only important if he can get the IRA to TTC go along with what he says about an end to the violence."

But why should America intrude on what happens between Britain and the Irish?

"The usefulness of third parties in international disputes is well-established," said Morrison, who also believes America should appoint a special peace envoy to Northern Ireland.

Clinton promised this as a candidate but as president has held off in the face of stiff British opposition.

"I was talking about this to a British official about the time of the Los Angeles riots," Morrison said, "and he asked me: 'How would you like it if Britain sent a special peace envoy to Los Angeles?'

"And I said: 'When's he coming?' "

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