6 Irish-Americans helped win IRA truce

September 02, 1994|By Roger Simon | Roger Simon,Sun Columnist

WASHINGTON -- Working behind the scenes, a group of six Americans all in private life helped engineer the Irish Republican Army's dramatic decision to declare a cease-fire in one of the longest running guerrilla wars in world history.

Receiving little U.S. news coverage, the six have shuttled back and forth between the United States, Ireland and Northern Ireland for the last 18 months and were given credit by Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds on Wednesday for helping to bring about the promised cessation of military operations by the IRA.

The six are:

* Bruce Morrison, former congressman from Connecticut and former co-chairman of Irish-Americans for Clinton/Gore. Mr. Morrison recently was nominated to be chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board and is awaiting Senate confirmation.

* Niall O'Dowd, publisher of The Irish Voice newspaper and Irish America magazine.

* William Flynn, chairman and chief executive officer of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Co.

* Charles F. Feeney, billionaire chairman of General Atlantic, a holding company.

* Joseph Jamison and William Lenahan of the Irish-American Labor Coalition, a project of the AFL-CIO.

The group, which made regular reports to the White House and Congress, has no name and nobody has a formal title, but Mr. Morrison is its unofficial spokesman. It was Mr. Morrison, in fact, who suggested some of the wording of the IRA cease-fire announcement in a fax to Northern Ireland some weeks ago.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, praised the group of "Irish-American leaders." who "as private individuals committed to peace, have played an important role."

White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said, "We welcomed the private initiative of Mr. Morrison," adding that the White House expected to consult with him further.

But who is Mr. Morrison giving the credit to today? Bill Clinton.

"When Clinton invited Gerry Adams [head of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing] to this country in February, he sent a signal," Mr. Morrison said. "He was telling people in Northern Ireland that he was willing to stick his neck out on this issue, was willing to make a difference and was willing to buck the British."

Mr. Adams' visit to the United States was opposed not only by the British, but also by our own State Department. Mr. Clinton ignored both, granted Mr. Adams a visa and set off a storm of criticism.

"But Clinton was saying something very directly to Adams," Mr. Morrison said. "He was saying: 'If you are interested in coming in from the cold, if you are interested in putting the use of force behind you, this is one powerful person who will give you a chance.' "

Shortly after Mr. Clinton's election, Mr. Morrison contacted him and raised such matters as the visa for Mr. Adams and attempts to achieve a peace settlement in Northern Ireland.

Encouraged by Mr. Clinton's response, Mr. Morrison's group went on a public fact-finding trip to Northern Ireland last September and then began a series of private meetings with the major players in Irish politics: Prime Minister Reynolds, British Secretary for Northern Ireland Sir Patrick Mayhew, leaders of Sinn Fein and other political parties in Northern Ireland.

"We were meeting very quietly and not many people knew what we were doing," Mr. Morrison said. "But we were in contact with Capitol Hill and the White House."

Mr. Morrison's chief contact at the White House was Nancy Soderberg, chief of staff of the National Security Council and an expert on Irish affairs.

And while other members of the group were very important in convincing factions in Northern Ireland that the group could help put together economic aid for the country, it

was Mr. Morrison's contacts with Mr. Clinton that gave the group credibility with the IRA, even though Mr. Morrison made clear that he was not representing the White House.

"We never met with the IRA knowingly," Mr. Morrison said, a reference to the fact that the IRA is an illegal organization both in the south and north of Ireland. But Sinn Fein is the IRA's legal political wing and it has long been assumed that some Sinn Fein members also belong to the IRA.

"In July of this year, we had very private meetings with Gerry Adams that were not publicized anywhere," Mr. Morrison said. "We saw that meeting as a prelude to a cease-fire."

Mr. Adams wanted specifics as to what the IRA could expect from the White House in exchange for a cease-fire agreement, and Mr. Morrison conveyed that to Ms. Soderberg.

"The discussions were quite candid," Mr. Morrison said. "Nancy Soderberg would tell me that 'this and that will happen if they do this and that' and 'please don't let them do this or that.' But I never made any pretense of speaking for the White House. We used our own good judgment."

Last Thursday, Mr. Morrison and the group flew first to Dublin to meet with the Irish prime minister and then last Friday to Northern Ireland to have a final meeting with Sinn Fein officials at a West Belfast community center.

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