Wearin' of the Green (and Orange)

March 17, 1995

Oh, 'tis a glorious St. Patrick's Day in the White House.

John Bruton, the taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland is to be guest of honor today. Gerry Adams, late of the IRA, famed for passionate commitment to an Irish Socialist Republic, will be an even more celebrated guest. President Clinton can have a great success and, like predecessors, tune out Ireland until next St. Patrick's Day.

Or he can harm the peace process by wrapping himself up more pTC in the Green Flag and Mr. Adams' fund-raising to twit the Brits and win a few back-slaps in Congress. Or, if he really wanted, he could attempt a little good. Should his advisers be in doubt as to what that would be, Mr. Bruton arrived in New York Wednesday full of useful advice.

"President Clinton should meet the Unionists," Mr. Bruton said. "It is very important that Unionist leaders should be received in the White House . . . I hope he will use his influence to get the Unionists into dialogue."

That's because the process envisioned in the Anglo-Irish Framework Agreement cannot go forward without the Unionist Party, voice of the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. There cannot be harmony between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland or dialogue between the two Irelands without them. And so far, the Protestants are out of the process. Mr. Bruton, who became taoiseach last December after a realignment in the Dail (House of Commons), understands them.

For Mr. Clinton to overcome Unionist suspicions would require playing along with their cherished beliefs. He would show that he knows that of the 40 million Americans of Irish ancestry, more than half are descended from the forebears of the Unionists. Another is their pride in the extraordinary number of U.S. presidents of Ulster Protestant ancestry.

If he could win Unionists' trust, what would he tell them?

For starters, that the framework agreement includes a commitment to amend territorial aggrandizement out of the Irish Republic's constitution; that it includes for the first time an Irish guarantee not to try to incorporate Northern Ireland unless a majority of its voters wish; that inter-Irish understanding would mean economic stimulus for all Ireland. And that just because the IRA quit and declared victory does not mean it won.

Mr. Bruton even suggested when to make the approach. Invite the Orange men, he suggested, for the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Because another cherished Loyalist tradition is their alliance with the U.S. in that war, when the Irish Free State (now Republic) was neutral. As Mr. Bruton says, many U.S. troops used in the D-Day invasion were stationed in Northern Ireland.

Of course, one response might be to say, who the devil is John Bruton that he should meddle in American politics? But if Mr. Clinton wants to be remembered fondly in Ireland years hence as having done some good while he had the chance, he would heed the taoiseach's candid advice.

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