Individuals with a collective mission

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The Independent Online
HE HAS emphasised that members of his delegation are in Ireland 'as individuals', but Bruce Morrison, 49, leader of the delegation, is a former Yale university friend of President Bill Clinton, giving him high-level access if not actual envoy status, writes Alan Murdoch in Dublin.

A Democratic congressman from 1982 to 1990, he led the successful initiative to allow more young Irish people into the United States. This led to 50,000 so-called Morrison visas being issued over three years, securing him much clout in the large Irish-American community.

It is ironic that he is identified with the nationalist cause. His own ancestry is Lutheran Scots- Irish and English not Catholic Irish. Nevertheless, as a member of the ad hoc Congress Committee of Ireland he won respect in Ireland for a scholarly approach, not simply talking to one side, for which some American visitors have been criticised.

Defeated in the 1990 election for governor of Connecticut, Mr Morrison returned to his legal practice. Co-chair of the Irish Americans for Clinton-Gore committee, he helped prise vital Irish votes from the Republicans, partly by extracting a pledge from President Clinton to consider sending a White House special envoy to Northern Ireland.

In January, he helped press Washington into ignoring British objections and granting a visa to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to visit the US.

Niall O'Dowd, born in Tipperary, represents a younger recent- immigrant constituency. As publisher of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper and the monthly Irish America magazine, he carries considerable influence within it.

He sensed that the arrival of a Democrat as US President opened the way for more political influence for the American-Irish lobby. This has paved the way for a sharp increase in White House contact with Dublin ministers. At the same time, he has argued that Irish America must also listen to Unionist concerns.

Representing the Irish-American presence in US corporate board rooms is William Flynn, chief executive of Mutual Life, America's largest insurance group. He helped organise the conference of Northern Ireland leaders earlier this year, bringing Mr Adams and other Northern Ireland leaders to New York.

Another prominent business leader on the delegation is Charles 'Chuck' Feeney, wealthy owner of the General Atlantic Group. Irish-American trade unionists are represented by Joe Jameson, a New Yorker who is prominent in New York state's main AFL-CIO union confederation.

(Photograph omitted)