IRA Ceasefire: Influence from the US is set to increase: Ceasefire will remove stigma of violence from Irish nationalist cause

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The Independent Online
ONE of the world's biggest political lobbies, the Irish-Americans, are set to play a bigger role than ever in the course of events in Northern Ireland.

Estimated to be 40-million- strong, and with key areas of strength in American organised labour, Wall Street and the Democratic Party, the Irish-Americans are thought to have played an important role in bringing the IRA to lay down their arms, and their influence is about to expand even further.

This is not least because one of the immediate effects of a sustained ceasefire will be the removal of the stigma of violence from the Irish nationalist cause in North America where the Irish-American community has been bitterly divided between IRA supporters and opponents since the conflict began. Sinn Fein hopes to capitalise on its new respectability by replacing Irish Northern Aid (Noraid), the organisation that has fronted IRA fund-raising and political activity since the 1970s, with a widened nationalist lobby of the Irish diaspora in the United States wielding ever stronger influence over the White House during negotiations on an overall settlement.

Sinn Fein has been deliberately distancing itself from Noraid, and is likely to receive approval to open its own American office to put its case across direct to the American media in the coming peace talks.

The Clinton administration is also expected to grant unrestricted visas to Gerry Adams and other prominent Sinn Fein figures and former IRA commanders to tour the United States in the near future explaining why they are opting for peace.

One of the main objectives will be to keep Northern Ireland high on President Clinton's agenda while reassuring the nationalists in the province that a much feared loyalist backlash will be met by remorseless Washington pressure on London if sectarian murders and other human rights abuses continue.

'There will be an international outcry if loyalist paramilitaries continue killing,' one well- placed American source said yesterday. 'And the world is now watching to see that the British Government lives up to its responsibilities in cracking down on the collusion that exists between the RUC and loyalist extremists.'

The Irish lobby in the United States has already shown its influence in the negotiations that led to the ceasefire. Irish-American opinion now considers that visits to Ireland by ex-congressman Bruce Morrison, the political ally and friend from Yale University law school days of President Clinton, were effectively that of a special presidential envoy. He has made three visits in the past 12 months, meeting Sinn Fein and Unionist leaders, the Irish government and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

In an RTE Radio discussion yesterday the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds was at pains to emphasise the influence of Irish- Americans over the IRA. He said the last-minute decision to grant visas to the former IRA leader Joe Cahill and a Sinn Fein councillor were so important that there would have been no ceasefire announcement had it not occurred. Britain advised against the visa being granted.

Mr Morrison last night confirmed the importance of the Cahill visa. But the US Government had resisted British pressure for the second time this year and shown Sinn Fein that it was committed to helping them find a way out of the conflict. Britain's resistance to the Cahill visa showed the loathing with which it viewed the respectability which the United States was preparing to grant prominent IRA figures whom London has worked so hard to demonise, informed sources said.

The leading Irish-Americans involved in the peace talks along with Mr Morrison also include a Tipperary-born journalist, Niall O'Dowd, two officials from the AFL-CIO umbrella trade union movement (the equivalent of the British TUC) and two prominent businessmen.

The group represents the sophisticated new face of Irish- America, a far cry from the stereotypical image of media accounts.

The businessmen of the group included William Flynn, 67, chairman of Mutual of America, an assurance group with dollars 6bn in assets, and Charles 'Chuck' Feeney, chairman of General Atlantic Corporation and a frequent visitor to London.

They have been persuasive in getting the Clinton administration to prepare an ambitious reconstruction programme for Northern Ireland pending a peaceful settlement. The programme could reach between dollars 150m and dollars 200m and is modelled on the assistance programme for South Africa's transition to democratic rule.

At present the United States spends dollars 19m a year through the Ireland fund and this is expected to be trebled to dollars 60m.

In addition, New York City's comptroller Alan Hevesi is drawing up plans for so-called 'Ireland peace bonds' to be underwritten by the London and Dublin governments. Cities and municipalities with large Irish ethnic communities are expected to invest pension funds in these.

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