Leading Article: US aid should not go to Robin of the valleys

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The Independent Online
THE WELSH did not emigrate to America in the same numbers as the Irish. Although poverty forced many families off the land in Victorian times, the coal industry in the valleys offered an alternative living. However, there was a steady movement from Wales of the hopeful across the Atlantic during the 19th century to mining areas such as Pennsylvania and Ohio and to Patagonia.

Extremist Welsh nationalists, aware of how Irish republicanism has cashed in on the American connection, are now looking to their long-lost relatives for support. A fund called Twm Sion Cati (the name of a Welsh Robin Hood figure) has been created to channel funds for the cause. The money is earmarked for the legal battles of those involved in or who have supported firebombing English-owned properties in Wales. It is to be hoped that US dollars will not fuel those fires.

Fundraising in America is certainly a measure of how far these extremists must go to find people ignorant enough to sympathise with paramilitary activities. Unable to convince people at home, they hope to win over Welsh Americans for whom Wales is probably a faraway country of which little is known.

Although the 2.5 million Welsh Americans remain proud of their roots, most have assimilated more than their Celtic cousins and do not have the same ethnic consciousness as the Irish. There is a well- informed US monthly newspaper entitled Ninnau, meaning 'Ourselves', for people of Welsh descent, but keeping up the culture remains a minority pursuit. Nor do Welsh Americans hark back to the old country with the same sense of bitterness and injustice. There was no famine in Wales or a history of defeated rebellion once a generation. The Welsh-American memories handed down are more likely to be sentimentalised stories of miners singing on their way to work and Sundays spent at chapel. Twm Sion Cati has a bit of work to do before it can establish an evil image of England in people's minds.

However, there is a danger that this organisation will steer some Welsh Americans towards supporting non-peaceful change for the Principality. If that occurs, it will be the duty of democratic nationalists such as Plaid Cymru politicians to make sure that Americans have an accurate picture of life in Wales. Much has changed, they can argue, since the Sixties. A large civil service has grown up in Wales, spending pounds 6bn a year. The Secretary of State for Wales appoints 52 specifically Welsh quangos and has powers of appointment in some 30 more. Nationalist politicians believe that the structure for a self-determined Wales is largely in place, awaiting only creation of a legislature. Several parties now support greater autonomy for the country and subsidiarity is the European political fashion.

There is plenty of fire in the Welsh dragon: the country does not need the violent policies of extremists or US dollars going into the wrong hands.