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Inside File For whom the chair tolls

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Assuming that George W. Bush is the next president, who on Capitol Hill will have his ear when it comes to taking up where Bill Clinton leaves off on Ireland? A key factor may well be a decision by the House GOP with regard to committee chairmanships for which term limits apply.

Ben Gilman, who has chaired the House International Relations Committee for the last six years, is due to hand over the reins to a fellow Republican, but it is possible that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert will allow Gilman to retain his chairmanship into the 106th Congress.

Alternately, Gilman might be able to revive the hibernating House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, which could be used as a sounding board for Irish-American concerns in the event that the full IRC falls into hands less committed to those concerns than Gilman’s.

In the Senate, Jesse Helms and John McCain lately seem to be taking a strong interest in Ireland if their correspondence with David Trimble is anything to go by. Rep. Peter King lost his influence with "Dubya" by backing McCain for the presidency, but McCain does at least owe King some consideration as a result. Of course, it could all end with Gore being president instead. But that’s another story.

The lady’s first

Hillary Rodham Clinton was apparently a better bet than Al Gore when it came to campaign contributions from the fund-raising group Irish American Democrats. According to figures filed with the Federal Election Commission, the first lady and now senator-elect from New York received $6,253 from the IAD’s Irish-Americans for a Democratic Victory Political Action Committee, while Gore had to settle for $3,193.

Begob, but in the greatest "what if" election in the country’s history, a few dollars more from Stella O’Leary’s crew and Gore might have been over the top in Florida.

Hillary and Al together, meanwhile, were by far the main beneficiaries of the PAC’s total financial outlay to candidates which amounted to $14,950. The filing to the FEC states that 100 percent of this sum went to Democrats and zilch went to Republicans. Noooo!

Baker’s back

Nice to see old, eh, friends. James Baker was the heavy sent into Florida last week to sort out those rebellious Democrats. No better man than the former secretary of state, who, readers will recall, all but apologized for the Boston Tea Party a few years back when he lashed into Bill Clinton for daring to be bothered about the wee sod.

Bush may yet be president and given the statements issued by his campaign in recent months, Irish Americans can expect at least some measure of interest in Ireland from the Dubya Frat, oops, White House.

At the same time, the sight of King James of Texas on the beat again is likely to make more than a few Irish-American activists very nervous indeed.

Mac’s elected pals

Lot of faces familiar to Irish Americans were returned to Congress last week, but one or two newcomers of the House of Representatives, though unfamiliar, are worth mentioning.

Steve Isr’l, a Democrat who took Rick Lazio’s vacated House seat, is a longtime backer of the MacBride Principles and worked to support the MacBride campaign in an earlier guise as a congressional staffer.

In Illinois, Mark Kirk, a Republican who captured the House seat in that state’s 10th District, is also a former congressional aide who worked closely with MacBride campaigners to further advance the cause of fair employment in Northern Ireland.

The flip side of this is the loss of Democrat Sam Gejdenson in Connecticut’s 2nd District. Gejdenson, too, was a strong supporter of MacBride and was recently taking a higher profile on Irish issues generally.

A tough job

Lord, but who would want to be president anyway? Problems, problems every day. Just ask U.S. Grant. Never mind corruption in Washington and rampaging injuns on the frontier, U.S. also had to deal with that pesky tribe known as the Fenians, the one that so irritated Pope Pius IX.

Indeed, U.S. went so far as to issue a proclamation warning "all good citizens" against "aiding, countenancing, abetting or taking part" in the Fenian activities on U.S. soil and in Canada, activities that, according to Grant, amounted to "sundry illegal military enterprises and expeditions" which were being "set on foot within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States, with a view to carry on the same from within such territory and jurisdiction against the people and district of the dominion of Canada, within the dominions of Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with whom the United States are at peace."

The proclamation was issued by Grant in May 1870. Of course, Grant himself had firsthand experience in dealing with the Fenians. Virtually his last act in the uniform of a general in the United States Army was to campaign against the Irish rebels in the lands bordering British Canada.

Gerry’s high standing

Gerry Adams had seven bodyguards about his person at last week’s Sinn Féin nosh-up at the Sheraton. Clearly, there were fears that somebody might fling a candle or piece of rubber chicken at the leader of all the Shinners.

Still, though, "IF" absolutely agrees that Adams’s status as valiant guardian of the peace process deserves a decent phalanx of heavies in his immediate vicinity. Sure doesn’t no less a personage than Secretary of State Madeleine Albright think that Gerry is, these days anyway, only one notch short of the pope or Gandhi.

Our Gerry, whose name would have been absolute mud at the State Department only a few years ago, is now being held up by Albright as a paragon of peaceful virtue. Said she recently to Hashim Thaci, leader of the political wing of the Kosovo Liberation Army: "I hope you will become Kosovo’s Gerry Adams and choose peace over continuing war and terrorism."

Now if yer man Thaci is half with it at all he’ll think seriously about this come-on from Madeleine. And before you can say "war’s off" he too might be chewing chicken at the Sheraton, surrounded by guys with earphones and looks on their faces that would shatter glass. Who knows, Hashim might even pull in a few tax-free bucks for the folks back in wee Kosovo and get to kick up his feet some day in wonderful Donegal.

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