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Kennedy enjoys the last laugh

Resource type: News

The Sunday Business Post |

It is Tuesday afternoon and US senator Ted Kennedy is sitting in his shirt sleeves in a grand executive office in Stormont which, no doubt, once belonged to a unionist minister. Thomas Foley, the US ambassador to Ireland, and Paula Dobriansky, George Bush’s envoy to Ireland, hover outside; but this is Kennedy’s day. His key decision to push for a US visa for Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, in 1994 ended the international isolation of the party and may have moved the IRA ceasefire forward by as much as a year. At the time, Kennedy was roundly condemned for interfering. Today, he is having the last laugh. Coming from the chamber where he saw the new government of the North finally constituted, the scion of the Kennedy clan is even more exuberant than usual. ”I wish President Bush had been here to witness this,” Kennedy said. ”This proves that you can disband militias and private armies and end the bomb and the bullet. It is clear that he is referring to the North, but Iraq is not far from his mind. As a leading opponent of the war, the peace process in the North is likely to become a theme in his speeches to Congress. Kennedy also said that earlier in the chamber, Ian Paisley’s wife, Eileen, had greeted him warmly and that Paisley himself had even dispensed a cheerful wave in his direction. After years of being the subject of speeches about interfering outsiders, Kennedy had suddenly become an acceptable figure. That in itself is a kind of miracle. Chuck Feeney, the reclusive American billionaire who has donated tens of millions of euro to cross-community peace projects, was also feeling vindicated. He had also been subjected to vilification in the media when he helped Sinn Fein establish an American presence. Last week, as Feeney looked around the bus going to Stormont, he saw the faces of many of the Republican activists who had delivered on their promises to work for a peaceful resolution. Feeney reminisced about the day in 1995 when he showed up at the wrong house in west Belfast for a meeting with Adams. The burly occupant thought Feeney was a debt collector and chased him back out onto the street. Feeney said it was the only time he ever felt in danger in the North. He had been warned off dealing with Adams, of course, but as British prime minister Tony Blair said in his remarks, he had trusted him from the get-go and sensed the sincerity behind the new direction. ”It is rare in life you get to write ‘finish’ to a major undertaking in such a satisfactory way, Feeney said. ”Today is that day. Businessman Bill Flynn, a former head of Mutual of America and a key player on the US side in the peace process, was similarly moved by events at Stormont. Through his National Committee on American Foreign Policy, Flynn has provided every major figure in Northern politics with a platform to speak in the US. Now Flynn was staring out at the statue of Edward Carson from the windows of the Long Gallery at Stormont. ”You know, they told me that nationalists only ever passed one bill in all their years in hopeless opposition here, he said. ”It was about wildlife. Well, we have a whole new species of that arriving here now to take up residence. It’s a wonderful change. Niall O’Dowd is founder of the Irish Voice newspaper in New York and a director of the US-Ireland Alliance

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Human Rights & Reconciliation

Global Impact:

Republic of Ireland, United States