HOW THE HORSEMEN GALLOPED THE WRONG WAY
EDITORIAL. Irish Echo. AUGUST 24TH, 2011
By Fr. Sean McManus
In responding to the Irish Echo editorial, ” The Last Horseman” on the death of former New York governor Hugh Carey I have to bear in mind the maxim I was reared to take most seriously, “De mortuis nihil nisi bonum” (Speak no ill of the dead).
However, it is also important that we tell no untruths about Irish history, as did the quote from Carey (on the death of Teddy Kennedy): “As one of the Four Horsemen, along with Tip O’Neill, Pat Moynihan and myself, he helped turn the struggle in Northern Ireland away from violence and onto the path of political settlement, with a pivotal statement in 1977 and many occasions since.”
As I carefully document in my recently published memoirs, “My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland,” the 1977 statement to which Carey refers did not “turn the struggle in Northern Ireland away from violence,” but rather sabotaged – and was meant to – President Carter’s ground-breaking initiative on the North.
The Irish National Caucus met with presidential candidate Jimmy Carter on September 27, 1976. This was just six days before he was elected. I gave the welcoming statement and Carter gave us this key response: ” … We see, or come on the evening television news, and in the national headlines every now and then, specific instances where human rights are subjugated and where quite often our nation, as was pointed out by Father [McManus], stands mute and doesn’t speak… it is a mistake for our country’s government to stand quiet on the struggle of the Irish for peace for the respect of human rights and for unifying Ireland.”
This was a huge breakthrough. We had not only gotten Carter to speak up, but also to frame the Irish issue as a human rights issue. The British and their media went berserk. But not only the British.
The Boston Globe would later report: “Irish embassy officials protested vehemently to Carter aides. Carter, under pressure, agreed to send a telegram of clarification. Carter, the next day, telegrammed Irish foreign Minister FitzGerald: “… I have been informed that certain news reports concerning my meeting yesterday with Irish-American leaders have misrepresented both my position and my statements… I do not favor violence as part of a solution to the Irish question.”
No one, of course, had reported that Carter had favored violence. But this was the favorite tactic of the Dublin government of that time: scare people from speaking out for justice in Northern Ireland lest they be accused of supporting violence. It was unconscionable to do that to Carter. Yet the political and media establishment in Ireland never objected to FitzGerald’s inexcusable and disgraceful actions.
Just six months after that huge breakthrough, the Four Horsemen – set up by the Dublin government – made the statement from which Carey quoted. It was classic counter-insurgency sabotage: not a word about British violence, repressive legislation or mistreatment of political prisoners. Not a whisper about how British security forces and the RUC were colluding with, arming and controlling, Protestant murder gangs. Not a scintilla of mention about the deep-seated all pervasive anti-Catholic discrimination and sectarianism. It was a blatant cover-up, indeed, collusion.
Reflect on the monstrosity of it all. The Irish National Caucus had gotten Jimmy Carter to see Northern Ireland as a human rights issue. Garret FitzGerald, then Irish foreign minister, got the Four Horsemen to present the IRA and Irish Americans who supported them as the only problem.
By saying they appealed to Irish Americans to “renounce any action that….provides support or encouragement for organizations engaged in violence,” the Four Horsemen gave precisely that support and encouragement to the British army and the RUC.
They, in effect, said to the British, do what you like to the Catholics in Northern Ireland, and we won’t say a thing because the Dublin government only wants us to condemn the IRA.
The Four Horsemen, well versed in how the media operated, had to know how their statement would play. The headline at the time in the New York Times proves my point: “Four Top Democrats Urge Halt in support for the IRA.”
In fact, the statement did nothing to stop those who were supporting the IRA.I never met an Irish American who stopped supporting the IRA because of Tip O’ Neill, or Teddy Kennedy. The statement just gave the British carte blanche.
Years later, when Candidate Bill Clinton, on April 5, 1992, in New York City, made promises to a group of us (some who also had been at the Carter meeting in Pittsburgh), the huge difference was that taioseach Albert Reynolds, God bless him, welcomed Clinton’s statement. And the rest is history.
Still, I am haunted by this thought: had FitzGerald welcomed Carter’s statement (as Reynolds had welcomed Clinton’s) how much sooner the peace process could have started, how many lives might have been saved, and how so much suffering could have been spared.
And I am not alone in thinking this way. Irish author and journalist Tim Pat Coogan says in his memoirs, “During the 1974-7 coalition period the voice of the Dublin component of the Toffs’ Brigade [pro-British elite] was particularly strong, powerful and continuous. I would blame Dublin’s attitude in these year for helping to create a mindset that deepened the political vacuum and helped to prolong the Troubles.”
Fr. Sean McManus is president of the Capitol Hill-based Irish National Caucus. Signed, personalized copies of his memoir, “My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland” are available at irishnationalcaucus.org.