So, on Tuesday, Christine Quinn hosted an event at City Hall to mark the 25th anniversary of release of the MacBride Principles, a nine-point set of guidelines for American businesses operating in Northern Ireland. That’s nice. The Principles, named for Seán MacBride, a Nobel Peace laureate, co-founder of Amnesty International, and 19-year veteran of the IRA, are a voluntary system for combating employment discrimination against Catholics in the province and have been endorsed by 18 U.S. States and more than 40 cities. Although there’s no evidence they had any impact at all on the employment situation, they’re seen as one of the great successes of Irish-American political pressure on the issue of Northern Ireland.
But two of the featured speakers caught my eye. One is Gerry Kelly. He’s a leading member of Sinn Féin, the party that once unreservedly supported the IRA’s violent campaign in Northern Ireland and that later strongarmed it into a peace deal. The other is Brian O’Dwyer, a leading lawyer and scion of one of New York’s most powerful Irish families. The fact that people like this can share a stage without it being an event says a lot about the ugly deal New York’s Irish-American donors have made themselves party to.
To start with Kelly. It’s not that he once helped to set off four car bombs in London, killing one and injuring more than 200. It’s not that he’s a member of a party that initially denounced the MacBride principles, mostly because it was an easy way to beat up on Irish-American moderates. It’s that Kelly is Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams’ personal pit-bull for controlling political activity in Catholic areas of Belfast.
Take, just as an example, what he’s accused of doing to Tony Catney. Catney is a community organizer from Kelly’s North Belfast district who alleges that Kelly has tried to undercut his political work by linking him to terrorism. There have been suspicious leaks to the police, a favorite Sinn Féin tactic, to the effect that Catney is the head of an outlawed terrorist group in Belfast. Kelly has been named by journalists as the source. Kelly has also publicly accused Catney of organizing violent riots in the area.
In September, Catney was badly by a beaten Sinn Féin member while distributing leaflets door-to-door. He claims he was “punched and kicked and had my shirt pulled over my head” for reasons “that clearly had nothing to do with my right to distribute leaflets advertising a homeowners meeting.” Irish-American commentators in New York accused Kelly of being behind the attack.
Observers in Northern Ireland took notice too. Anthony MacIntyre, a former IRA prisoner turned respected journalist, noted that Sinn Féin has a history of lying to police and the press about political opponents, and mockingly used an old Gerry Adams line to condemn the attacks: “it is an act so soaked in malign intent that the people responsible have plummeted to new depths.”
Now back to New York. Up on stage with Gerry Kelly was Brien O’Dwyer. He might know something about the Gerry Kelly style of politics–his uncle was Mayor Bill O’Dwyer, and his father, Paul, was the president of City Council from 1974-1977. Brien is a rich and respected figure in the Irish-American community.
The Dwyers, père and fils, were instrumental in sheparding Sinn Féin into political respectablilty and the pocketbooks of weatlthy American donors. In 1994, when Gerry Adams made his first trip to America, Paul O’Dwyer stood on stage with him at a huge rally outside the New York Sheraton. It was a symbol that, if Sinn Féin abandoned its support for violence, it might expect the support of rich and influential Irish-Americans, not just the working-class die-hards that had traditionally supported it.
Sinn Féin was faced with the opportunity to “have access to the most powerful political donors in America,” even if it meant alienating their longtime American activists, Ed Moloney, a legendary ∞historian of the IRA, later put it. They took the deal. None of Sinn Féin’s supporters from organizations like Noraid was allowed to appear publicly with Adams, setting in motion a divorce between Sinn Féin and its radical base in America.
That tacit deal was great for the peace process, but it entered the wealthy New York donors into an unholy contract. Sinn Féin justifies leaving violence behind by pointing to its electoral successes. But those successes are underwritten by American donors. According to its financial statements, more than half of Sinn Féin’s revenue comes from American donors like Brien O’Dwyer. In a real sense, Americans are paying them to keep the peace.
And they’re underwriting Sinn Féin’s political thuggery–exemplified by the disinformation campaign against and beating of Tony Catney. Gerry Kelly is still Gerry Kelly, no matter how many events he attends at City Hall, and he’s still surrounded by violence. Kelly’s Ardoyne area has become the scene of almost constant fights between Sinn Féin and supporters of alternative political parties.
It’s threatening to erupt into a shooting war. Last night, while I was reasearching this post, and while Kelly was still in America trolling for funds, I got a notice that Kelly had recieved a bomb threat against his home, almost assuredly from fellow Catholics angry at his political control tactics. If people like Brien O’Dwyer want to pay for peace in Northern Ireland, they’re making a mistake to buying it from people like Gerry Kelly.