London—A three day conference on Trade and lnvestment held in Washington, D.C., May 24–26 has exposed the purpose of U.S. maneuverings in regard to Northern Ireland. Called by President Clinton, it brought together representative economic and political leaders from Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, Britain and the U.S.
Attention was drawn to the Washington gathering because it provided the venue for the first meeting between a leader of the northern Irish republican movement and a top ranking official of the British government.
These were: Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, the political party of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary for Northern Ireland in the cabinet of Britain's Prime Minisier John Major.
For the past year the Major government had been stalling on top level talks with Sinn Fein. Although compelled to acknowledge the ceasefire called by Sinn Fein and to scale downn its own military policy in Northern Ireland, the Major government has tried to block inclusion of Sinn Fein in all-party talks toward a settlement, insisting on the hand-over of IRA (Irish RepubIican Army) arms first, i.e, a virtual surrender.
Britain's problem has been the mainly Protestant Unionist sector in Northern Ireland, the base for British control of the six-couniy province. Diehards among the Unionists oppose any concessions to the Republicans. Major needs the support of their MPs in the British parliament where the Torries have a narrow majority.
However, it is significant that there were Unionists in Washington at
the Clinton conference. Breaking down Unionist resistance is the the
prospect of a large-scale influx of foreign investment that has shied
away because of the
the troubles, from which all Irish sectors
could expect to profit.
There are already 40 U.S. companies set up in Northern Ireland, most
having entered in the past five years with a total investment stake of
$850 million. Over 350 U.S. businessmen attended the Clinton trade
and investment conference. They listened to U.S. commerce secretary
Ron Brown present the administration's outlook. Brown called it
commercial diplomacy. He indicated that support was given to
Gerry Adams and the peace process because
people have a right to
expect that risks for peace will bring opportunities and growth.
He was applauded by more than 100 businessmen from Northern Ireland, many of whom were discussing joint venture arrangements with their U.S. counterparts. One of the agreements reached was between the U.S. Lockheed Martin and Shorts Missile Systems of Belfast for production and marketing of the Shorts Starstreak air-to-air missile proposed for use by the U.S. army Apache helicopter.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the whole U.S. approach to the
situation has been the readiness to operate with a movement condemned
over a long period as
terrorist, and with allegedly left-wing
features, radically nationalist at least. At the same time, the
tactics of Gerry Adams in developing relations with U.S. transnational
business interests and strategic aims that can hardly have Irish and
democracy in mind are open to wonder.