- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

Ulster identity

Lord John Laird, a jovial and glib conversationalist, was momentarily speechless when he saw hundreds of men in kilts, women in plaids and U.S. and Scottish flags flying on the Mall with the Capitol framing the whole tartan picture.

"This is fantastic," he said of Saturday's festival held to celebrate National Tartan Day.

Mr. Laird, himself in a kilt, had come to Washington specifically to find such an audience to promote a part of Britain that is associated more with religious strife and terrorist bombs than with Celtic music, culture and a unique dialect.

Mr. Laird, a member of the British House of Lords, is chairman of the Ulster Scots Agency, established under the Good Friday accords, the framework for peace in Northern Ireland.

He was in Washington last week at the invitation of Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat from southwestern Virginia, where a large number of voters trace their ancestry to Scots who migrated from the British province of Ulster in Northern Ireland.

His visit was overshadowed by the Tartan Day celebration that began at the Capitol last week with a ceremony to honor Sir Sean Connery. But Mr. Laird did not mind.

The three-day gathering of Scottish Americans was providing him with a platform to spread his message about another breed of Scots.

"Every movement has its time, and our time has come," he said.

The term Scotch-Irish is frequently used in the United States to describe descendants of Ulster Scots, whose ancestors came from Scotland.

The migration began in the 17th century, with Scots moving to Northern Ireland and two centuries later to the United States. Huge numbers settled in Appalachia.

The Scotch-Irish tend to be Protestant, while Irish-Americans tend to be Catholic mirroring the division in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Mr. Laird emphasized that his mission is inclusive, crossing religious lines and trying to promote better relations between both communities in Ulster, where Protestants hold the majority.

"We see ourselves as part of the peace process," he said.

"Northern Ireland is infinitely better than it was, but we're not out of the woods yet."

Death penalty-free

A European politician promoting a ban on the death penalty believes U.S. public opinion is turning against capital punishment.

Renate Wohlwend of Liechtenstein last week completed a 10-day tour of Virginia, Illinois and Wisconsin to urge the extension of what she calls a "death-penalty-free zone" established in 43 European countries.

As she ended her visit in Washington, she told reporters she believes the "tide is slowly turning." Public opinion polls, however, still show a majority of Americans support the death penalty.

Mrs. Wohlwend, a vice president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said, "The serious allegations that the death penalty in the United States is being applied in a discriminatory, arbitrary and racist manner, and possibly to innocent persons, are equally worrying.

"Nevertheless, I have got the impression during my visit that the tide is slowly turning.

"More and more Americans are realizing that their fellow citizens in the 12 states which have outlawed capital punishment have got it right."

She said Europe will continue to press the United States for the complete abolition of the death penalty.

"The system is not only broken, it is not fixable," she said.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:


• Presidents Gaidar Aliev of Azerbaijan and Robert Kocharian of Armenia, who meet President Bush to discuss the results of the peace talks last week in Key West, Fla.

• Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss.

• Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile.

• Brazilian Health Minister Jose Serra, who discusses the upcoming Summit of the Americas with invited guests at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

• King Abdullah II of Jordan, who meets with President Bush. He speaks at a National Press Club luncheon on Wednesday.

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