- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

Pluck of the Irish

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and leaders from Northern Ireland are due in Washington next week for St. Patrick’s Day, but their visit will not be entirely festive.

Mr. Ahern and Northern Ireland’s David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, arrive at a time of deep division in Northern Irish politics.

In meetings with U.S. officials, they are expected to discuss the deadlock in talks to restore political institutions suspended in October 2002, after the rebel Irish Republican Army was accused of spying on Northern Irish authorities. Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary, Paul Murphy, who is running daily affairs in the province, is also scheduled to visit here next week.

Mr. Ahern will address the American Ireland Fund on Tuesday. The following day, St. Patrick’s Day, he meets President Bush to deliver the traditional bowl of shamrocks and visits Congress for a luncheon hosted by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and talks with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

In his meeting with Mr. Bush, he is expected to review the status of the Northern Irish peace process and discuss talks he had yesterday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mr. Bush is preparing for a visit to Ireland in June for a summit meeting with leaders of the European Union. Ireland currently holds the revolving EU presidency.

Northern Irish politics became more complicated in November when the hard-line Protestant Democratic Unionist Party won the most seats in elections for the suspended assembly. They edged out the Ulster Unionist Party, which has worked for years to achieve a settlement with Catholic parties.

Sinn Fein, the IRA ally, bumped the moderate Catholic Social Democratic and Liberal Party into fourth place.

Mr. Ahern last week warned the IRA against undermining peace in Northern Ireland.

“The continuation of paramilitary activity by [the IRA] negates any prospect of achieving inclusive partnership politics in Northern Ireland,” he said in a speech, adding that he believes Sinn Fein understands “this reality.”

“For that to happen, the republican movement needs to fully understand and accept the imperative of definitely ending both in words and deed the culture of paramilitarism.”

He also urged unionist groups, which oppose any attempt to annex Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, to “unequivocally embrace the principle and practice of inclusive partnership politics.”

The Northern Ireland Assembly was established by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which set forth a process for cooperation between Catholic and Protestant political parties and the governments of Britain and Ireland.

Venezuelan anger

Venezuela’s ambassador to the Organization of American States is prepared to make a formal complaint against the United States for meddling in the political crisis facing his government.

Ambassador Jose Valero said the complaint to the Washington-based OAS Permanent Council could come “in a matter of days.”

Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chavez has accused the Bush administration of encouraging his opponents, who collected more than 3 million signatures on petitions to remove him from office. Venezuela election officials invalidated all but 1.8 million names.

“The Chavez government is gathering evidence to lodge a complaint over meddling by the Bush administration,” Mr. Valero told Venezuela’s Globovision TV this week.

“There is a conspiracy led by fundamentalist groups at the Department of State. You have to respect democratic rules, and you cannot allow a foreign government to be breaking them and supporting elements seeking to destabilize democratic institutions in Venezuela.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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