- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Northern Ireland day

Northern Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day reception in Washington was overshadowed by the visit to Capitol Hill yesterday by the sisters and fiancee of a man who was killed by members of the Irish Republican Army.

Northern Irish officials emphasized the improvements in the British province over the past 10 years and noted that violence between Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups had been reduced dramatically.

They talked about a booming economy and unprecedented levels of tourism, but the legion of reporters who attended the reception at the Russell Senate Office Building were interested in the five sisters and fiancee of Robert McCartney. When they left the reception without addressing the press, most of the reporters followed.

Paul Murphy, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, praised the “quiet dignity and great courage” of the sisters, who have denounced the IRA and refused to be silenced by warnings from a leading member of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing.

He candidly addressed the political problems in the province, where the Northern Ireland Assembly has been disbanded and the peace process is “stalemated.”

“It hasn’t collapsed, but it isn’t going anywhere,” he said.

The 1998 Good Friday accord, brokered by the Clinton administration, established the joint provincial government between Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant political parties, but it also required all paramilitary groups to disarm by 2000. The IRA has refused to turn in its weapons, and both the British and Irish governments have accused it of stealing $50 million in a December bank robbery in the provincial capital, Belfast.

Mr. Murphy said that, despite the political collapse, everyday life in Northern Ireland has improved because of the Good Friday accord.

“There was a time when you could not walk the streets for fear of being killed in a bomb outrage,” he said. “Today, it is a changed place beyond recognition. The change has not stopped because we are at a stalemate politically.”

He praised the United States for its support of the economic development of the province, which now has one of Europe’s lowest unemployment rates at 4.5 percent.

“That means that 95 out of 100 people are working. That was an impossible dream 10 to 20 years ago,” he said.

Tim Losty, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington, said the province has opened a campaign to promote Northern Ireland as “capable, competent and outward-looking.”

British Ambassador David Manning said manufacturing output rose 25 percent and consumer income increased 50 percent in the past decade.

More than 60 percent of high school graduates go to college, and 2 million tourists visited the province of 1.7 million residents last year, he said.

“Remarkable things have been going on in Northern Ireland,” the ambassador said.

Stout diplomat

John Bruton, former Irish prime minister and now ambassador from the European Union in Washington, kicked off St. Patrick’s Day last night at Finn McCool’s Irish Public House by pouring the first pint of the celebration.

Mr. Bruton drew a draft of Beamish Stout, brewed in Cork City, Ireland, in the bar named for an ancient hero of Irish myth.

“It’s truly wonderful to be part of these holiday festivities,” Mr. Bruton said, noting that this is his first St. Patrick’s Day away from Ireland.

“I’ve enjoyed Beamish for years, and every time I drink it, it reminds me of home.”

Mr. Bruton said he has been “looking forward to spending St. Patrick’s Day with new friends and celebrating Erin go braugh [Ireland forever].”

Bill Wetmore of Scottish & Newcastle Importers, which markets Beamish Stout in the United States, added, “What better way to kick off the Irish holiday than with Mr. Bruton pouring an authentic Irish stout.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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