Belfast Telegraph

IRA is old news in US but Finucane is a current affair

WikiLeaks revelations about the Northern Bank robbery caused few ripples in the US. Not so the Finucane case, says Jim Dee

If any further evidence was needed about how far the peace process has travelled, consider this: WikiLeaks' Belfast-related bombshells barely registered on the Washington Beltway's radar this week.

In the US capital, news that former White House envoy Mitchell Reiss was told five years ago by a former MI5 head that the spy agency would co-operate fully with an inquiry into the killing of lawyer Pat Finucane made no headlines.

Nor did WikiLeaks' disclosure that Bertie Ahern believed that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were members of the IRA's military command and hence would have had prior knowledge of the Northern Bank robbery.

None of this dented the US news cycle for a simple reason: when Americans think about the island of Ireland these days, they think about the Celtic Tiger's implosion and its potential to send shock-waves through the EU and US economies, devastating enough to sink job-recovery prospects here.

And, in spite of sporadic outbreaks of dissident republican violence, for most Americans - including many US politicians long-invested in it - the peace process is a success story whose potential remaining hiccups don't warrant hyper-concern anymore.

As such, news that Dublin considered Adams to be a leading IRA figure was met with a collective yawn by those who've dealt with him on a regular basis for years.

In spite of his repeated IRA denials, it would be hard to find any US heavy-hitters who believe him. Most view such denials as necessary avoidance that have nothing to do with how he pursues the permanent bedding-down of the peace.

The post-9/11 world has brought many real, or imagined, terrorist enemies into America's sights and the IRA is no longer one of them. Incidents like the Northern Bank robbery did raise eyebrows at the time.

But, as has happened throughout the peace process - including the IRA bombing of Canary Wharf, Manchester and Thiepval Barracks - Americans involved in negotiations have rarely shunned Adams or McGuinness.

Bruce Morrison, an ex-congressman instrumental in getting Bill and Hillary Clinton involved in the peace process, said that fresh allegations about the pasts of Adams and McGuinness aren't likely to lower their Washington stock.

"The history is history. No one is going back to decide who did what when in the past," Morrison said. "The question is: what's going on now? The page has been turned. Nobody is refusing to meet with anybody because of a history."

Attorney Paul Quinn, a long-time Washington fixture who advised the late senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island on Irish affairs, echoed Morrison's sentiments.

Adams, Quinn stressed, "has played a critical, indispensable, role in moving the process ahead - and in turning the IRA, at least most elements of it, towards the political process and away from violence".

"I don't think [the status of Adams or McGuinness] in Northern Ireland, or their relations with the United States government, would be diminished by the casting of additional speculation about what they do with their time, or what they did with it," he said.

However, both men said that the killing of Pat Finucane remains an issue of great concern to many Irish-Americans. "I think it's quite important. It's unfinished business and it's the tip of the collusion iceberg," said Morrison.

He said since most of the major issues - including policing reform, demilitarisation and paramilitary decommissioning - have been tackled, "in some ways [the Finucane case] is more intense, because there are fewer things to be intense about".

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