Belfast Telegraph

Would you mind repeating that, Mr Congressman? US politician goofs during Northern Ireland debate

By Adrian Rutherford

It was supposed to be a high-level discussion on Northern Ireland by US Congressmen, but there was one problem – some didn't seem to know the first thing about us.

From believing we had five counties instead of six, to incorrectly terming the Republic as "regular Ireland", some representatives were badly caught out by their knowledge – or rather their lack of it.

Even Richard Haass, who spent 33 days here trying to reach consensus on key issues, confused us with North Korea at one stage.

The slip-ups occurred during a meeting of the US Government's foreign affairs subcommittee in Washington on Tuesday evening.

Members were briefed by witnesses including former Police Ombudsman Nuala O'Loan and Geraldine Finucane, the wife of the murdered solicitor Pat Finucane.

They also had a chance to ask questions – causing some to put their foot in it.

Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was particularly confused, branding the Republic as "regular Ireland" on at least two occasions. The first came as he recalled a visit to Ballyporeen in Co Tipperary, the ancestral home of President Ronald Reagan.

He noted: "There were a lot of Protestants there that I met and not one Protestant during that time complained to me that he was being discriminated against in the regular part of Ireland."

Later, when questioning Dr Haass, the Californian representative again got his words in a muddle. "Let me ask you about Ireland," he began. "Has there been any evidence that Protestants have been discriminated against in southern Ireland, in the regular part of Ireland?"

Dr Haass quickly put him right.

Mr Rohrabacher also seemed to lose track of the number of counties in Northern Ireland.

He said: "I personally believe the issue that we're talking about today would not exist had the British not snookered the Irish into the original agreement to give up those five counties."

Quickly corrected, he joked: "Six counties, pardon me, maybe I'll leave the British with one".

Others were more open about their total lack of knowledge on Northern Ireland. Texas Congressman Randy Weber indicated as much when he said: "I'm glad to hear that our colleagues are experts. I'm looking forward to hearing them and the witnesses. Let's go."

Even Dr Haass was not immune to a slip-up. When discussing the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, he momentarily mixed us up with North Korea.

He said: "There's all sorts of delusions, damage and the like and obviously North Korea... Northern Ireland – I apologise – is no exception, and one day North Korea will be no exception."

Belfast Telegraph


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