In early March, Party Leader, David Ford, Deputy Leader, Eileen Bell, and General Secretary, Stephen Farry spent a week in Washington DC to attend a number of meetings and receptions, to renew contacts old and new, and to build up the profile of Alliance in the United States. Here Stephen Farry gives his diary of a busy week.
David Ford and I are picked up at Dulles by Michael McDowell, the good friend of Alliance in Washington, who is putting us up for the week. Eileen has already arrived with her friends. Early to bed.
The only free day for sight-seeing in an otherwise busy week.
First meeting with Michael Lind of the New America Foundation. David Ford is stunned as the first subject raised is Proportional Representation (even in the United States!) This is a very useful discussion on efforts being made to overcome identity politics in the US. Some lessons for Northern Ireland are readily apparent, some useful policy ideas emerge. Afterwards, it’s off to the State Department for the first of two meetings this week. This time, it is with the officials that deal with the Northern Ireland brief. Security is notably tighter post 9/11. There is considerable interest in Alliance’s role in saving the Agreement. There is a brief opportunity for a view of the Northern Ireland Bureau’s new offices in DC, and a chat with officials on how to handle the upcoming week. The day concludes with a meeting with the National Strategy Information Center to explore strategies of promoting a culture of lawfulness in societies where there are poor attitudes to the rule of law. If it can work in Sicily, Los Angeles, Georgia, then why not Northern Ireland?
Today is dominated by a visit to Capitol Hill to talk with the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.. It seems that a lot of people on the Hill had been prepared to tolerate Sinn Fein’s links to Cuba, Libya etc. But since the IRA were caught in bed with the FARC, the change in attitudes has been amazing. Some of their most vocal backers and nor major critics. The United States has clear national interests in Colombia. Over 80% of the hard drugs consumed in the US come from there. The current regime is the third largest recipient of US Foreign Aid. Formal hearings seem inevitable. Sinn Fein’s low profile in Washington that week was notable. But, of course, they were fund-raising elsewhere.
The evening sees a series of receptions: the America-Ireland Fund, the South African Embassy, and finally the Irish Embassy.
The day begins with the Global Citizen’s Circle Breakfast. After being given an award, David Trimble digs himself a little further into a hole by refusing to back down on his ill-conceived comments about the Republic of Ireland. Those around him are exasperated.
David Ford heads off to the White House. He has a brief word with President Bush and Colin Powell amongst others, and then it is a photocall with all the party leaders. David Ford is reduced to a par with Gerry Adams. Next, he is off to the Speaker’s Lunch, with another opportunity to network with Congressmen, some bright, others dim.
Afterwards, we all meet up for some informal discussions with a lobbyist on the potential for Alliance fund-raising in the United States.
Finally, it is off to the American-Ireland Fund Gala Dinner, with tickets courtesy of the Dunfeys. Over 1,000 fit into the Ronald Reagan Center. David does some media interviews.
A hasty meeting is arranged with the Secretary of State and officials to discuss the proposed amnesty and David Trimble’s idea for an early ‘border poll’. He is left with a clear picture of Alliance views. Lunch at the British Embassy is yet another opportunity to network.
Alliance looks in on the Ulster-Scots reception before rushing to meet the President of the National Democratic Institute. Voting systems
The day ends with a party co-hosted by Michael and Ambassador Don Johnson, formerly of the Decommissioning Commission. On the sidelines, David Trimble finally says thank you to Alliance for saving his bacon last November.
Friday begins with a meeting with Jim Steinberg who was Richard Haass’ predecessor as the head of the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department and is successor as head of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is likely to have a senior role in any future Democratic Administration.
The next meeting, a formal meeting with Richard Haass and his staff, is the most important of the week. The Ambassador seems genuinely interested in Alliance’s views on the proposed amnesty, the likelihood of future crises in the Assembly, and how to deal with continued divisions in Northern Ireland. The meeting overruns.
After lunch, with some lobbyists, one further meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations is squeezed in before it is time to rush for the plane. Once again, Alliance’s role in saving the Agreement and changes to the Assembly voting system dominate the conversation.