Monday, May 23, 2011

The Non-Existent Irish-American Vote

Posted: 05/18/11 01:30 PM ET

I'm delighted to see President Obama make good on his campaign promise to visit Ireland. He has a great ability to inspire and if any place needs a 'yes we can moment,' it's Ireland.

There are already the inevitable suggestions that he is making the trip as part of his 2012 re-election campaign. The Irish Independent reported that "his popularity is likely to soar among the Irish-American vote." And the Irish Examiner claimed that the Irish- American vote "will be vital" in the election. But the thing is, there is no 'Irish vote.' Irish-Americans are Democrats and Republicans, Catholics and Protestants, and there are no galvanizing issues around which a significant number of them rally.

You don't find breakdowns of voting on the basis of ethnicity, except for the Latino vote. When people suggest x% of Irish-Americans voted a certain way, you'll likely find they simply take the percentage of Catholics that voted a certain way and call that the Irish vote.

But that is spurious. More than half of Irish America is Protestant. And the Irish are but one segment of the Catholic vote. Latinos now make up the largest segment of that vote, which also includes Italians, French and Poles. So you can't simply take the Catholic vote and suggest that it is Irish. Nor can you assume that all Irish-Catholics vote the same way.

Catholic voters are of interest in the U.S. because they are swing voters -- they have been on the winning side of presidential elections since 1972. Hillary Clinton got the majority of the Catholic vote in the Democratic primaries and she didn't win the nomination. So if you believe there is an Irish vote and Hillary Clinton got it, wouldn't that mean that Obama won despite the Irish vote?

The fact is, demographics and political power have changed in America. Rahm Emanuel was just inaugurated as the first Jewish mayor of Chicago, a city long led by the Daleys. When Thomas Menino became the mayor of Boston back in 1993, he was the first non- Irish mayor in about 60 years. Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill and Daniel Patrick Moynihan are all, sadly, no longer with us.

People who vote can be many things: male/female, Catholic/Protestant, blue collar worker/college-educated, urban/rural, etc. The proverbial white guy in rural Pennsylvania (a place I know something about as I come from there) will make up his mind about Obama (if he hasn't already) because of the economy, Social Security, Medicare, guns, abortion, education, Afghanistan and several other factors.

You could count on one hand the number of people who would vote for the President on the basis of his stopping in Ireland for less than 24 hours.

I think it's great that the president is visiting for the simple reason that there is no surer way for him to have a positive feeling about Ireland than to visit himself. We see it every year with the impact Ireland has on our George J. Mitchell Scholars. And I recall when President Clinton rang Senator Kennedy from Ireland in 1995 to say his days there were the best of his presidency to date. But I won't pedal nonsense about an Irish vote that doesn't exist. The visit simply is what it is. The president has already visited ten European countries. It would be a disappointment if he didn't visit Ireland. It just gets silly to suggest he's going to all these countries for votes when most Americans won't even register that he's been there. Do any Irish people vote for the Irish prime minister because he's visited the U.S.?

Some Irish will also go along with the fiction of the power of the Irish vote because, as one journalist once said to me, 'it's what we want to believe about ourselves.' It reminds me of something said by the haughty JohnnyPateenMike in Martin McDonagh's play, The Cripple of Inishmaan: "Ireland mustn't be such a bad place so, if the Yanks want to come to Ireland to do their filming."

The only concern I have is that while some spin this trip to be more than it is, that only feeds into a sort of complacency about the real work that needs to be done to sustain the relationship for future generations. As the American civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman would say, it's time to sell the shadow for the substance.


I have not always agreed with Ms. Vargo since the days when she served on Ted Kennedy’s staff. However, she is “spot on” in her assessment of the non-existence of a cohesive Irish American voting block. In a way, that is probably a credit to the majority of Irish Americans in that it indicates that they are people who form their own opinions on issues and candidates for political office and vote in accordance with their own beliefs and the dictates of their own conscience. I, for one, would much rather be challenged for voting as a free thinking individual than be considered to be part of a group who are led around “like a bunch of sheep” by a small opinionated minority.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Immigration reform: Just a political show

By Sam Youngman - 05/11/11 06:07 AM ET

Immigration reform is dead.

The White House knows it. Capitol Hill knows it. And deep down in their hearts, even those advocating for legislation that would provide illegal immigrants with a path to citizenship know it.

Legislative high-wire acts like raising the debt ceiling and avoiding government shutdowns are slam-dunks compared to immigration reform. Even passing healthcare reform might have been easier.

Yet there was President Obama on the southern border Tuesday, declaring that reform is one of the “big things” America can do.

The truth is, no matter how results-oriented Obama might be, he doesn’t have to pass immigration reform to win the Hispanic vote in 2012, and with it another four years in office. He just has to look like he’s trying, and get Republicans to take the bait and pick a fight.

In 2006, then-President George W. Bush made a serious run at reform, and it almost killed the Republican Party.

The nation’s fastest-growing voting bloc — hardly a monolithic group — was given a choice between the compassionate pro-amnesty Democrats who are at odds with Hispanics on social issues and a GOP that seemed to be led by anti-immigrant rants from Tom Tancredo despite cries for solutions from Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Republicans never really recovered on the issue, and the White House knows it.

McCain, who lost the presidential election to Obama and then went to the right on immigration to win another Senate term, makes a great Exhibit A.

White House officials have emphatically denied that Obama is merely playing politics on immigration, even though the administration has yet to offer any legislation or hardcore engagement on the issue.

Instead, Obama has held a series of meetings with Hispanic leaders, casting them as aimed at pressuring Congress to do something.

A Republican participant in one of the meetings said Obama is only “serious about appearing to be serious on the issue.”

“I sense that he is in deep [expletive] with the Hispanic community, which is a necessary base,” the Republican said. “The evidence against him would lead to a conviction. He has not done squat on this issue.”

So the president will make a big speech and hold numerous events to show how serious he is about getting something done on an issue where nothing will get done.

Republican strategists say that is politics at its most cynical, but that it will probably work.

“This approach has worked before,” said GOP strategist Leslie Sanchez. “It has become a campaign tactic rather than a legislative approach to solve a problem.”

Hispanic voters have matured as a bloc, Sanchez said, and they know when they are being used.

To make matters worse for Obama, Democrats and pro-reform groups have all but given up on the president, accusing him of not engaging enough or not using executive orders to right some of the wrongs.

Democrats like Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) have signaled that they have run out of patience with Obama, and are warning that it is not enough for the president to pay lip service to the issue.

Gutierrez has all but given up on a legislative solution, and is pressing Obama to do more with executive orders. The congressman told The Hill on Tuesday that it is no longer enough for Obama to accuse Republicans of not coming to the table.

“If it’s to show the community where the obstacle exists, the community already knows this,” Gutierrez said.

Despite the growing chorus of anger toward Obama from both sides of the aisle, the president is in good shape on the issue because he looks like he’s trying, and the opposition will shoot itself in the foot if it engages.

Even Gutierrez acknowledges that the politics make sense for Obama, saying he doesn’t “begrudge” the president’s immigration photo-ops with “Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty.” Obama recently invited two of the Hispanic stars of those shows to a White House meeting on immigration.

The Republican participant in one of Obama’s meetings acknowledged that for Obama to be successful, the GOP need only be predictable in going apoplectic over the prospect of amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Republican strategists see the political dangers of Obama appearing to take the lead on the issue, and they are secretly terrified that the new Tea Party GOP will be even more vitriolic in its opposition to reform than in 2006.

“I think as Republicans we need a position on this that is other than the Tancredo position — ‘Send ’em all back and to hell with them all,’ ” said one Republican.

But it is unlikely that the serious GOP 2012 candidates are going to go in search of another divisive issue that could enrage the Tea Partiers.

That leaves the Republican Party at best silent on the issue and at worst perceived as racist and anti-Hispanic.

And it leaves Obama as the compassionate, results-oriented president who will get points for the effort while Hispanic voters scratch their heads and wonder why the Republican Party is so hell-bent on alienating them.


Assuming that this is the Presidents strategy on a “hot button” issue that affects an estimated 13 – 15 million undocumented immigrants, why would anybody think that he is sincerely interested in any of the other issues that are only of interest to Irish Americans? Promises made by politicians seeking re-election , (including the President of the United States) mean absolutely nothing. If President Obama is, in fact, the compassionate, results – oriented president that he likes to project himself to be, it is time that we saw some tangible results on this and other issues of interest to Irish Americans.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Saturday, May 14, 2011

All we want is the truth about the hunger-strike on 30th anniversary

(Suzanne Breen, Sunday World)

This week is the 30th anniversary of the start of the hunger-strikers’ deaths. Award-winning journalist Suzanne Breen speaks to the mother of one of 10 dead men and a prisoner who was on the IRA fast.

She had no intention of letting him die. "I was horrified when other mothers didn't take their boys off the hunger-strike as they neared death," says Peggy O'Hara.

"I told Patsy, 'I don't care about Ireland or the world, I'll save you.'" He took a heart attack after eight weeks of refusing food in the H-Block protest, drifting in and out of consciousness.

"He whispered to me 'I'm sorry mammy, we didn't win. Let the fight go on.'" And so Peggy O'Hara honoured his wish. "Watching him die was wild hard. He was only 23.

"I sat beside him, moistened his lips and stroked his hair. Every Derry mother thinks her son is gorgeous but Patsy was. He had lovely dark eyes. In the end, he couldn't see out of them."

This week is the 30th anniversary of the death of the first hunger-striker, Bobby Sands. Patsy O'Hara died 16 days later and the deaths continued until August 1981. But anniversaries mean nothing to his mother. "Patsy is with me all the time," she says.

Aged 82 and immaculately dressed with a jet black beehive hair-style, Peggy O'Hara sits in her living room which is a shrine to her dead son. A gold crucifix Pope John Paul II sent him before he died is her proudest possession.

Ideological contradictions abound. A painting of Patsy O'Hara – a member of the Marxist INLA – hangs on a wall beside a dozen pictures of Padre Pio, the Blessed Virgin, and the Child of Prague.

The family pub had been blown up by the IRA and Peggy O'Hara certainly hadn't urged any of her sons into politics or violence: "When I heard one of them was at a civil rights' march, I went straight down, took the placard off him, went over to the man who gave it to him, strung it around his neck and hit him with my umbrella."

She began attending the marches herself, to keep an eye on her boys: "I saw peaceful protestors beaten to the ground and that changed me politically." In 1979, Patsy O'Hara was jailed for eight years for paramilitary offences.

Peggy remains "very proud" of her son but believes she should have taken him off the hunger-strike: "Patsy died for a socialist republic, not for what we have now. He didn't die for Stormont, a re-branded RUC, or accepting British rule."

Understandably, there is no sympathy for the hunger-strikers or their families in the unionist community. The 10 men who died had killed or were heavily involved in paramilitary activity. 'The slogan, 'The hunger-strikers had a choice, their victims had none', encapsulates that feeling.

But in the nationalist community, the hunger-strikers are generally viewed with either sympathy or support. Their deaths remain an open wound with some republicans believing the last six men could have been saved had an offer from the British been accepted.

Gerard Hodgins, then aged 22, was 20 days on hunger-strike when the fast was finally called off in October 1981. Every time he visits Milltown Cemetery – where Bobby Sands, Joe McDonnell, and Kieran Doherty are buried – he knows he could be lying there too.

"I was totally prepared to die. The first few days on hunger-strike were the hardest. After that, it gets easier physically and the battle is in your head. Though, the food we were offered in the H-Blocks improved hugely in an attempt to tempt us off.

"Tomato ketchup suddenly appeared on our pies. It was the first time in six years in jail, I'd ever seen tomato ketchup!"

Hodgins was worried his parents would take him off the protest when he lost consciousness: "I thought about a marriage of convenience to an IRA girl who would then become my next of kin and let me die."

Thirty years later, he has "no regrets" about his choices and speaks of the "tremendous courage" of the 10 men who died. But he questions Sinn Féin's account of events.

Richard O'Rawe, the prisoners' publicity officer during the hunger-strike, has claimed the British made an offer effectively granting four of the hunger-strikers' five demands but the proposal was rejected by Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and their 'kitchen cabinet'.

Hodgins initially didn't believe him: "I called Richard a lying b******. On release from jail, I'd worked in the Sinn Féin press office in the late 1990s. I wasn't anti-Sinn Féin.

"But then, at a meeting in Donegal, I heard Richard answering every question thrown at him from the floor. I began to think, very reluctantly, 'this man is telling the truth'. I started looking into it myself. I listened to the leadership's shifting stories.

"British government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act supported Richard's account. I showed up at a Sinn Féin briefing on the hunger-strike in Gulladuff in 2009 – they wouldn't even let me in."

Richard O'Rawe says Hodgins is one of a growing number of former blanketmen who believe him: "After I first spoke out in 2005, I had pariah status in West Belfast. Now, so many ex-prisoners come up, shake my hand and tell me they've had their eyes opened.

"The hunger-strikers' faces are constantly before me. It's a horrible story of a small Sinn Féin clique deciding that my comrades had to die to open up the way for Sinn Féin in elections."

Gerard Hodgins believes the truth about the "murky world" of negotiations between the republican leadership and the British during the hunger-strike wouldn't hurt Sinn Féin politically but that the leadership fears it may "tarnish their reputations in the history books".

He is urging Sinn Féin to release details of all British offers – verbal and written – and all internal republican documents, from 1981. "On the 30th anniversary of the hunger-strikers' deaths, that would be a fitting tribute," Hodgins says.

"It would mean far more than Munich-style marches carrying hunger-strikers' pictures, or the crocodile tears about their sacrifice, or the fancy wall murals. All we want is the truth."


I came to know Peggy O’Hara and her son Tony through her brother, Joe McCloskey who is a very dear friend and Brother Hibernian. I have visited Peggy in her home in Derry on several occasions when I was visiting Joe. On those visits we spoke of many things including the story of Patsy’s involvement in the republican movement, his arrest and incarceration, his participation in the blanket protest, and finally his decision to join the hunger strike in 1981 which culminated in a horrible death by starvation along with nine other brave young Irish Patriots.

I have read Richard O’Rawe’s book “Blanketmen” which is a first hand, “blow by blow” account of the miserable conditions that these men were exposed to and what caused them to make the decision to embark on what they considered was the last avenue left open to them - the Hunger Strike of 1981. After reading the book and subsequently receiving first hand information from Patsy’s family and from “Mags” Devine Thompkins, sister of Mickey Devine, the last hunger striker to die, I have concluded that there could very well be reason to doubt Sinn Fein’s account of the Hunger Strike. “Mags” Devine married Billy Thompkins, a friend from Boston who was also a very active member of FOIF. She and the Devine family, including Mickey’s son, Mickey Jr., shared the same views as Richard O’Rawe, the O’Hara family, and IRA legend Brendan Hughes. I believe that “Blanketmen” and Brendan Hughes’ book, “Voices from the Grave” should be mandatory reading for anybody who wishes to learn all aspects of the armed conflict in Ireland and its effect on the participants.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has called for an Independent Truth Commission to investigate state sponsored murders during the armed conflict for some time now. A very simple yet very pertinent question arises if a Truth Commission is ever convened: Will the truth about the events surrounding the Hunger Strike of 1981 be thoroughly and impartially investigated and will their “unvarnished conclusions” be made available to the families of the hunger strikers and the general public? Surely, the families of these brave young men deserve to know all of the facts surrounding the death of their loved ones. The truth shall set us free!

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Monday, May 9, 2011

To all Hibernians,

I, for one, am deeply disappointed and more than mildly disturbed that the recent press release, as well as the letter sent to President Obama, from the A.O.H. National Board, makes no mention whatsoever other then a paltry single sentence on one of the most pressing issues facing the Irish in America today - that of Irish immigration.

There are an estimated 40 - 50 thousand Irish nationals living in the United States today in an undocumented status. The vast majority of these people came here legally on the visa waiver program. Subsequently, they found that the United States offered them far more opportunity to make a better life for themselves than was available in Ireland. They decided to stay in violation of the terms of their visa waiver. To be sure, this was wrong and I am not trying to condone it, but overstaying is merely a misdemeanor in U.S. federal law not a felony.

We, as Hibernians, are bound by our national constitution to work on behalf of Irish immigrants. Our advocacy for them has been one of our major duties since our inception in 1836. The resolution to the plight of the undocumented Irish in the U.S. is not an insurmountable problem and it can be achieved if a sufficient amount of political will on the part of both nations to do so was applied. Unlike other issues mentioned in the press release and the letter to President Obama, there is no third nation involved in the resolution to the plight of the undocumented Irish.

I also believe, very strongly, that a permanent resolution to the plight of undocumented Irish nationals currently living in the U.S. must be reached before expending political capital on any legislation which would allow more Irish to come here on non-immigrant (temporary) visas such as the E-3 Program between the U.S. and Australia. The E-3 Visa Program as it is currently written does nothing to alleviate the problems of undocumented Irish nationals currently living in the United States.

Speaking as a former A.O.H. National Chairman of Immigration, it is my honest belief that the immediate need for a change in U.S. immigration policy that would provide a resolution to the undocumented Irish issue should take preference over issues that took place over 30 years ago.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America

Sunday, May 8, 2011

US confirms four victims of Bin Laden raid were unarmed

By Martin Evans in London Friday May 06 2011

FOUR of the five people killed when US Navy Seals stormed Osama bin Laden's hideout were unarmed, contrary to America's original version of events, it was disclosed last night.

The al-Qa'ida chief had weapons --an AK47 assault rifle and a pistol -- within arm's reach but did not get to them before being shot, officials said.

The White House had insisted US forces had been "engaged in a firefight throughout the operation" when they attacked the compound in Pakistan on Sunday night.

But rather than mounting the assault amid a hail of bullets, as was first suggested, Pentagon sources have now confirmed the only shots came from a sole gunman.

Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, Bin Laden's trusted courier, had been hiding behind a door in a guest house adjacent to the main building when the raiding party began their assault.

He opened fire, but was soon killed, after which no other shots were fired from within the compound during the 38-minute mission.

Despite this admission, official sources insisted US Navy Seals had faced a "threatening and hostile environment" as they scoured the compound looking for their target. But they were forced to confirm yesterday that none of the other four people killed -- including one of Bin Laden's sons and an unnamed woman -- were carrying weapons.

The latest inconsistencies will intensify theories that the Pentagon has not been entirely transparent about events.


The most recent account differs considerably from the information first released on Monday.

What is known is that, on the orders of President Barack Obama, a small team travelling in attack helicopters crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan at around 8.00pm on Sunday evening.

As they arrived at the compound in Abbottabad, Bin Laden's courier, thought to be the person who unwittingly led the CIA to their target, opened fire. He was quickly shot dead and no American troops were wounded.

The team then moved through the compound as they hunted for Bin Laden.

Despite having spent months gathering intelligence, US officials have admitted they were not 100pc certain he was in the compound.

The team then encountered another man, thought to be al-Kuwaiti's brother, a close aide of the al-Qa'ida leader. Despite being unarmed, he was also shot dead.

An unidentified woman was also killed after officials claimed she was caught up in crossfire.

The White House also confirmed one of Bin Laden's sons was shot dead in the raid, but initially failed to give details, adding to the confusion by naming both Hamza and Khaled as victims; last night they confirmed it was Khaled.

Troops then entered the compound's main building and located Bin Laden and his wife in a room on the second floor. US officials insisted bin Laden did resist and had weapons within his reach.


I would make the following suggestion to any bleeding hearts who think that it makes a damn bit of difference whether this murderous animal was armed or not. Direct your sympathies toward the three thousand unarmed victims of 9/11 and the loved ones that they left behind. God Bless Navy Seal Team #6, God Bless our Troops, and God Bless America. Justice has been served.

Jack Meehan, Past National President

Ancient Order of Hibernians in America