Walsh Will Be Missed

THE departure of Congressman Jim Walsh from Congress removes one of the finest public servants of recent times.

Jim, who is 60, walked away while at the top of his game. He faced a tough re-election battle in his Syracuse district, but he was generally expected to win as he had been victorious in even tougher circumstances in 2006 against the same opponent.

Jim was the exact opposite of the blowhard stereotype of politician so beloved in the media. When you talked to him he listened intently, and his desire to help with the Irish agenda sprung from a deep sense of commitment to Irish issues.

His office in Congress is bedecked with Irish mementoes, including a hurling stick, and the many tributes to him from party leaders in Ireland who have come to rely on his advice and help were heartfelt.

As chairman of the Congressional Friends of Ireland Walsh distinguished himself by his hard work and commitment to Irish issues.

It is hardly surprising that Jim decided to walk away under his own terms. He was never one to seek the limelight or insist on being treated as above others just because he was a member of Congress.

He was a keen student of Irish history and made himself an expert on the Irish peace process by repeated trips over there, and by reading everything about it he could get his hands on. He was always available to meet with visiting politicians from Ireland.

On immigration he was always willing to help, meeting with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform on several occasions.

His Walsh visas helped many of Northern Ireland's unskilled workers as well as others from border counties who qualified to learn job skills in America. It was not his fault that the scheme was never developed in the way it might have been because of bureaucratic infighting.

Dermot Ahern, Irish minister for foreign affairs, paid a fulsome tribute to Walsh. "The decision by Congressman Jim Walsh not to seek re-election will see the departure from Congress of a great friend of Ireland," Ahern said.

"He rightly takes pride in the extraordinary contribution he has made to American public life and in his tireless work on behalf of his ancestral home of Ireland."

Irish Women for Hillary

IF Senator Hillary Clinton is upset by the Kennedy/Obama endorsement, she can draw solace from the fact that peace activist women in Northern Ireland support her.

In an unprecedented move, several of them came together this week to issue a statement on Clinton's behalf. The move came after several newspapers, most notably The Boston Globe, raised questions over whether Clinton had played any significant role in the Irish peace process as she says she did.

The women of Northern Ireland certainly think so. Several key women leaders, long active in support of the peace process in Northern Ireland, lauded Clinton for her decade-long support.

Inez McCormack organized the tribute. McCormack is one of the most influential civil rights leaders in Northern Ireland. She was first female president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and played an important role in the peace accords.

She said, "We believe it is important for others to know the pivotal role Mrs. Clinton played in helping us in Northern Ireland at critical junctures in the peace process. She supported us over many years and we will always be grateful to her."

"Hillary Clinton took risks for peace in asking me and others to bring women and communities from both traditions to affirm their capacity to work for common purpose and to assert, when there was no public dialogue which supported it, that working for common purpose on the basis of mutual respect was the core to effective peace building."

Elaine Crozier, a community worker added, "Hillary broke the mold in terms of U.S. intervention in Northern Ireland. She came here, sat down with ordinary people, and rolled up her sleeves to see what could be done. She showed us an America that was open and fair, ready to listen and ready to help."

Among the other women from across the divide issuing statements on behalf of Clinton's work in Northern Ireland were Baroness May Blood, a member of the House of Lords who worked for many years as a community worker promoting economic development, better housing, health and education in the Shankill area of West Belfast.

Geraldine McAteer, chief executive of West Belfast Partnership Board which works towards the economic, social and physical regeneration of West Belfast, and Avila Kilmurray, head of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland since 1994, also contributed.

Family Split At Hyannis

NEXT Thanksgiving at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port should be interesting when the pro-Obama and pro-Clinton factions of the family meet.

It is hardly family feud territory, but it is certainly the first time in memory that the family has divided on the issue of a Democratic presidential candidate to back.

On one side it appears the family of Bobby Kennedy - Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Kerry Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy Junior - all support Clinton, while JFK's daughter Caroline, brother Senator Edward Kennedy and his family support Obama. Should make for some interesting debate over the turkey.