Newly released files previously redacted from the Clinton White House reveal that senior figures were often impatient with the access demanded by Irish politicians and wary of the egos of Northern Irish politicians. “Was the Nobel Prize not enough?” asks one memo about John Hume and David Trimble.
Most of the memos released and seen by IrishCentral.com are from the period immediately before and after the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. It appears much of the material is still redacted.
Other issues were also addressed. Current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagen, then a Clinton domestic advisor, was moved by the effort to regulate background checks on nannies after an incident where an Irish couple lost their child in 1993.
10-month old Kieran Dunne was killed by his nanny Anne Franklin after she had presented bogus references to Kieran’s Irish parents. The efforts by the parents Peggy and David Dunne to introduce a bill that would mandate official background checks caught the attention of the White House with a memo from Kagen to the cabinet asking if there was anything they could do to expedite the bill.
Most of the files released relate to Northern Ireland. Shortly after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998, Lawrence Butler, European head of the National Security Council from 1997 to 1999 wrote to then National Security Advisor Sandy Berger urging that access to President Clinton be blocked to many Northern leaders.
He wrote: “Sandy I do not favor... we can’t get into this procedure of POTUS (President of the United States) having to see NI types every time they come to DC.”
At the time, the government of Turkey, among others, was complaining that their country could not get access. Meanwhile, minor Irish party leaders were regularly meeting the president.
The large egos of Northern Irish politicians such as John Hume and David Trimble also came in for criticism. A Clinton administration memo in July 2000 referred to “The insatiable desire of Northern Irish politicians for praise and recognition.”
It was a time, apparently, when both John Hume and unionist leader David Trimble were demanding more recognition. "Was the Nobel Prize not enough? Can we do just this letter and not send letters to the others?", ran one response.
A White House memo to Hillary Clinton around the time also noted that John Hume’s wife, Pat, is a “de facto Nobel Laureate given her partnership in his 30 year quest for peace.” The same comment is made about the role of Daphne Trimble and her influence on David Trimble, who shared the Nobel with Hume.
First Lady Hillary Clinton is revealed as game to do all she can to help the peace process in Northern Ireland. A long itinerary for a visit to Ireland in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement had some worried that it was too lengthy for her. But the White House note stated FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States ) has “agreed to do this in addition to attending ‘common people’ events with the president.”
Mo Mowlam, the late northern Irish secretary, was clearly a favorite around the White House. After the Good Friday Agreement and a proposed Clinton trip to Ireland, a visit with Mowlam in Washington was proposed. Mowlam, it was noted, “is guaranteed to be effusive in her thanks to the president.”
Senator Edward Kennedy was described as very “anxious to make his views known” on the Good Friday Agreement to the president. Congressman Peter King, former Congressman Ben Gilman, who represented a major Irish district in New York, and former Congressman Jim Walsh were seen as key players to keep informed.
As to who in the Irish American community was considered important, separate briefings were to be made available to former AFL/CIO leader Tom Donahue, Judge Andrew Somers of the Irish American Unity Conference, political activists Brian O’Dwyer, Niall O’Dowd and Bruce Morrison, International Fund for Ireland advisor Jim Lyons, and American Ireland Fund senior figure Paul Quinn.
A five page letter from from Congressman Bruce Morrison was included in the redacted material. In the letter Morrison urged President Clinton to listen to voices in the Irish American community who had been involved from the start and not just to staff members around him.
In February 1996 a deal, likely connected to the peace process, was botched. Michael Martin, an IRA prisoner, was mistakenly due to be deported from federal prison in Louisiana by INS deportation officers and transferred to Ireland. Martin, it was noted, was serving a 16 month sentence for conspiracy to obtain weapons for the IRA. The fact that the botched deportation made it into a cabinet briefing paper meant it was likely connected to the larger issue of the peace process.
Among the still redacted material are briefing notes for President Clinton before key meetings with Northern Irish leaders such as Gerry Adams and former Irish leader Bertie Ahern.
The Presidential Records Act includes provisions that the documents now released could be withheld for twelve years. It appears more releases are on the horizon.