Posted By: March 29, 2013

By Fr. Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward

Justice”. That splendid line (from the abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker) was one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite quotations. It should have special resonance for Irish-Americans.

At last, that ” long arc” is bending toward Ireland. Because of the peace- process, we can see ” the Promised Land”. We are not there yet, but at least we can see it. And yet at the same time we have, I believe, reached a dangerous plateau.

The danger is that there will be increased attempts to claw back on equality and justice in Northern Ireland. That is the dynamic that happens in all civil rights struggles:”We have given them enough, now let’s pull back” Martin Luther King railed against the arrogance in that thinking: Who, he

thundered,” has the right to set the timetable for another person’s freedom?”

We see examples of ” claw-back” in the British Government reneging on its promise to remove Crown-symbols from the Northern Ireland courts; its refusal to make the Police Service truly accountable and weed out those guilty of human rights abuses and collusion with Unionist murder-gangs; its refusal to face down the Special Branch; its stonewalling on the Finucane-Nelson-Hamill

murder cases, etc., etc.

And here on Capitol Hill there are troubling signs that the Congress is beginning to lose its focus: Calls for Hearings on the three Irishmen in Columbia, instead of Hearings on why the British security forces allowed the Catholic schoolgirls of Holy Cross to be terrorized daily for months; pressure by some Members on Sinn Fein to join the Police Board, instead of pressure on British to make the necessary changes that would enable Sinn Fein to honorably join the Board.

Irish-Americans must not accept these dangerous developments. We must use this Election Year as a time to re-activate and re-vitalize the Irish-American dimension.

You will see from my references to Dr. Martin Luther King, that I tend to see a lot of parallels between the U.S. Civil Rights struggle and the Irish struggle. In that regard I was disappointed to see Ambassador Richard Haass (whose work I respect) recently state” …the analogy of the U.S. civil rights movement…to describe the situation in Northern Ireland disguises more than it informs”. I could not disagree more.

The irony here is that historically many Irish-Americans have refused to accept the validity of any comparison. In 1969 Bernadette Devlin on her high-profile tour of the US

caught hell for drawing that comparison. But it has been my experience that the Irish-Americans who best understood the U.S. Civil Rights struggle also best understand The Troubles in Northern Ireland. And it pleases me greatly that an increasing number of Irish-Americans are viewing The Troubles through the prism (and vision) of Blessed Martin Luther King. (Yes, the ” Blessed ” is deliberate).

Equality has always been at the core of the Irish Troubles, as it was in the African-American struggle. The reason many Unionists reject the peace-process is their inability to accept the concept of equality with Catholics, as many Whites were unable to accept Blacks as equals. That, no matter how unpalatable, is the reality. And it should not surprise us in the least. It is a totally predictable dynamic. It was the reality with Whites in Alabama.

But wouldn’t it have been ridiculous to talk about “a cold house for Whites in Alabama”? To encourage such talk is to encourage the pernicious folly that equality for Catholics means inequality for Protestants or that equality for

African-Americans means inequality for Whites. That, precisely, is the perverse logic that led to the original injustice against both Catholics and African-Americans, in the first place.

Every time the Catholics in Northern Ireland were seen to be making the slightest progress towards equality, the Unionist guns and bombs came out — in the 20’s, the 30’s, the 40’s, the 50’s, — right up to the present. And every time someone now talks about ” a cold house for Unionists” — no matter how good the intention may be— there is the real danger it will be seen by some as a call to arms. Just as when Governor George Wallace talked about ” losing our heritage and our southern way of life”, it spurred the night-rides of the KKK and fueled the hate- speeches of the White Citizens Councils. But King’s profound insight was: “It is history’s wry paradox that when Negroes win their struggle to be free, those who have held them down will themselves be freed for the first time”.

So let there be an end to this “cold house for Unionists” talk. Instead let us talk, again guided by Blessed Martin, about building up the Beloved Community — a community of mutual respect, equality, nonviolence and forgiveness. This will build a warm house for all.

And let Irish-Americans determine not to let the U.S. Congress “claw back” on its focus of justice and human rights in Northern Ireland.