McCain & Northern Ireland

Posted By: February 08, 2007

McCain and Northern Ireland

Fr. Sean Mc Manus, President, Irish National Caucus

February 8, 2007 —I was pleased to see in Ray O’Hanlon’s
article that British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has asked
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to urge the Reverend Ian
Paisley to share power with Sinn Fein. (“McCain asked to
intercede with Paisley”. Irish Echo. February 7-13).

I have a great deal of respect for Senator McCain, a
genuine American hero, irrespective of what one thinks of
the Vietnam War.

However, it is ironic – and maybe not too politically
advantageous — that McCain’s first very public foray into
Irish politics would be high-profile association with the
one person who more than anyone else is the personification
of anti-Catholic sectarianism and bigotry in Northern
Ireland over the past 60 years. It could evoke the specter
of George W. Bush’s campaign- visit to Bob Jones University
– Paisley’s main American sponsor for the past 60 years.

GOP and Northern Ireland

Over the past 30 years, The Republican Party, in general,
has not distinguished itself by opposing anti-Catholic
sectarianism in Northern Ireland although, by a delicious
irony, it was the Republican-controlled Congress that
passed the Mac Bride Principles.

For that we have to thank the great Ben Gilman (R-NY),
former Chairman of the House International Relations

There are, of course, other Republican Members of Congress
who have stood up for justice and equality in Northern
Ireland: Jimmy Walsh, Peter King, Chris Smith, the late
Hamilton Fish, to name some of the more prominent. But to
my knowledge– and I’ve been working on this issue for
almost 35 years in America; twenty nine of those years on
Capitol Hill – Senator McCain has never been significantly
involved in opposing British injustice and Orange anti-
Catholic sectarianism in Northern Ireland. He has been
silent on anti-Catholic discrimination, collusion, State-
sponsored terrorism, etc., etc. He did not even raise his
voice against the torture of political prisoners in
Northern Ireland (when his voice would have been the most
eloquent, granting his own experience, which he heroically

Anti-Catholic Sectarianism

Here, let me explain something that surprisingly is often

When we talk about anti-Catholic sectarianism in Northern
Ireland, we are not talking about some obtuse theological
difference between Catholic and Protestants. Rather, we are
talking about a Government- sanctioned policy for keeping
Catholics oppressed. So when Paisley ranted and raved about
“Popery” he was not making some nice theological point but
rather shoring up the status quo and making sure that
Catholics (not the Pope or the Cardinals, but the poor,
unemployed Catholics) would be kept ” in their place” –at
the back of the bus. In much the same way the
segregationists in the Deep South had shored up Jim Crow.
(Sectarianism is but the flip side of the racist coin).
Anti-Catholicism has been the State religion of the
Northern Ireland state. Now, thank God – and thanks to Tony
Blair – all that can change because of the peace-process.
But let no one be in any doubt – vicious, dangerous anti-
Catholic sectarianism is still deeply embedded in Northern
Ireland, ever ready to be stoked into flames by Paisley-
like demagoguery. If one does not understand that, one
fails to grasp the most fundamental reason why historically
the 1920 British Government Act Of Ireland created the
State of Northern Ireland. The deal was: British rule
through Protestant supremacy, and Protestant supremacy
through British rule. (None of which had anything to with
the many valid points raised by Martin Luther and his

So while I welcome John McCain’s growing involvement in
Irish affairs, I think it is incumbent on him to use his
powerful and rightly respected voice to oppose anti-
Catholic sectarianism in Northern Ireland.

A Good Place for McCain to Begin

A good place for him to start is to convince Ton Blair to
abolish the inherently anti-Catholic Act of Settlement,
1701 under which no Catholic can become King or Queen of
England and which states that if the Monarch becomes a
Catholic, or marries a Catholic, he/she forfeits the Throne
and “the people are absolved from their allegiance”.

While this law may mean little to the average Englishman in
the street, it has always been of deep importance to
Protestant/Unionist/Orange extremists in Northern Ireland.
It provides the ideological and philosophical underpinnings
for their bigotry and sectarianism. For you see, the
spurious but deadly logic goes, if a Catholic by law can’t
get the top job, then Catholics are not equal to
Protestants, therefore it’s okay to discriminate against
them. Can you imagine how the flames of racism would have
been stoked in the United States had there been a
Constitutional ban on a Black person becoming President?
(And, please, let no one say, ” but that’s different”,
because it’s not).

Quite amazingly, while there is a growing groundswell in
Britain itself against this anti-Catholic Act, Tony Blair,
who has done so much good in Northern Ireland, has refused
to move to repeal it, even though he has admitted it is
“plainly discriminatory”.

Maybe the distinguished Senator form the great State of
Arizona can convince Blair to do the right thing.

Father Sean Mc Manus
Irish National Caucus
P.O. Box 15128
Capitol Hill
Washington, D.C. 20003-0849