Towards Justice

Posted By: August 15, 2005

>>>>>> Feature: Towards Justice

The veteran Washington-based lobbyist Father Sean
McManus gave the annual Damian Walsh lecture last
week. The address, as part of the West Belfast
festival, told of his experiences as President of
the Irish National Caucus.

When I first went to America on October 2, 1972, it
was my hope that I would be able to help inform
Americans about the problem in Northern Ireland.
Little did I realize that living in America would
actually help me to better understand the problem
in Northern Ireland. I learned to understand the
importance of a written constitution, a Bill of
Rights, separation of Church and State, freedom of
speech, freedom of assembly, etc., etc. But I
learned, too, that a good Constitution doesn’t
matter much if the State has a double standard,
systematic discrimination and a racist/sectarian
police force.


Thus it was really in studying the Black Freedom
Struggle in America that I really came to better
understand the problem back home in the wee North
(and, of course, because I was a Catholic from
Northern Ireland I intuitively understood the
oppression of Blacks in America).

I keep telling Irish-Americans that while it may be
important to understand the Fenian Rising of 1867
and Easter Rising of 1916, if they really want to
understand the problem in Northern Ireland they
must also understand the history of their own
country. To understand the wisdom of Blessed Martin
Luther King when he said things like: “Now we must
say that this struggle for freedom will not come to
an automatic halt, for history reveals to us that
once oppressed people rise up against that
oppression, there is no stopping short of full
freedom.” (MLK in “Love, Law and Civil
Disobedience, page 3).

And to understand Frederick Douglas (1818-1895) the
former slave and one of the first great African-
American leaders when he said in 1857 (the year
before the Fenian Brotherhood was launched in
America): “The whole history of the progress of
human liberty shows that all concessions yet made
to her august claims have been born of earnest
struggle. If there is no struggle, there is no
progress; those who profess to favor freedom and
yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops
without ploughing .”

(Martin Luther King, of course, was committed to a
nonviolent struggle, whereas Douglas was not so

Some of you may have seen the movie Mississippi
Burning with Gene Hackman, about the assassination
of the three Civil Rights workers in 1964 — James
Chaney, a young African-American from Mississippi,
and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two young
white Jewish-Americans from New York.

Those young martyrs for The Cause were set up by
the police and turned over to the Klu Klux Klan.
One of the killers, Edgar Ray Killen was just
sentenced in June 2005, 41 years after the murder.
On January 10, 2005, the Washington Post mentioned
that the former Secretary of State for Mississippi
had lost the election for governor because back in
1989 he had pressed for an investigation into the
assassination. (“Reopened Civil Rights Cases Evoke
Painful Past”.)

That would have shocked American readers, but not
someone from Kinawley. Would all British and
Unionist leaders have won elections had they kept
pressing for investigations into State-collusion in
the assassinations of Damien Walsh, Pat Finucane,
Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson, and so many others?
In Mississippi, as in Northern Ireland, there was a
hierarchy of victims.


I want you to reflect on this: In 1964 the Civil
Rights Act was passed in America, and in 1965 the
voting Rights Act was passed. I keep telling Irish-
Americans that those two Acts, morally speaking,
did for African-Americans what the Good Friday
Agreement did for Catholics in NI. Yet at that very
same time, the awful J. Edgar Hoover — the
original SECUROCRAT — decided to use the full
force of the FBI to destroy Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. and his Movement. Many Americans today find
that fact hard to believe but no Catholic from NI
would have difficulty in believing it.

Previous to 1964, J. Edgar Hoover had not bothered
too much about Martin Luther King; after all, he
didn’t need to.. African-Americans were a true
minority, voiceless and without power, like the
Catholics in the North in the 60’s. When President
Johnson left The White House in 1969, the FBI had
3,300 Black informants. By the end of Nixon’s first
term (1972), Hoover’s FBI had 7,500 Black
informants. Kenneth O’Reilly, who has written a key
book on Hoover’s campaign of harassment against
African-Americans, says it well: “When the FBI
stood against the Black people, so did the
government.” (Racial Matters: The FBI’s Secret File
on Black Americans, 1960-1972, page 357, The Free
Press, 1989).

The famous journalist, I.F. Stone said in reference
to the assassination of Medgar Evers in Jackson,
Mississippi, June 12, 1963, “The FBI lives in
cordial fraternity with cops that enforce white
supremacy.” His assassin, Byron De La Beckwith,
although tried twice in the 1960’s was not
imprisoned till 1994 — 31 years after the murder.
Does any of that sound familiar?

One of the three main Senate Office Buildings on
Capitol Hill is called the Russell Building in
honor of U.S. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia,
who served in the Senate for almost 40 years, from
1932 to 1971. On Sunday morning, September 15,
1963, one of the worst atrocities of the American
Civil Rights Movement happened in Birmingham,
Alabama. The Klu Klux Klan bombed the Sixteenth
Street Baptist Church, killing four young girls,
aged between eleven to fourteen. In advising the
FBI about the bombing, Senator Russell mentioned
“the possibility that Negroes might have
perpetrated this incident to keep emotions at fever
pitch.” (Racial Matters, page 111). Does any of
that sound familiar?

By the way, the lead bomber, Bob Chambliss, used to
describe himself as 100% percent Irish. He was not
imprisoned till 1977 — fourteen years after the

A 1980 Justice Department report states Hoover
blocked prosecution of the KKK in 1965, and in 1968
shut down the investigation without filing charges.
One of the reasons Hoover shut down the
investigation was that the FBI had an informant in
the KKK who worked directly under Bob Chambliss.
His name was Gary T. Rowe, and Hoover described him
as the best undercover agent “we’ve ever seen.”
Does any of that sound familiar?

Kenneth O’Reilly says in regards to the FBI record
in Birmingham in those days that the FBI could have
stopped the anti-Black violence and the
assassination of Blacks “if they had chosen to act
on the extraordinary intelligence they held on the
collusion between the Klu Klux Klan and the city’s
law enforcement community. Aware of the planned
violence weeks in advance, the FBI did nothing to
stop it and had actually given the Birmingham
police details knowing full well that at least one
law enforcement officer relayed everything to the
Klan.” (page 86).

Does any of that ring a bell?


WHEN I arrived America, I naively thought that the
obvious constituency to lobby would be the Left
Wing of the Democratic Party and Catholic Bishops.
While I knew the English and Irish Bishops did not
have a great record in standing up for Irish
justice, I felt there was a chance the American
Bishops might show some guts. And, furthermore, you
see, on November 30,1971, the World Synod of
Bishops, meeting in Rome, had issued a very
important document “Justice in the World” in which
they declared: “Action on behalf of justice is a

In August 1979, the Irish National Caucus led a
successful campaign to have a ban put on the sale
of U.S. weapons to the RUC. Later on in January
1981, Archbishop Hickey of Washington and Bishop
Thomas Kelly, Secretary General of the US Catholic
Conference, met in The White House to urge
President Reagan to continue the ban on military
aid to El Salvador.

I wrote to them, urging them to also urge President
Reagan to continue the ban on the sale of US
weapons to the RUC.

On February 6, 1981, Archbishop Hickey responded
saying, “Bishop Kelly and I will be in touch with
our counterparts in Northern Ireland to seek their
advice in this vexing question. Our intervention
will depend on their response.”

Bishop Kelly responded on January 29, 1981 and said
“We have known of your position [on the RUC] for
some time. In the case of El Salvador, we have been
encouraged to take what action we have taken by the
local hierarchy. We have not, at this time,
received such encouragement from the Irish
hierarchy on the subject you have brought to our

I waited, and waited to hear back from Cardinal
Hickey, about the response from the Irish Bishops
but since Cardinal Hickey died last October, I
guess I will not be hearing from him. So much for
my hope that the American Bishops would do the
right thing.

Earlier on we had a number meetings with the Office
of International Justice and Peace, a section of
the Department of Social Development and World
Peace, of the US Catholic Conference. The then
Advisor on European Affairs was Edward Doherty, a
layman, and a Brit to his fingertips. He was
lecturing us on violence and when it was pointed
out that on his blazer he had a badge of the
American War College, and that that could hardly be
described as a nonviolent organization he simply
said it was “a very professional organization.”

Later on he wrote in 1979, “It is the Provos who
are mainly responsible for the violence in Northern
Ireland and this is recognized by every careful and
impartial observer. After due consultation with the
Irish bishops, and in recognition of the efforts
being made by the governments and church bodies
directly concerned, we [the US Catholic Conference]
had concluded that there is no appropriate basis
for public intervention in the problems of Northern
Ireland, either by this conference, or any branch
of the United States government.” (Letter, to
Caucus member, dated October 17, 1979, on the
official stationery of the United States Catholic

Do you think for a moment that he would have made
such a statement without checking with the Irish
Embassy, and probably with the British Embassy?

And that, too, was essentially the position of big-
name Irish-American politicians, like Teddy
Kennedy, Tip O’Neill, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and
Hugh Carey. And it WAS the position of the Dublin
Government, no matter what some would now try to
tell you.

This was one of the most exasperating aspects of
our work in the early years. We had to fight not
only the British Embassy, but also the Irish
Embassy (especially when Sean Donlon was
Ambassador, 1978-1981), the leadership Catholic
Church and big name Irish-American Catholic

On October 27, 1976 — just six days before the
Presidential election — the Irish National Caucus
organized a meeting with Jimmy Carter in
Pittsburgh, Pa. and got him to say “it is a mistake
for our country’s government to stand quiet on the
struggle of the Irish for peace for the respect of
human rights and for unifying Ireland…”

It is now well known that Garret FitzGerald, who
was then Irish Foreign Minister, instead of
welcoming Carter’s statement, spent a lot of time
forcing Jimmy Carter to back off his commitment.
The Boston Globe reported: “Irish embassy officials
protested vehemently to Carter aides. Carter, under
pressure, agreed to send a telegram of
clarification. According to the Irish government,
the Carter aides agreed to send the telegram only
on condition it not on be released publicly in the
United States.” (“Hub priest denies he backs IRA”,
Monday Morning, April 18, 1977).

On the following St. Patrick’s Day, 1977, the Four
Horsemen — Kennedy, O’Neill, Moynihan and Carey —
issued their first St. Patrick’s Day statement
essentially saying the problem in Northern Ireland
was the IRA and the second problem was Irish-
Americans supporting the IRA. So we had gotten the
new American President Jimmy Carter, a devout
Protestant from the Deep South, stating the problem
in terms of human rights, and Garret FitzGerald got
the Four Horsemen, all good Catholics from the
North East, stating the problem in terms of
terrorism. What’s wrong with that picture?

Since that time, I have been haunted by this
thought: What might have happened if FitzGerald had
not been so useless on the North? And yet, some
elements in the Irish media would still try to
pretend that FitzGerald was the real originator of
the Irish peace-process.

Now, fast forward from Pittsburgh in 1976 to New
York, Sunday, April 12, 1992. Essentially the same
type of “usual suspects” that gathered to hear
Carter in Pittsburgh now gathered to hear Candidate
Bill Clinton make his Irish pledges. I remember
turning to Conor O’Clery of the Irish Times and
saying, jokingly, “The only one missing is Garret
FitzGerald.” I said that because I was deeply
conscious that the thing that mattered the most was
whether Albert Reynolds would welcome Clinton’s
statement or whether he would try to force Clinton
to back off, as FitzGerald forced Carter to back
off. Reynolds, God bless him, welcomed Clinton’s
interest. And, as they say, the rest is history.
But one thing is certain. If Albert Reynolds had
joined British Prime Minister, John Major, in
opposing Clinton’s involvement, President Clinton
would have had to back off. Albert Reynolds
deserves enormous credit. I shall be eternally
grateful to him — and to President Clinton.

Now I am happy to put on record that I believe the
Irish Embassy, ever since Albert Reynolds, is doing
excellent work on the Irish peace-process. And that
truly pleases me, as I really see it as the final
ending of the Irish Civil War. (Even though I fear
that could change if a crazy man like Michael Mc
Dowell ever came to power).


It has been said that Irish-Americans are too far
removed to understand the Irish problem. Well that
may be true to some degree. But it is also true
that distance can give perspective, whereas
sometimes being too close to something can actually
distort perspective. I see — despite the problems
— huge and wonderful improvements in the North,
and it gives me great joy. And I’m so grateful to
the brave men and women in Ireland and Britain who
made it possible.

One of Martin Luther King’s favorite quotes was
from the Abolitionist preacher, Theodore Parker,
who said: “The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice”.

I believe that arc is bending towards justice in
Ireland, and that there is no going back.

Now let me conclude by giving you one of my own
favorite quotes, from Walter Brueggemann, an
American Protestant and a distinguished Old
Testament scholar: “In Biblical faith, the doing of
justice is the primary expectation of God.”

As we enter the post-conflict era, we must
rededicate ourselves. We must realize that while
there is no peace without justice, there is no
justice without peace — and that there is neither
justice nor peace without forgiveness.

In his “Message for World Peace Day”, 1977, Pope
John Paul urged that, “The deadly cycle of revenge
must be replaced by the new-found liberty of
forgiveness”. And this is what it means when we say
that, ultimately, peace is a gift from God. Because
without forgiveness no peace is possible, no matter
how good or just the political structures are.

So let us work for justice and pray for peace in
Ireland, and let us all dedicate ourselves to
forgiveness. Thank you.