U.S. Envoy Offered Help to Ulster Unionists, Politicians Confirm
BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ The U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith, offered to help Northern Ireland’s largest pro-British party if it planned to send representatives to America, politicians confirmed Monday.
The U.S. consulate in Belfast said Mrs. Smith, sister of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., telephoned the Belfast offices of the Ulster Unionist Party last week to offer assistance.
″It was just a polite, ‘What can I do for you?’ call,″ said Chris Bendsen, U.S. vice consul in Belfast.
He said that while the U.S. Embassy in London and U.S. Consulate in Belfast are normally responsible for Northern Ireland, Mrs. Smith made a welcome intervention from her Dublin base. ″We’re all one U.S. government,″ he said.
The phone call came as Gerry Adams, leader of the pro-IRA Sinn Fein party, was giving interviews in New York following President Clinton’s decision to lift a 22-year ban on Adams’ travel there.
The concession outraged Northern Ireland’s pro-British unionist politicians.
The Ulster Unionist Party, which gets about 30 percent of the Northern Ireland vote - almost exclusively from Protestants - boycotted the New York conference where Adams spoke and also announced a boycott of the U.S. offices in Belfast.
It said Monday it intends to send leading members to the United States next month to promote its views, but doesn’t want Mrs. Smith’s help.
General Secretary Jim Wilson said his Ulster Unionists would deal with U.S. diplomatic offices in Northern Ireland instead - whenever they end their no- communications protest.
Ulster Unionists suspect Ambassador Smith of supporting Adams’ trip to New York, he said.
″We won’t rely too much on that lady for assistance. Unionists know where her sympathies lie,″ Wilson said.
Mrs. Smith has not granted interviews to journalists since her appointment to the post last May, citing the need not to upset political developments in Northern Ireland.
The outlawed Irish Republican Army has waged a 23-year campaign against British rule of Northern Ireland, where pro-British Protestants have a narrowing majority over pro-Irish Catholics.