I’m somewhat lukewarm on the Irish National Caucus (INC), the Irish-American human rights organisation which has campaigned on equality and justice issues for Irish citizens in the UK-administered north-east of Ireland since the early 1970s. Admittedly it has done stirling work on those contentious matters, despite decades of opposition lobbying by British diplomats in the United States and the hostility of officials in the traditionally anglophile State Department and Pentagon. Indeed it was not so long ago that activists in the INC regularly faced harassment from agents of the FBI, as well as the NYPD. Despite those challenges the Caucus, led by the indefatigable Father Seán McManus, managed to establish itself as one of the principal lobbyist bodies on Capitol Hill in Washington, winning cross-party support from Democrat and Republican members of Congress. For a period in the 1970s President Jimmy Carter was one of its more prominent supporters while in recent years it has been close to the Clinton family, in particular Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The INC’s lobbying gained it one of the more globally visible measures to tackle sectarian discrimination in the north of Ireland, the so-called McBride Principles. Named after Seán McBride, the Noble Peace Prize winner and founding member of Amnesty International, the measures required American companies investing in “Northern Ireland” to operate fair employment regulations in their businesses to prevent anti-Catholic bigotry in local workplaces. From 1984 to 1998 the INC successfully campaigned to get eighteen state legislatures, and eventually the US House of Representatives and Senate, to pass the principles into state and federal law, to the chagrin of senior British ministers, and the fury of unionist politicians (Margaret Thatcher was a venomous critic of the anti-discrimination laws).
However, I have always been somewhat ambivalent about the Irish National Caucus, while acknowledging its undoubted good works. That sentiment is almost wholly based on my reaction to its very traditional Irish-American – and Roman Catholic – culture, in part attributable to its association with the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), a 180 year old fraternity organisation in the United States. The emphasis on “Catholics” and “Protestants” in its information campaigns on the conflict in the north-east of Ireland, rather than referring to Irish nationalists and British unionists, though aimed at the terminology and understanding of American readers and audiences, was in my view a mistake. One that fed into the “two warring tribes” propaganda spewing out of the UK embassy in Washington and the consulates in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. All that said, it’s good to know that it can still infuriate unionist leaders in the Six Counties, reminding them of some contemporary and historical facts they’d rather the world forgot. Though, please, let’s leave gods and other supernatural beings out of it.
The Tuatha Dé Danann excluded, of course.