By Brian O’Dwyer
NY Daily News – March 14th 2009
When an attack on a British Army barracks in Northern Ireland killed two soldiers this month, the most shocking – and encouraging – thing for those of us steeped in the troubled history of that part of the Irish nation is how surprising it was.
It was the first fatal attack on British soldiers in 12 years, and was quickly condemned by all parties – Catholic and Protestant – who have been working together for 22 months in governing Ulster.
Just two days after that attack, another surprise: Police Officer Stephen Paul Carroll became the first constable killed by paramilitaries in Northern Ireland since October 1998.
The very shock and public outrage that followed these attacks in some ways underscores just how far we have come since former President Bill Clinton’s personal intervention helped forge the 1998 Good Friday Accords that have led to the cessation of the “troubles” that have afflicted the province since the southern Irish provinces won their independence from Great Britain in 1922.
In fact, there is a generation growing up in Ireland today that views that violent history of attack and counterattack between Protestants and Catholics as just that – history – and not a reality they have lived with every day. Ian Paisley, the Protestant Unionist leader whose decades of intransigence fueled the troubles, astounded everyone by leading his people into a new Northern Irish government dedicated to power sharing between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority. A government is now firmly established that has the support of the vast majority of people from both communities.
That hard-won progress does not mean that the bigotry and economic inequalities that fueled some of the violence is a thing of the past. Nor does it mean that the dream of a united Ireland has been abandoned. But the commitment to continue that struggle by peaceful means has offered a degree of normalcy that not that long ago seemed like an unachievable goal.
The recent attacks come against the backdrop of the ongoing global economic meltdown that has spared neither the Irish Republic in the south, nor the six counties of Northern Ireland. These economic troubles have led Irish from both communities to once again look to America as a land of opportunity for immigration. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that President Obama’s administration address our discriminatory immigration laws which have effectively posted the sign “No Irish Need Apply” on our shores.
Economic pressures cannot be allowed to force us to shut the doors to the talented pool of immigrants, especially those from Ireland, that have contributed so much to both past growth and the opportunity to pull us out of our current economic problems.
Eating our seed corn – in the form of limiting the number of immigrants who have been key to the cross-fertilization of intellect, entrepreneurial skill and social diversity that make this nation and this city what it is today – cannot be part of a prescription for recovery.
America should be rewarding this renewed commitment to peace from both communities, which is holding despite severe economic pressures and radicals who would revert to the violence of the old ways. Opening our shores to those who, by dint of their hard work and ingenuity, would once again, as they have in the past, greatly contribute to American society.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, Irish eyes may not be smiling, but Irish men and women and their cousins in America can look to a future free from violence with a promise of a better life for all.
O’Dwyer, a lawyer in the Manhattan firm of O’Dwyer and Bernstien, LLP, is chairman of the
Emerald Isle Immigration Center.