By Emily Nash Hoya Staff Writer

This week, as politicians gathered in Washington for another series of talks about the peace process in Northern Ireland, Georgetown’s Irish-American Society brought the spotlight to campus, where Rita O’Hare, Sinn Fein’s national director of publicity and liaison to the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, spoke to a near-capacity crowd in McNeir Auditorium on Tuesday.

O’Hare, a long-time member of Ireland’s oldest political party, spoke on the current state of affairs in Northern Ireland and delivered Sinn Fein’s official statement on what must happen in order for peace to be achieved.

According to O’Hare, the stalemate in the peace process is not the result of the Irish Republican Army’s refusal to give up arms. Rather, she said, it is the totality of the gun situation that must be dealt with. Citing groups such as the British Army and the Royal Irish Regiment, O’Hare highlighted the fact that the IRA is not the only armed group in Northern Ireland and therefore should not be treated as such.

“The IRA is never going to hand over guns,” O’Hare said, explaining that if the army refused to surrender during the bitterest fighting in Northern Ireland, it is doubtful that it will surrender now. She went on to say that the only way IRA leaders will submit to demands of disarmament is if they are convinced that the conflict can be overcome through peaceful negotiation, a key objective of the Sinn Fein party.

Established in 1913, O’Hare described the Sinn Fein party as the “original architect of the peace process.” Committed to ending British rule and establishing a unified Ireland through political means, the party has long struggled with Unionists in the north who hold the majority and wish to remain tied to England.

But according to O’Hare, the huge majority once held by Unionists in Northern Ireland is diminishing, a statistic that could lead to advances for the Nationalist side in the future. She estimated that in 25 years Sinn Fein, which is now the largest party in the Belfast Council, will equal the number of Unionists in all the north.

Though O’Hare’s speech highlighted many problems faced by the Republican minority in Ireland, Bryanna Hocking (SFS ’00) said she failed to present a balanced account of the concerns of both sides, given her position as a spokeswoman for Sinn Fein.

“It’s great that Sinn Fein has reached a level of legitimacy in Ireland that we’re able to hear its perspective,” Hocking said, “but the degree of blame placed on [Unionist leader David] Trimble is unwarranted.”

In her speech, O’Hare highly criticized Trimble for hindering progress and failing to make concessions that would allow for peace, a charge Hocking felt ignored the difficulties Trimble faced in convincing some factions of his party to even attend the bipartisan assembly. But despite growing Nationalist power, O’Hare insisted the goal of her party is not to drown the Unionists out entirely. Rather, the aim of the party is to create a lasting peace based on democracy and equality for everyone.

“We want the Unionists to be there,” she said, “because without them it would be unbalanced.”

Dan Sweeney, S.J., a floor chaplain in Harbin doing graduate work in Irish studies, says he is “guardedly optimistic” about the prospect of such a peaceful settlement, since the goals of the Unionists and Nationalists are so vastly different. “The two sides hold irreconcilable positions,” he said.

O’Hare also spoke of the role the U.S. has played in bringing about positive change in Ireland.

Calling Senator George Mitchell a man of “legendary” patience, O’Hare praised his repeated efforts to facilitate communication between the opposing parties. Mitchell, who issued a report after his first visit to Ireland in 1995, later chaired the talks in Belfast in 1998.

“America has played a huge and positive role in [the peace process],” O’Hare said, expressing her appreciation for the international attention the situation has received as a result of U.S. involvement.

Though rumors abound that the conflict will be resolved in the White House today on St. Patrick’s Day, O’Hare admitted that the problems of Ireland cannot be solved by the wave of a magic wand.

She then went on to encourage those in attendance, many of whom are members of the Irish-American Society, to remain informed on the situation in Ireland.

“You must keep your attention on Ireland,” she said, “so we can push forward and don’t slide back to the misery of conflict and war.”

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