About 50 Irish Americans, many from Baltimore, marched in front of the White House yesterday to protest FBI training of Northern Ireland police officers.
The FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., has for years opened its training programs to international police agencies, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the resident police force in Northern Ireland, which employs some 10,000 people.
The RUC has been condemned by Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and other international rights organizations.
The Irish peace accords, forged last year, stipulate disarming the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and disbanding the RUC. The agreement makes the RUC illegal, said Gerry O'Hare, a demonstrator from the Philadelphia chapter of Irish Northern Aid, a group working for a unified Ireland.
"Americans should not have to pay for training Irish police; let the queen do it," said O'Hare, waving an American flag as he marched. "We are putting the peace process in jeopardy."
Last month, officers from both Northern Ireland's RUC and the Republic of Ireland participated in a joint training program at Quantico. Together they discussed human rights, diversity, stress management and strategies to fight terrorism and crime.
"This is the first time we have ever trained these groups together," said Debbie Weierman, an FBI spokeswoman. "This is an international effort to promote world peace."
In Washington yesterday, 6-year-old Cooper Lawton of Sumerduck, Va., carried a sign bearing the name of a Catholic civilian killed by the RUC. He joined his parents and older brother in the two-hour demonstration.
"I am here to protest," said Cooper. "We want to get our police not to tell the Irish police what to do."
Barbara Pryor, who came from Amherst, Va., and has visited Ireland frequently, said the RUC, which is 93 percent Protestant, has caused great grief in Catholic neighborhoods.
"I have witnessed some horrific attacks on innocent people," Pryor said. "It would be as if the KKK marched through Harlem and the state police protected them. I will continue to oppose this FBI training because people are really suffering at the hands of these guys."
Irish politics, its history and its many factions are so confusing that most Americans have boiled down the centuries-old conflict to a war of Protestants against Catholics, said Rosemary Thompson, a member of Irish Northern Aid, Baltimore.
"This is a conflict about disempowered people," Thompson said, "people who could not vote unless they owned property. People who cannot get a job because of their religion."
Thompson helped organize the protest and led a group from her coffee shop in Belvedere Square to Washington. Thompson wore a yellow button that said "Saoirse," the Gaelic word for freedom, and hopes awareness of Irish issues will lead to a united Ireland.
"In three more weeks, it will be St. Patrick's Day and everybody is going to be Irish. But, these are no longer the days of Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne."
Pub Date: 2/21/99