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Monday 26 February 2018

Why Kennedy was reluctant to discuss Irish partition

Frank Aiken
Frank Aiken

BEFORE President Kennedy's visit to Ireland, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) expected there would be demonstrations during the visit to highlight the issue of partition, which Kennedy was anxious to avoid.

As a young senator, he had spoken on several occasions in favour of a united Ireland; in 1952, for example, he maintained it was "vital to the prestige and influence of the United States to be placed firmly on the side of a united Ireland, and that is our cause, that is our right and for that I am going to work".

Four years later, he co-sponsored a failed resolution in the US Senate urging an end to partition. Before the visit, Irish Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken (pictured), suggested to the American Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, that Kennedy "might take some appropriate opportunity of urging on the British that they should indicate publicly that a solution of the partition question is desirable", but the reality was that Kennedy did not want to become embroiled in this delicate issue.

Public demonstrations about partition did not occur to any significant extent and the 'New York Times' suggested that most people on the streets to greet Kennedy were "willing to forget that the six northern counties are still under British rule".

There was, however, embarrassment about the prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O'Neill, publicly inviting Kennedy to visit a NATO base in Derry, a reminder that the UK, unlike the Irish republic, was a member of NATO. His invitation was declined.

Irish Independent

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