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As Rep. Peter King's Muslim hearings approach, his past views draw ire

Engaging 'the Troubles'

House hearings, scheduled to begin in late February, have touched off a wave of panic throughout the U.S. Muslim community.

Three of King's grandparents came from Ireland, but apart from a grand-uncle who fought for Irish independence in the early part of the last century, he was not from a family with any commitment to revolutionary politics in Ireland. When violence first broke out in Northern Ireland, King dismissed the IRA as "a bunch of crazy people."

"The Troubles," as they were called, erupted when Roman Catholics in the late 1960s began to demand equal treatment in employment, housing and education in the majority-Protestant province of Northern Ireland. Peaceful demonstrations were violently suppressed by local authorities, and the situation quickly escalated into open conflict, drawing in the British army.

The IRA was responsible for half of the more than 3,500 people killed in the ensuing 30-year conflict; of those killed by the IRA, about 600 were civilians, according to statistics compiled by researchers in Northern Ireland.

The group mortared the prime minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street, bombed Harrods department store in London, and blew up a boat carrying the 79-year-old Lord Mountbatten, cousin of the queen and a daring World War II commander. The blast killed Mountbatten, two teenage boys and an 83-year-old woman.

King first visited Northern Ireland in 1980 when he accompanied fellow Republican Al D'Amato, who had just been elected to the Senate, on a fact-finding mission. King became a frequent visitor over the next decade.

He often stayed at the home of a senior IRA militant who ran operations in Belfast and was a welcome guest at the Felons Club, a heavily fortified drinking establishment for former IRA prisoners in West Belfast, according to Ed Moloney, author of "The Secret History of the IRA," and a review of Irish and Irish-American press accounts of King's trips.

King said the IRA commanded significant, if minority, support among Catholics. Its supporters in the community, he said, were "voting for war in their own back yard."

"If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it," King said in a 1985 interview with the Irish People, an Irish-American newspaper that backed the IRA.

King also was willing to engage the IRA's enemies. He debated Unionists when they came to New York. During one trip to Belfast, he made a foray to the Shankill Road, a Protestant stronghold - a place where Irish-American Catholics were rarely seen - and met with a group of loyalist paramilitaries. King and the loyalists discussed the use of informers in special jury-less trials, which were employed by the British as a counter-terrorism tool against both republican and loyalist militants.

An infuriated Northern Irish judge threw him out of his courtroom, saying King was "an obvious collaborator with the IRA."

King also clashed with prominent Irish-Americans who condemned IRA violence. He dismissed the Friends of Ireland caucus in Congress, which included Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Edward M. Kennedy, as infused with a "moral arrogance and self-righteousness that would do justice to the royal family."

'Anchor' in peace process

King was recently chosen to be chairman of the Friends of Ireland caucus he once ridiculed, the culmination of what might be called his own de-radicalization process.

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