Asking for Troubles: Jean, JFK’s sister who left an Irish legacy
Outspoken and always attracting publicity, she clashed with fellow ambassadors while working in Ireland
Jean Kennedy Smith, who has died at the age of 92, was the last surviving sibling of President John F Kennedy and the last of her generation to achieve political prominence, when she became a controversial ambassador to the Irish Republic in 1993.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton as a favour to her brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, who still wielded considerable clout in the Irish-American lobby, she had no professional diplomatic experience and a long-standing hostility to the British role in Northern Ireland. She arrived in Dublin not long after her brother, the senator, had signed a letter attacking abuses of human rights in the province; her nephew, Congressman Joe Kennedy, had put his name to another, calling for a more aggressive policy towards British rule; and her niece Caroline Courtney had married Paul Hill, an Irishman convicted and then cleared of taking part in the Guildford bombing.
Jean Kennedy Smith assured reporters that she had no plans to meet Sinn Fein when she visited the north, but added: “Anything can change.” This quickly brought her into conflict with Raymond Seitz, the veteran US ambassador in London, who pointed out in a strained two-hour meeting that her responsibilities did not extend north of the border and that her duty was to represent the US administration’s long-established policy, not her own. When she claimed to have a personal mandate from the president, Seitz replied that she should have little difficulty persuading Clinton to overrule him but, in the meantime, she was to stick to the existing arrangement, which made Northern Ireland his responsibility...