JOHN F Kennedy’s last surviving sibling, Jean Kennedy Smith, who was instrumental in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, has died aged 92. Smith, who served as US ambassador to Ireland for five years in the 1990s, passed away on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan, New York. Born on Feb 20, 1928 in Boston, Massachusetts, Smith was the eighth of nine children born to Joseph P Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald. The family would become the United States’ most famous political dynasty and an endless source of fascination to the American public.
After spending much of her life as a socialite away from the political spotlight, in 1993 Smith was named the US ambassador in Dublin by then president Bill Clinton. The appointment raised a few eyebrows but Smith, whose father had been ambassador to Britain when she was young, embraced her role, shaking it up along the way. She frequently met with Gerry Adams, the leader of the Irish Republican Army’s political wing Sinn Fein, although US policy was not to do so and despite fervent criticism. Smith is credited with helping him get a visa to visit the US, where he made the case for a ceasefire in the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Her gestures towards Adams, who was considered a terrorist by the British government, brought Sinn Fein into peace talks. Clinton later invited Adams to the White House. Smith played a key role in helping restore a ceasefire which helped pave the way for the later negotiations that resulted in the 1998 Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement. The historic accord largely ended the violence that had plagued Northern Ireland since the 1960s.
In her 2016 memoir The Nine of US: Growing up Kennedy, Smith wrote that she felt she had a normal childhood. “It is hard for me to fully comprehend that I was growing up with brothers who eventually occupy the highest offices of our nation, including president of the United States,” Smith wrote. “At the time, they were simply my playmates. They were the source of my amusement and the objects of my admiration,” she added.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2020