By John Christoffersen
HARTFORD, Conn. – Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told supporters here Saturday that the peace settlement in Northern Ireland is only a beginning and called for continued campaigning to address police reform, equality and other issues.
Adams, who addressed the annual meeting of Irish Northern Aid in Hartford, was greeted with a sustained standing ovation as he walked in to the sound of bagpipes, shouts and flashing cameras. He praised the Irish Northern Aid activists from around the country for their campaigning and support of the families of political prisoners.
“You people deserve not just our heartiest thanks for what you have done but also our congratulations for what you have done,” Adams said. “We would not have got as far as we got without the people in this hall.”
Adams said he met with President Clinton on Friday and pointed out that the agreement is only a beginning. He said Sinn Fein will look to the United States to monitor and facilitate outstanding issues, such as demilitarizing security forces.
Adams said he had received reports of British Army raids in South Armagh and Belfast in recent days.
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“Clearly, there is a need for the Brits to be off the streets and back home as soon as possible,” Adams said, prompting a loud applause.
Sinn Fein also will consistently argue that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is unacceptable, Adams said, citing murders and allegations of collusion by the police force.
“If we are to move into a democratic era in Ireland, we don’t need a paramilitary police force,” Adams said.
The peace agreement, which calls for a power-sharing assembly and North-South Council to develop all-Ireland policies, leaves the north in “a state of limbo,” Adams said. It promises that the British will legislate for a united Ireland as soon as the majority wants it, but the agreement also says the union with Britain will remain as long as the majority wishes, Adams said.
Adams said the British need to work with the Irish to bring about unity. He also urged Americans to let Britain know that they favor a united Ireland.
“We believe that the 5 million people who live on the island of Ireland have the right to be free,” Adams said.
Adams acknowledged there would be resistance to change and urged Americans to continue campaigning for issues such as unity and helping deportees.
“There will be many difficulties and we shouldn’t underestimate what we have attempted to do,” Adams said. “But it has been my conviction for a very long time that we are going to get freedom for the people of Ireland.”
U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who addressed the gathering before Adams, also said outstanding issues remain, particularly the upcoming elections to the new assembly. Dodd, who has been active on Irish issues, expressed concerns that interest and involvement in the issues will lessen in light of the peace agreement.
“There’s still much work to be done,” Dodd said. “Democracy is tough work.”
Noraid spokesmen said the group supports the peace accord, viewing it as a step toward a united Ireland. Since the agreement calls for the release of political prisoners, Noraid is starting to shift its focus to broader human rights issues, such as plastic bullets, police reform and equality, said Joseph Reilly, Noraid’s spokesman in Connecticut.
Martin McDade, a Belfast man living in New York who attended the talk, echoed the support for the peace agreement.
“I think Gerry Adams did a great job in achieving this agreement,” McDade said. “There’s been a great sense of ease in Belfast. It’s a big change in our lives.
Francie Broderick of St. Louis, whose husband, Matt Morrison, faced the threat of deportation until President Clinton suspended proceedings in his and other cases, said the threat of deportation should be permanently ended in light of the peace accord.
“It doesn’t make sense for them to be releasing prisoners in Ireland and the U.S. administration to continue prosecuting ex-prisoners,” Broderick said.