By Ray O’Hanlon
Crucial Irish-American support for Sinn FTin’s peace process strategy is holding firm, Gerry Adams said during a visit to the U.S. and Canada last week.
Speaking to reporters in Manhattan on Thursday, Adams said there had been no significant decrease in support for the party in the U.S. following the move by the IRA to begin weapons decommissioning.
The decommissioning move, while it had undoubtedly caused pain to some republicans, had been a “historic move forward by the IRA,” Adams said.
Adams said that those who argued that the IRA had acted only under pressure after the Septe. 11 attack on America had missed the point.
The IRA, he said, had opted for a cease-fire as far back as 1994 despite the fact that it was “unbroken and undefeated.” The IRA again should be taken at its word, he said.
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“The peace process would have collapsed without the IRA move,” Adams said. “We have a peace process that is working. Too slow and resistant to change, yes, but it is working nevertheless.”
Adams said that the flicker of hope in the peace process had been kept alive largely due to the efforts of people in the U.S.
He pointed to the Friends of Sinn FTin fund-raising dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown as an indicator of continued Irish-American financial support for Sinn FTin.
About 1,000 people packed the event on Thursday evening. Tickets were $500 each and the gross total raised is believed to have exceeded $500,000.
But unlike previous fund-raising events in the city, the money raised at the dinner will not be used to support Sinn FTin’s political activities in Ireland.
It is being donated instead to the disaster fund set up by the New York construction industry in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.
Adams, at the Thursday morning press conference, said that the contribution was appropriate given that the construction industry in New York had been the backbone of the party’s U.S. fund-raising efforts.
Adams was flanked by Sinn FTin Vice President Pat Doherty and Michelle Gildernew. Both were elected to Westminster in the recent British general election.
During his three days in New York, Adams had to juggle a number of issues in the news and of concern to Irish America, among them the Sept. 11 attacks, the IRA’s decommissioning move and the detention of three men with links to the republican movement in Colombia.
Adams used several media interview opportunities to denounce the Sept. 11 attacks on America as an “atrocity.”
Shortly after his arrival in New York on Wednesday he told CNN’s Larry King that there was “no justification” for them.
King asked Adams if he himself had ever been involved in terrorism. Adams replied: “No.” “I believe that the IRA are patriots,” Adams said, drawing an analogy between the IRA and the revolutionary army of George Washington.
Asked at Thursday’s press conference about the three Irish nationals detained in Colombia, Adams said that Americans need not be concerned that the presence of the men had posed a danger to the Colombian peace process, the Irish peace process or U.S. interests in the region.
He said that the men were being held on little more than a charge of holding false passports and should be released because their lives were at risk.
Also looking to America’s southern borders, Adams confirmed that he intended to travel soon to Cuba to unveil a memorial to the 1981 hunger strikers.
Asked about the refusal of Sinn FTin to take its place on the police board overseeing the transforming of the RUC into the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Adams said it was Sinn FTin’s desire to be part of “a new policing dispensation when we achieve that dispensation.”
That dispensation was, however “not there,” he said. Those who had moved to embrace the “emasculated” Patten recommendations on police reform had moved too early, Adams argued.
Before his departure for Toronto and Ottawa — where he met with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and also presided over the setting up of a Canadian branch of Friends of Sinn FTin — Adams commented on the initial failure of David Trimble to secure reelection as North first minister.
“The reactionaries had their day today and that’s that,” he said. “I would appeal to all the pro-agreement parties to make sure that their day has come and gone.”
During his New York stopover, Adams met with Gov. George Pataki and attended a packed Friends of Sinn FTin community event at Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers, where he, Michelle Gildernew and Pat Doherty took questions from the crowd.
“It was a good listening crowd,” owner Rory Dolan said, “absolutely jammed. Morning Star played for about an hour and a half before Gerry spoke. There were a few hecklers last time but this year, no.”
Pat Doherty also answered questions Monday night in Philadelphia where he was the guest of honor at a fund-raiser for Friends of Sinn FTin raised $15,000.
Adams, meanwhile, was also interviewed on the Charlie Rose show on PBS and met with the editorial boards of the New York Times and Daily News.
Both Sinn FTin and the IRA had been subjected to severe criticism in U.S. newspaper editorials in recent months, although a number of leading dailies warmly welcomed the IRA’s arms move.
Critical comment was still evident, however, during the Adams visit. The editorial page “Asides” column in the Wall Street Journal was one example. It argued that the IRA had “figured out that nowadays Americans are assuming that one man’s terrorist is another man’s . . . terrorist. And it did not want to be considered the moral equivalent of Osama bin Laden. This would not be good for U.S. fund-raising at the very least. The IRA’s decision bears close watching, because it will want to maintain the threat of a return to violence as negotiating leverage. But this is at least one silver lining to come from Sept. 11.”