By Patrick Markey
Northern Ireland’s peace process would remain an “institutionalized” part of U.S. foreign policy no matter which presidential candidate claims the White House, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told a New York audience last week.
Praising President Bill Clinton’s involvement in the Good Friday peace agreement, Adams told supporters at his party’s annual fund-raiser that both Republicans and Democrats had offered positive platforms on their future role in Northern Ireland.
“President Clinton played a pivotal role in the development of this process,” Adams told guests at the event in Manhattan’s Sheraton hotel Thursday night.
“Whoever wins this election, there is need for continued focus, a continued push.”
During their campaigns, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush appealed to Irish-American voters by offering continued White House involvement in the peace process and addressing sensitive issues such as sending a U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland, deporting former IRA prisoners from the U.S., and policing reform.
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Adams told the audience at the $500-a-plate dinner that Sinn Fein is still considering legal action against Ulster Unionist Party’s attempts to exclude it from the bilateral meetings with the Irish government.
Describing his meetings earlier last week with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Adams said the talks had been positive but warned that the British government must fulfill its commitments.
“Mr. Blair made all the promises this time that he made last time,” Adams said.
Earlier, outside the New York fund-raiser, the mother of a dissident republican killed in Belfast last month held a candlelight vigil to protest her son’s murder.
Margaret O’Connor, whose son Joseph was shot in front of her West Belfast home in October, called on Adams to support an independent inquiry into the killing.
O’Connor, who was 26, was shot multiple times outside his mother’s house in West Belfast on Oct. 13 by masked men. A member of the dissident Real IRA, O’Connor’s family believes he was killed for his opposition to the Good Friday agreement.
Although the Provisional IRA has denied any involvement in the O’Connor killing, his mother said other family members had recognized the gunmen as a local Provisional IRA unit.
“I’m need to put my point across and to get through to the American people,” O’Connor said. “I need their help getting an inquiry for my son. We don’t want retaliation, we just want questions answered.”
About 15 supporters joined O’Connor behind police barricades on the opposite side of Seventh Avenue from the hotel. Carrying a tri-color, 15-year-old Cormac O’Brien said he joined the demonstration to protest republicans killing one another.
“It’s wrong that the Provisionals are killing their own people, the IRA and republicans,” the Bronx teenager said.
Protest organizers said they faxed a copy of O’Connor’s request to Sinn Fein headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Questioned by reporters about the protest, Adams said the O’Connor family had not asked him about the inquiry. But the Sinn Fein leader said that he would support one if Mrs. O’Connor was not being manipulated by those opposed to the peace process.
“I have no problem at all if it is a genuine request from the O’Connor family,” Adams said.