By Patrick Markey
Still flush from Ireland’s recent vote on the Belfast Agreement,
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams stepped out onto the Irish American stage again last week, firing up a party fund-raiser for the upcoming Northern Ireland assembly vote.
Clearly making hay while the sun is still shining, Adams spoke Wednesday evening at packed $250-a-head cocktail party at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel. The next night, he attended a $1,000-a-head dinner reception at the exclusive Windows on the World restaurant at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. He also visited Wall Street before heading to Washington. Each stop was an opportunity to call on Irish America to help monitor developments in the wake of May 22’s endorsement.
“This is no lap of honor, no ego trip,” Adams told about 400 people at the Plaza event. “Its an ongoing consolidation of what needs to be done.”
Earlier on Wednesday, in a wide-ranging opening lecture at the Irish Historical Society on Fifth Avenue, Adams mapped out Sinn Fein’s post-agreement political strategy, touching on equality, changes in the justice system and an all Ireland economic strategy.
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“Enormous amounts of work have to be done. The worst that could happen is that people here think that it’s over,” Adams cautioned, speaking before an older generation of Irish Americans.
It was chance, however, to end violence permanently if the parties
involved did not backslide, Adams said, asking the audience to back the party in creating a future without fear. Brandishing a plastic bullet before a bank of television cameras, the Sinn Fein leader emphasized his point, recalling the 17 children killed with those weapons.
Questioned on the makeup of a new police force, he drew an analogy with New York’s Finest. In the city, he said, there were 8 million people policed by a force of about 40,000 officers. In the north of Ireland, a population of 1.5 million has an armed police force of 30,000. In a future force of perhaps only 3,000, Adams said he would like to see youngsters from Derry’s Bogside going into the policing service.
But Adams steered away from questions on decommissioning, which would shadow him throughout his visit. He said Sinn Fein was committed to all it had signed up to. For most, he said, it was not a question of a ritual of decommissioning, but rather that the guns remain silent. There had been too much concentration on this issue to the detriment of others, he told one reporter.
After his lecture, his police detail bustled the Sinn Fein leader into a green van outside and ferried him the 20 blocks to the Plaza Hotel.
Security was tight at the Plazas Baroque Room, with members of the NYPDs VIP protection unit flanking Adams as two security officers checked on guests, waving a hand-held metal detector over handbags and briefcases.
If there was any concern over Irish American dissenters, opposition to Adams was left out on the street, where members of a new Irish Republican Movement in America group handed out leaflets denouncing Adams as a sellout.
But back inside, with guests picking at a mountain of fine shrimp and delicate spinach somosas, the Sinn Fein leader worked the room with ease, nodding here, embracing there. It was a warm welcome for the Belfast man, by now no stranger to plush hotel fund-raisers.
Standing before a huge tricolor upon which was printed “A great change is at hand, Peace Justice and a United Ireland,” Adams put on less formal tones for the Friends of Sinn Fein. There were cracks about Armani endorsements, jibes about police here treating him well, and nods to the elder statesmen of America’s involvement in Ireland, Pete King and Mario Biaggi among them.
There would be no peace process if “people like you” had not worked as they had done, Adams told them. After a brief speech, he suggested that he had a wish to grow old in a united Ireland: “Not only will I grew old in a united Ireland, you can come home and grew old with me.”
With that, members of the media were granted a brief press conference before being shuffled out as the Sinn Fein leader worked the room away from the glare of television lights.