By Susan Falvella Garraty and Ray O’Hanlon
WASHINGTON, D.C. – It happened leaving Dublin, it happened in New York and it happened again in Washington. No matter where he went on his four-day U.S. tour last week, Sinn FTin leader Gerry Adams could not escape the shadow of the gun and the rat-tat-tat of reporters’ questions about decommissioning.
Adams, however, managed to duck and weave through the barrage and along the way netted close to $100,000 for his party’s upcoming election campaign, strolled through the New York Stock Exchange, supped with some of the richest people on earth and broke words with the president of the United States.
While in Washington Friday, Adams urged the U.S. to keep a good eye on Northern Ireland in the weeks to come.
“We look to the people here to help us monitor the situation,” he said at a press conference at the National Press Club just before his visit to the White House.
But monitoring the sticky issue of IRA weapons decommissioning was another matter. On that one, Adams could hardly contain his petulance at being asked continuously about guns and explosives. “It’s a dead end issue,” he told reporters.
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At the same time, Adams couldn’t resist taking a shot at America’s own gun problems. He let rip with both barrels: “You people in the United States have more of a problem with guns than we do,” he said in clear reference to the recent spate of school shootings.
It wasn’t his first swipe. Taking questions from reporters at the American Irish Historical Society, shortly after his arrival in New York Wednesday, Adams was also confronted with a query on weapons, this time by Mark Little, RTE television’s U.S. correspondent.
He replied that decommissioning was the last question asked by an Irish journalist as he departed Dublin and was now the first from an Irish journalist in New York. He said he was taking a “vow of silence” on the issue for the duration of his U.S. visit.
During his visit, Adams made repeated references to Sinn FTin concerns over the Belfast Agreement’s language, particularly on the issue of self-determination.
The agreement held a view of consent and self-determination that no Irish republican could accept because it rested on the gerrymander of partition, he said in a scripted speech delivered at the Historical Society.
Later, in Washington, he expressed similar sentiments: “There shouldn’t be squabbling and bickering on consent. The agreement was always meant to be transitional and not permanent.”
He said he was more concerned with how the agreement would address policing and equality issues. And while guns and lead bullets were not his favorite topic, Adams took a different view of the plastic variety and decommissioning of same.
Banging the press club podium with a rubber bullet, Adams said he would focus the attention of U.S. lawmakers on the upcoming marching season.
“These plastic bullets hurt mostly children last year, they need to be taken out of the equation,” he said. He said it would be helpful if the United States government would send high-level observers to monitor the marches.
After Friday’s press conference, Adams met with President Clinton for 30 minutes in the White House.
White House officials indicated that President Clinton had expressed his desire to meet with Adams personally to congratulate him on the accord and referenda results.
Asked if any pressure had been applied by U.S. officials for IRA decommissioning, Adams said afterward that it hadn’t been that type of a meeting.
“It was a meeting that evaluated the achievement of the agreement, the demands of this process,” he said.
The subject of a possible presidential visit to Ireland also came up. Asked whether it would be a good idea for Clinton to make a visit this year, Adams replied: “Well, if he could spent the time I think people would be glad to see him.”
White House spokesman Mike McCurry was asked whether any pressure had been applied to extract a commitment on decommissioning from Mr. Adams.
“We are encouraging all politicians who will come to the White House to take steps that will inspire confidence. We want people to do the right thing,” McCurry said.
When questioned about McCurry’s statement, other Clinton administration officials declined to elaborate on whether the “right thing” would be for the IRA to start decommissioning.
“The president in his meeting indicated to Adams that he wanted to see progress made along the lines outlined in the agreement. Although he didn’t come right out and say it, that means decommissioning at some point,” said an official.
Meanwhile, the Adams visit raised close to $100,000, according to a head count revealed by Friends of Sinn FTin.
Roughly 300 people paid out $250-a-head to attend a fund-raising event at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan on Wednesday, while about 20 paid $1,000 each for a more intimate sojourn with Adams Thursday at Windows On The World, atop the World Trade Center.
Adams met with a number of leading financial figures during his visit, including the president of the Federal Reserve, William McDonough.
On Thursday evening, he dined with a group of Wall Street executives, including billionaire financier George Soros.
Throughout his visit, Adams stressed the need for economic development, but on an all-Ireland basis overseen by “an all-Ireland economic authority.”
Overt protest against his fund-raising effort was low key. Outside the Plaza event, “Radio Free Eireann” host John McDonagh handed out leaflets urging that no money should go to “Provisional Sinn FTin or any participants in the new Stormont.”
The leaflet, produced by the Irish American Republican Movement, featured a cent, Lincoln-head side up, on which the words “In God We Trust” and “Liberty” were replaced by “In Gerry We Trust” and “Sellout.”
McDonagh admitted to the Irish Times that he currently represented only a “very small” portion of Irish American opinion.
“But even Eamon de Valera started out small,” he told the paper.